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The worst way to start a meeting? Walk into the room and tell everyone that you don’t want to hear any dumb ideas.

Failing to hear and mull all ideas — even the bad ones — is a surefire way to stifle creativity, said Ed Catmull, co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) and president of Walt Disney Co.’s Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios and Disneytoon Studios.

Catmull was interviewed on stage today by Robert Safian, editor and managing director of Fast Company, at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, which runs through tomorrow.

The Power of Serendipity

Ed Catmull
People are naturally creative, Catmull said. The problem is when management puts up barriers that get in the way of free-flowing ideas.

“It’s a matter of letting people become more creative.”

Before the animated movie “Up” became the sweet love story of Carl and Ellie, there were at least three bad versions of the movie, Catmull said. The final film bore no relation to the original film, he said.

People in the creative process have to be allowed to make mistakes as they’re working things out. They need to feel safe from the embarrassing part of failure, he said.

Creating Creativity

Catmull laid out four principles to inspire a creative environment:

  1. Ideas should be peer to peer, not boss to employee.
  2. People in power shouldn’t be in the room when the creative process is happening. This helps people be less defensive about their ideas.
  3. Create a “brain trust” that has a vested interest in each others’ success. The brain trust can be different groups of people, depending on the situation.
  4. Listen, share and be honest.

It took about four years to fully integrate those ideas into the creative process, Catmull said.

Defining Creativity

Creativity is often defined within arts, science and engineering, he said. But creativity is more, he said. “I think it’s problem solving in life and with customers.”

The act of working on problems is a creative act, he said.

When things are clicking, magic happens. “By magic, I mean ego is gone from the room,” he said. “That’s the goal, to have the ego gone from the room”

Safian’s final question for Catmull was about Steve Jobs.

Catmull said Jobs’ last 20 years were ones of dramatic change. Jobs became a great partner, Catmull said.

He became empathetic. He would go on walks with people to let them know he was on their side. After Jobs changed, people stayed with him his whole life.

“Steve actually followed the classic ‘heroes journey,’” he said. He failed, “wandered in the wilderness” and emerged a different and successful man.