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8 Creativity Lessons from a Pixar Animator

A glimpse into the super-secret process where magic happens.

Leo Babauta

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Sometimes immersing yourself in the creative world of people doing amazing things can bring unexpected results.

My son Justin is interested in 3D animation, and my daughter Chloe is into screenwriting, and so it was a thrill to take them on a tour of Pixar Animation Studios, courtesy of one of the Pixar animators.

Bernhard Haux is a ‘character technical director’who models characters and works on their internal motions: This means he is a small piece in the larger Pixar machine, but aware of what everyone else is doing too. He’s worked on major movies such as Up, Brave, Monsters University and others.

Bernhard showed us around the Pixar campus, and while we couldn’t really dig into their super-secret process, we did get a few glimpses of the magic. And I learnt some surprising things.

Creativity Lessons

Tenacity matters. Bernhard told a story of a friend who did a drawing every day, for more than three years, and became amazingly good by the end of that stint.

He shared Looney Toons legendary animator Chuck Jones’ assertion that you have to draw 100 000 bad drawings before you have a good drawing. Bernhard said you might not seem very good at something when you start out, but if you’re persistent, tenacious even, you can get amazingly good.

Art is your particular telling of reality.

Pixar-animation

When we talked about letting go of preconceived ideas and drawing what you actually see, Bernhard compared it to a night out with a friend.

While Bernhard might recount that night by saying, “We went out and had some food and went home,” his friend might have noticed interesting details that Bernhard didn’t, and tell a different story. Same experience, different interpretation, different details.

Feed off others’ ideas.

When Pixar artists create characters, it’s not just one artist sketching out how he thinks a character should look. They all sit around a table, drawing ideas, putting them in the middle, and taking those ideas and riffing off them.

Dozens and dozens of sketches come out from this process, until they find the one that works best. Everyone’s creativity builds on the creativity of others.

This can help you even if you don’t have a bunch of geniuses to work with – find others who are creating cool things, and riff off them, and share your riffs.

Mockups-of-Pixar

Let go of ego.

Because so many talented artists are throwing ideas into the pile, the fact is that most ideas/sketches won’t be used. They’ll be discarded.

If you want your idea to win, you’ll fight for it, but this only hurts the process. Pixar animators have to let go of their egos, and put the best interests of the project first. I think this is true of any creative project.

Everyone should know the mission well.

Some studios outsource their animation work overseas, but the animators often don’t know the movie, and don’t care about the final process because they’re just doing one tiny piece.

But at Pixar, everyone involved is trying to create the best movie possible, and they take pride in this mission. Everyone is invested in the mission, everyone cares about the work they’re producing, and it shows in the final creation.

Lots of hard work, tiny but amazing results.

When Pixar created Brave, deleted scenes would have made the movie five times as long.

That means that hours and hours of creative, brilliant work was thrown out, and only the best of the best of all of this creative process actually was used. That’s a lot of amazing stuff, to get very little. That means what we see is of incredible quality.

Surround yourself with heroes.

Pixar-creativity

When Bernhard was interviewed for the job at Pixar about six years ago, it took all day. The list of people interviewing him was a list of his personal heroes. That’s who he works with, the best in the world.

How inspiring is that? You’d jump out of bed to get to work each morning, wouldn’t you? Not all of us are that lucky, but we can surround ourselves with the work of our heroes, and use them for inspiration. Shoot for the stars, or at least illuminate your life with theirs.

Help those just starting out. Bernhard gave us a tour, because a young man is interested in computer animation. “I was where Justin is now, and it’s nice to pass on what I know today. Passion and dreams are important to keep alive,” he said.

Maestro of simplicity, best selling author of Zen Habits and voted in the 25 top blogs, follow him on twitter at zan_habits.

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Self Development

Listening To These 8 Audiobooks On Success Is A Better Use Of Your Long Commute

Commuting is mostly just unpaid work, unless you make an effort to learn something along the way.

John Boitnott

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Commutes are getting longer, and in some cities they’re up to two hours each way. I have a friend in Los Angeles who does this. He passes the time with audiobooks. Now that’s still a lot of time to be stuck in transit, but he doesn’t view it that way. He says it allows him plenty of time to feed his personal and professional goals.

I’ve spent years listening to literature in the car while commuting, but somewhere along the line I switched over to books on business and personal improvement. I mostly gravitated toward amazing people who built their success from scratch and who experienced tremendous hardship. It stands to reason that if you’re dealing with hardships like a long commute, it’s important to hear motivational words that can help you transcend the difficulties.

Here are eight audiobooks that will help grow your success, both personal and professional, on your next commute:

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Self Development

3 Questions To Guide You To Success In 2018

Most of the goals we set have some external component to it. Some component that we cannot control. Yet, we act like we can.

Erik Kruger

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3 Questions To Guide You To Success In 2018

Goal setting as a concept makes perfect sense. At the most basic level you decide on the destination and then plot the way to get there. But as with many things, we like to overcomplicate that which should be simple.

Before you know it, you end up with 2 big goals in 15 different areas of your life and 100 micro goals that will help you reach your 30 big goals.

Complicating something simple. Some of the biggest obstacles to people in reaching their goals are:

  • The overestimate the effort it will take to achieve those goals
  • They want to go from 0-100km/h in the blink of an eye
  • Life is dynamic and static goals often do not make sense
  • They get so entrenched in the day to day running of things that goals get pushed aside.

What if instead of goals, we just focused on giving our best every day?

Of course, you still want to have an indication of where you are going.

But, if you are giving your 100% every day then you can forego the micro goals for a better way of calibrating your compass… using questions.

Related: Goal Setting Guide

I suggest you ask yourself these three questions regularly:

1. What does better look like?

The question at the heart of development and incremental improvement. This question allows you some creative space in which you can imagine a better future.

  • What does better health look like?
  • What does a better business look like?
  • What does better customer service look like?
  • What does better leadership look like?

By reflecting on this question, you materialise the gap between where you are and where you could be. Now, the only thing that is left is to align your daily actions with the better future you imagined.

2. What can I control?

Borrowed from Stoicism this question highlights the power of decision in your life. Epictetus said we should always be asking ourselves: “Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?”

Once you ask this of yourself regularly you will feel more in control of your life and more in control of your business.

Why?

Because your focus is solely on the things that you can influence. It restores the belief that you can actually impact the world around you in a meaningful way.

3. Was I impeccable with my actions today?

One inherent flaw with goal setting is that the goal setter often feels judged. As if we need more of that. In addition to the constant negative self-talk we have to endure we now have an additional source of judgement – whether we reached our goals or not.

As we discovered in question #2 We cannot control everything. Most of the goals we set have some external component to it. Some component that we cannot control. Yet, we act like we can.

So, instead of judging yourself, commit to giving your best every single day.

Related: The Tim Ferriss Approach to Setting Goals: Rig the Game so You Win


Accountability

What I love most about these questions is that they provide a built-in layer of accountability. Use them every day.

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Self Development

To Be Successful Stay Far Away From These 7 Types of Toxic People

You need a network of talented people, not toxic personalities who undermine you.

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Surrounding yourself with prospective mentors is an excellent way to build lifelong success. When Steve Jobs founded Apple, he learned from colleagues like Steve Wozniak about what it took to build computer hardware. And he learned from early investors like Mike Markkula about what it took to build a successful company and market a product. Now imagine if Jobs had surrounded himself with toxic personalities instead. It is likely that he would not have been able to create a company that is on course to be valued at $1 trillion.

If you interact with people who demonstrate questionable behaviour, you’re more likely to model that behaviour yourself or to become stressed as a result. At the very least, you will be missing out on the opportunity to network with more successful and inspiring individuals.

This article will review seven personality types that should be eliminated from your life in order to build your most successful self. Once these people are gone, you can work on building a network of people who influence you positively.

1. Micromanagers

According to a report by NPR, micromanagement is one of the biggest factors associated with employee dissatisfaction, lowered motivation and lack of professional creativity. To be successful, you must learn to solve problems independently. Micromanaging can make it difficult to develop these skills.

Related: Keep An Eye Out For Toxic Employees

2. Short-term thinkers

If you surround yourself with short-term thinkers, it will be difficult to know if an idea is destined for long-term success. Those who are narrow-minded may be more likely to dismiss one of your ideas because it will take time to develop into a meaningful success.

Take the creation of Airbnb as an example. The company was founded in 2008. At the time the “sharing economy” did not exist, and hotel chains like Starwood and Hilton dominated the lodging market. A short-term thinker would have criticised an idea like Airbnb.

In order for the company to be successful, Airbnb would need to change people’s attitudes and expectations about travel. They would need to encourage people to be comfortable staying with strangers, and they would need to find ways to mitigate possible liability should something tragic happen during a customer’s stay.

Well-respected venture capitalists decided to pass on Airbnb because of these short-term concerns. The Airbnb founders were only able to find success once they connected with people who were comfortable thinking long term.

3. Pessimists

pessimistsPessimism is not always a bad trait; at times it can help entrepreneurs to recognize certain pitfalls that might otherwise be overlooked. However, a steady diet of pessimism is toxic when it comes to taking big professional risks.

As David Armor, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University, says, “An entrepreneur starting up a company, for example, might drive himself to work 18-hour days for months and even years because he optimistically believes that there will be a big payoff for him at the end.” Conversely, a pessimistic attitude would make it difficult to tolerate such a prolonged stressful situation.

For those interested in taking on stressful professional situations, pessimistic people should be avoided in most cases.

Related: Tips on how to Survive and Thrive in a Toxic Workplace

4. Selfish people

Relationships that contribute to success are mutually beneficial. This dynamic cannot exist when dealing with selfish people. As a result, it is best to eliminate selfish people from your life in order to make room for more giving relationships.

A recent study found that a job applicant who is referred by an existing employee is 15 times more likely to be hired than someone who applies via a job board. If you befriend a selfish person, you probably can’t rely on them to introduce you to new career opportunities. However, forming connections with someone who is altruistic could give you a professional leg up.

5. Risk-averse personalities

Business success is about making informed decisions by weighing risks and rewards. If you are surrounded by people who over-index on possible risks while ignoring the possible rewards, it will be challenging to identify good business opportunities.

Take Amazon as an example. In 2014 Amazon launched a smartphone called the Fire Phone. In the end, the phone was not successful. Following the unsuccessful launch of the Fire Phone, risk-averse people might have avoided developing another piece of computer hardware.

But instead, Amazon correctly assessed the opportunity for an in-home smart speaker, and launched the Amazon Echo just one year later. Today, Echo has 75 percent of the smart-speaker market in the United States.

6. Unmotivated individuals

People who lack motivation or work ethic set a bad example for those interested in working diligently to become a professional success. There is no worse colleague than someone who simply does the bare minimum to get by.

Rather than associate yourself with people who cut corners or avoid hard work, try to surround yourself with people who are motivated to succeed. Collaborating with people who have a healthy drive for success can instill an extra dose of motivation in you.

Related: 3 Strategies for Dealing With Toxic People

7. Spendthrifts

Financial responsibility is a critically important quality to develop if you want to become successful. Warren Buffet is perhaps the supreme example of a financially responsible and successful person.

Buffet is the third wealthiest person in the world, worth nearly $80 billion. But despite his professional success, Buffet does not spend his money on flashy cars or large homes. In fact, Buffet still lives in the modest home in Omaha, Nebraska, that he purchased in 1958.

Those who associate with spendthrifts may be more motivated to make irresponsible financial decisions in order to fit in. At the very least, it will be harder to associate with people who make good financial choices, as these personalities are frequently diametrically opposed.

Conclusion

Business is all about who you know. From landing a new job to launching a new company, your network will enable or prevent future professional success. When developing a network of talented people, it is best to avoid toxic personalities who could set a bad example or demotivate you.

Be sure to avoid people who are micromanagers and short-term thinkers, as they can make it difficult to think autonomously. Risk-averse individuals or pessimists may cause you to think twice about great business ideas, and spendthrifts or selfish people may hamper your ability to grow. Last but not least, stay away from unmotivated individuals, as your success is dependent on your willingness to work diligently in order to succeed.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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