Ed Catmull has been one of my favorite senior executives for a long time. I admired him from afar after reading about him in David Price's excellent The Pixar Touch. I admired him even more after talking to people at Pixar about what it was like to work with him (see this story). And then I got to him a little through several interactions I had with him as part of authors' group here in the San Francisco area and also, when Huggy Rao and I interviewed him for Scaling Up Excellence.
The most interesting, and I think revealing, interactions I have had with Ed, however, have not been in person -- they have come from the process of reading and commenting on an earlier draft of his book, and exchanging emails with him. And, most recently, reading the finished product. I won't go through all the twists and turns of the process, but Ed (and obviously his co-writer Amy Wallace, who I did not interact with directly) clearly were dedicated to getting it right, Even in that early draft, the astounding and intertwined stories of Ed's life and Pixar's development into one of greatest companies on the planet were riveting, as were his insights about building a creative company that run throughout the book. But, as Ed and his Pixar colleagues do, he wasn't just satisfied with just a good book, he took the time and effort, and went through one difficult iteration after another, to make a book that just sings. You will have trouble putting it down once you pick it up. And while it may seem like it just rolled out with ease, as with most great things, Ed and Amy wouldn't let it go until it was right.
It was privilege to get a few glimpses of how Ed's mind works during the process, especially over the Christmas-New Years break last year when I read the book closely and gave Ed several rounds of comments (I would read a few chapters, and then send him another note). My favorite exchange came at one juncture, after reading the section where Ed describes the sequence of events where he, Steve Jobs, and others were involved in selling Pixar to Disney and announcing it to his people in Emeryville, where Pixar is located and those wonderful movies are made.
It was pretty deep into the book. And I finally realized that it had a problem I had never seen in any book written by a successful executive, as I put it to Ed "not enough narcissism." There wasn't ENOUGH information about the influence he was having, the words he was saying, or about how he turned his considerable wisdom into action. There was plenty about other people, folks like Steve Jobs and John Lasseter that reflected his keep empathy and observational powers. As I read the final version, I saw that Ed perspective and influence is emphasized just enough for my tastes now -- although his trademark modesty persists.
The book isn't out to until April. But you should pre-order it now, you will want to read it right away. Here is my blurb -- I hope you love this book (and admire Ed's smarts, values, and accomplishments) as much as I did:
“This is the best book ever written on what it takes to build a creative organization. It is the best because Catmull’s wisdom, modesty, and self-awareness fill every page. He shows how Pixar’s greatness results from connecting the specific little things they do (mostly things that anyone can do in any organization) to the big goal that drives everyone in the company: making films that make them feel proud of one another."
P.P.S. When I wrote to Ed how much I liked the cover, he said something like "well, we have some pretty good artists here." No kidding. Isn't it beautiful?