The Cost of Impenetrability

Today I finally finished a book I have been nursing for more than a year called, Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, one of the founders of Pixar Animation.  I don’t know why it takes me so long to finish books.  I’m a loyal person in life but not when it comes to books.  I’ll start a book, skim a few pages, then move onto a different book, then come back to the other one, then start a brand new one… it’s a bad habit.

Anyways, there were a lot of interesting tidbits in the book about the beginnings and development of Pixar but the part that stood out to me the most was about creating an environment that is safe (this is the word Catmull uses again and again in the book, along with “candor”) and open, so that creativity and collaboration can flourish.  Pixar’s executives prioritized this, knowing there are inherent risks in trying to sustain this type of company culture.  Oftentimes, companies strive for impenetrability as a desired trait internally and externally.  But Catmull argues there is a cost to being impenetrable: it stunts creativity by closing off ideas and nurturing a culture of fear and perfectionism.  At Pixar, creating a safe environment meant that anyone is allowed to give input at any time from anywhere in the company, no matter what position they hold.  Mistakes and failures are looked upon as opportunities to problem-solve and improve the company, rather than to finger-point and extricate.  Basically, anyone is vulnerable to honest feedback, including those at the top of the organizational chart, and this allowed employees to contribute to the growth and development of one of the most creative companies in existence today.  [As a side note, Catmull devotes an entire chapter to his close relationship with Steve Jobs and how Jobs modeled this idea of candor and open feedback – he would argue passionately about ideas he valued but when another person argued just as passionately and if what they said made sense, he changed his mind instantly. Jobs was often the first to admit the things he didn’t know.  He became increasingly open and vulnerable over the 20+ years they worked together.  I’m sure that none of the biographies and movies about Jobs really show this side of him.  How unfortunate.]

There are many lessons companies can take away from just that single idea of creating a safe culture for their long-term sustainability.  But that’s not really what drove me to open up my WordPress today. Somehow I started to connect the dots in my head about how vulnerability is also essential for a thriving relationship.  There was a time when I valued being right more than being in relationship.  I didn’t know the importance of providing a safe space to even my closest friends and I defaulted to ‘good’ advice or moral judgment.  I saw the world through a black and white lens and I dismissed gray areas as weak and insignificant.  Oh, how naive I was.  Life tends to teach us that most of everything is in the gray.  And we are left to wade in these murky waters.  But that’s where openness and vulnerability thrive.  That is where trust is built and friendships blossom.  That is where seemingly insignificant ideas become seeds of possibility.

Whenever I come out of a therapy session, even if I have worked through different issues, I always take away one main idea:  it is good for my soul to be vulnerable.  It can be terrifying but that is where the light shines through – when I allow my once impenetrable wall to come down and connect with another human being.  Sometimes it’s just one brick at a time, but it counts.  Light has a way of finding its way through that one empty space.


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