How do I make more rational decisions? 4 Steps from the book “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work”

Rational decision-making forms a big part of getting our projects completed. Today’s Q&A Monday asks:

“Are there any useful strategies to help in decision-making?”
Anonymous (via Quora)

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work

In the book “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work”, authors Chip and Dan Heath describe a four-step process for decision-making which they summarize with the acronym “WRAP”. The premise behind the decision process is that as humans we have illogical biases to overcome.

The very common pros and cons approach reveal our biases as we tend to self-select a limited set of options. Psychologists note that humans tend to look for confirmation for our untested beliefs. We rely on short-term emotions to make choices. We’re overconfident about our ability to make predictions for the future.

W – Widen your options.

Humans tend to present themselves with decisions as one option versus another: Do we try to make our current job work or find a new job? The last choice would most likely include parts of both options:

“The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.” Deepak Chopra, The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life

For example, if we’re having problems at work, consider fully discussing concerns with managers and coworkers. Continue to test new problem-solving strategies. At the same time, it could still be wise to look into other opportunities. The discussions at your current job both help in your work life and tell the questions and criteria for your search. If a concrete offer for a new job becomes a certain reality, then you’re making decisions with more evidence to know how each role meets your needs.

How the framing effect influences decisions

A field experiment by the University of Nottingham demonstrated narrow framing:

The framing effect is a mental process where conclusions are illogically drawn based on how choices are presented. A field experiment by the University of Nottingham demonstrated narrow framing showing that 93% of Ph.D. students registered early when informed of a penalty fee for late registration. Only 67% registered early when identical pricing was presented as a discount.

An experiment published in the Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization found that support for an economic policy was greater when presenting the numbers for the employment rate is emphasized. Giving the related unemployment rates garnered much less support. This is a common tactic used in politics to influence public opinion while not presenting the real potential outcomes.

How opportunity costs limit our options

To counter the framing effect and force ourselves to consider more options, we can explore the opportunity costs involved. What actions would, in fact, rule out other choices? If you must decide between:

  • Choice A: A friend’s party
  • Choice B: A movie on the same night with another friend

What would be the impact of each decision on your mood, friendships, and budget? Have you already accepted one invite, if so what would be the impact of a change of plans?

“In economics, one of the most important concepts is ‘opportunity cost’ – the idea that once you spend your money on something, you can’t spend it again on something else.” Malcolm Turnbull

In the book Decisive, the authors recommend adding the possibility for both actions. Rather than choices “A OR B”, are both “A AND B” possible? Could you bring your movie-loving friend to the party and/or ask to see the movie on a night when you don’t have an accepted invitation?

R – Reality test your assumptions.

Consider the opposite of your ideas and guesses as potentially valid. Is there evidence that contradicts your current thoughts on probable outcomes?

Overcoming confirmation bias

“When we hear news we should always wait for the sacrament of confirmation.” Voltaire

Confirmation bias is a common reasoning error. Experiments have shown that people search for evidence consistent with their current beliefs and predictions. The term “confirmation bias” was coined by English psychologist Peter Wason whose simple experiment in the 1960s showed that people tend to try to confirm their first ideas and not disprove them:

Given the sequence of “2-4-6”, participants would guess that the pattern was even numbers. Then they tried to test this rule by proposing more even numbers such as “4-8-10”, “6-8-12”, and “20-22-24”. Researchers would confirm that these all fit the pattern at which point participants would stop their attempts, satisfied that they had found the correct answer.

However the answer was not even numbering, it simply increased numbers. Participants tended not to try odd numbers to disprove their first guess.

Take action in small steps

With confirmation bias in mind, take small steps to give more evidence for one outcome or another. If you believe a person you’re dating is not reliable, for example, you might ask to commit to plans. Look for evidence that they are able to be relied on.

The next small step resulting from their response may be further discussion of the pattern of behavior. During this talk, you could look for evidence that they attempt to be more reliable.

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent van Gogh

If you contradict your first guess, you may decide this is someone you can easily spend time with and continue to date. Or you may find more anecdotes showing unreliability, which helps you decide whether relationship styles are incompatible. Taking small steps gives you more confidence in your final decision.

A – Attain distance before deciding.

In dealing with short-term emotions, it’s helpful to explore various perspectives. Our emotions impact us in unpredictable and irrational ways. Psychologists tested the tendency to perceive new events consistently with the involved emotions. They found fearful participants predict negative outcomes and when angry they presume positive ones.

“You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.” Michelle Obama

Writers Chip and Dan Heath recommend asking “How would you feel about this decision in 10 minutes? 10 days? 10 years?” If you were not involved, what advice would you give? In the short term, it might feel great to eat a bag of chips or skip that trip to the gym. By attaining distance and thinking about how we might feel in the future, it becomes a lot easier to act.

Identify your priorities

A decision often becomes emotionally difficult as we feel the conflict between various priorities. By identifying your distinct preferences, you’ll often be able to more clearly see. You’ll have a more clear idea of the best answer for your situation.

Is your long-term priority better health? Compared this to your short-term priority of instant gratification. You might decide to eat a balanced meal skipping fast food ultimately feels more satisfying.

P – Prepare to be wrong.

In preparing to be wrong, we acknowledge and take steps toward various likely outcomes. The overconfidence effect is a natural human bias. We tend to view our own actions as more certain to guarantee outcomes. More so than is likely or possible. We believe that we are more certain to know the truth than we really do.

In fact, the results of our decisions likely fall within a wide range. Some factors and events could not be predicted. Other possible outcomes that we could have predicted, we did not. Perfect decisions that give us perfect control are the least likely possibility.

Set a wide target

An example of overconfidence is demonstrated in the planning fallacy, first proposed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The planning fallacy is the tendency to guess a task takes less time than it likely will.

One 1997 survey of Canadian taxpayers showed that participants mailed taxes about a week later than they predicted. Even as those surveyed reported in the past that they mailed forms later than planned, they still estimated that would get it done earlier in the future.

A wide target is easier to predict. If these taxpayers guess that they’d mail their taxes sometime within the next year, they’d be more likely to be correct. Compared to if they guess that within the next week, they’d complete the task.

Set a tripwire

Prepare to revisit your decision by setting triggers. If X happens, at that point revisit your decisions. If you were investing or gambling, you might be comfortable with losing 10% of your money. Once you’ve lost 11%, it’s time to decide if it’s wise to continue with your current strategy or test something new.

Be ready for positive outcomes too. If the person we were dating in the earlier example on reality testing does become a reliable planner, what does this mean for the relationship?

Build a safety net

Since things happen that are hard to predict, it’s smart to prepare for the unexpected. For example, financial experts recommend emergency funds even as they discuss tracking spending and creating plans for how to pay your bills.

No plan is perfect. We often can’t predict what we’d need to use our savings for. We can guess that an unexpected event will happen. Many situations would be easier and less stressful if we have extra money available for it.

Next time you’re deciding to take that expensive vacation or buy a fancy dinner, consider a 2012 study cited by Vanguard that found that those surveyed had: unpaid medical bills (26%), overdrew their checking account (22%), took a loan from their retirement account (14%), took a hardship withdrawal from their retirement account (10%), had more than one late mortgage payment (13%), and filed for bankruptcy (3.5%). If you think this can’t happen to you, re-read the section on overconfidence. Then start to act and start your safety net.

Readers, what strategies have helped you make better decisions? Share below in the comments!


Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

15 Paths to More Sustainable & Green Graphic Design

Graphic designers can help apply the principles of efficiency and waste reduction in our industry. This can save us money and time if we’re creative about implementing our work.

After watching The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard, I’m just beginning to understand the meaning of sustainability. Recycling works and buying recycled goods helps because there is only so much space on the earth to put all the trashed plastic so we might as well put it back in our stores. That principle might be applied to all kinds of things and on this page I’ve looked for an answer to how the graphic arts fits in. While I’m still not totally convinced that all of these methods are viable for everyone, but it’s still an interesting discussion.

If there is something you’re doing to be more efficient and less wasteful with your design, share a comment.


Green Graphic Design by Brian Dougherty and Celery Design Collaborative is a book explaining how to make every step of the design and production process a little greener: paper, printing, binding, shipping, packaging.

SustainAble by Aaris Sherin aims to educate on sustainable applications and tackle sustainability in paper, printing, formats, materials, inks, and practice.

Packaging Sustainability by Wendy Jedlicka talks about making effective packaging that is minimal eco-impact.

Design for Sustainability: A Sourcebook of Integrated, Eco-logical Solutions by Janis Birkeland takes design to every level covering specifics in industrial design, materials, housing design, urban planning and transport, landscape and agriculture, and energy and resource use.


Kirsti Scott talks about Sustainable Graphic Design on the Hot Design Blog. She argues for more efficient practices, working from home to reduce travel, using only recycled or bamboo papers and even using fonts that use less ink.

The Green Resource Guide tells us the story behind Green Signage in Produce. There are great photos showing how the reclaimed items factor into the farmer’s market look of a grocery store.

In “Making Sense Of It All: How to Promote Your Brand While Staying Sustainable“, Delia Bonfilio of Fast Company talks about the challenge of balancing environmental ideals with business realities.

Paragon Muse talks about implementing some green practices in their post Joining the BandWagon: Sustainable Design. They are promoting recycled papers to their clients. They have redesigned their business cards with tree free paper and use only soy-based inks. They make some great points: the need for actionable ideas, more education and spreading the word.

Tips: Sustainable Graphic Design” by Metropolitan Group gives us a number of ways to ease our impact by requesting biodegradable elements from others in the chain, creating multi-use products, using designs that require less white space (less paper), targeted mailing (instead of blind mass market mailing) and other ideas.

In “Sustainable Graphic Design in Malawi” by Jesse Rankin, we’re asked “how can graphic design actually help Malawi in the development process to becoming a self sustaining country?” and given some very powerful answers.

Sustainable Design” from Drawing on Experience gives us 10 Best Practices for Sustainable Design.

More Resources

Renourish is a sustainability toolkit. Great way to start getting things in motion in your production process.

Lovely as a Tree wants to tell you everything about environmentally aware graphic design with tips about paper choice, printing considerations, case studies and a database of printers and paper sources in the UK.

Design Can Change is a pretty website with a message: you as a designer can help.

AIGA Center for Sustainable Design has more case studies, interviews, and resources.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

How do you find your talents? Steal Like an Artist Book: Summary and Review

In large white reversed type spread across two undersized black pages, each chapter begins with a simple and often counter-intuitive thought. The square-shaped book isn’t quite pocket-sized, though it’s close. The book in this case is Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon.

Following the book’s lead, I’m going to … borrow … Austin’s 10 thing, letting you know how they’ve worked for me. Following the say “Yes, and…” maxim of improv, I’m also adding my own ideas for you to try.

1. Steal like an artist.

The first chapter begins with a minimalist and powerful diagram that asks “Is it worth stealing?” We borrow ideas. We aren’t the first to create with paper, canvas, clay, or even a computer. Even when those ideas seemed new, artists built work based on ideas that came before them. The idea here isn’t to plagiarise, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s about giving up on worry. Stop worrying that it’s not good enough. We are our own worst critics.

Austin explains beautifully how we are all a unique remix of our parents. Our art is a unique mashup of our influences. Become a selective collector of influences. Concentrate on keeping what you love and throw out the rest. Studies show that a focus on love helps us generate new ideas. Look for who your favorite artists loved and who loved them and take from them what you like best.

Try this: Copy your role models and leaders. Thinking of leadership as an innate trait and not as a learned skill causes anxiety according to research reported by Psychology Today. The study concluded that people only benefit from role models when they acknowledge skills as learnable. Recognize that talents are learnable skills.

2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.

According to the American Psychological Association impostor phenomenon (or impostor syndrome) was first described in the 1970s. Unable to internalize and accept their success, we often attribute accomplishments to luck instead of ability. There exists a fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.

In this chapter, Keon reminds us that we all fake it until you make it. This reminds me of a TED Talk where we’re told to fake it until you become it. Keep pretending to make something until you make something. Creative work is theatre.

Reverse engineer others work, take apart the pieces to see how it works. Learn their way of looking at the world. This reminds me of a (probably apocryphal) tale of composers George Gershwin and Maurice Ravel. When Gershwin asked Ravel to teach him about composition, Ravel alledgedly replied “Why be a second-rate Ravel when you’re already a first-rate Gershwin?”

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing” Salvador Dali

Try this: Recognize your accomplishments. Lack of confidence in your ability to succeed often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

3. Write the book you want to read.

Take your favorite parts and use them. Your own art is fan fiction combining the favorite characters and pieces from your favorite stories and images. Create based on the stories you like to read. Ask what would make this better. Think about versions of your favorite work and then what would it be like next. If all your favorite artists collaborated, what would that look like?

How am I writing my own book? I often joke with friends and strangers that when I’m nervous I just imagine I’m someone else. I’m the hero or the villain of the book. Sometimes I feel like I can’t do something. It’s beyond me or for someone else. I’ll be  afraid to act heroic fixing my problems. I’ll be afraid of being villainized and judged. I recognize these fears as imagination and try imagining different ways of looking at it.

Try this: Question your truth and story. Write out your fears and explore reasons they shouldn’t be accepted.

4. Use your hands.

Traditional art has power. Draw! Sketch! Computers are too perfectionist and bring out our inner perfectionist This chapter reminds me of a studies where paper money is psychologically different from using credit cards. Credit cards are abstract and our brain thinks of the money involved differently.

Try this: Sketch, doodle, and write by hand. The tactile experience can help you see and understand problems in new ways. The accidents created by hand movement can help you see new shapes and “feel” the energy of lines. Next time you have a problem, whether it’s an art problem or not, try a sheet of paper.

5. Side projects and hobbies are important.

Productive procrastination is putting off one thing by doing another productive thing. Even the stuff that’s play — messing around — can turn in to something else. Have a lot of projects. What Unifies your work is that you made it.  I always say the best way to procrastinate is to do something else on my “someday maybe list”. The gym, cleaning, a walk. This blog. The podcast. Don’t choose between your passions.

Try this: Find time every month for your side projects. Identify what you consider your side projects, the things you do just for the feel good benefit, and learn to diversify your time investments into happy tasks.

6. The secret: do good work and share it with people.

Obscurity allows you to explore and see what resonates with people . Make stuff, fail, get better, share it. Wonder at something. Invite others to wonder with you. Give away your secrets, your thought process. If you’re worried about sharing too many secrets, share small pieces and leave others to figure out how to connect them.

Try this: Whether it’s with your real life social friends or with established online connections such as this blog, feel more free to share your work.

7. Geography is no longer our master.

Create your own world, surround yourself with objects you love. Enjoy solitude with a pen, notepad, a book. Leave home. Enjoy new surroundings. Enjoy people who don’t do what you do.

Try this: Add mastering the internet fearlessly to your life. Comment on the articles you love. Send thank you notes and appreciation to all the authors, web sites, even celebrities who you really love. Share your artwork and design on any site that has pictures. There are people out there who wish they were as daring as you

8. Be nice (The world is a small town.)

Make friends, ignore enemies. You are a here to make friends, life isn’t a reality show. Say nice things about people . Surround yourself with good people, the best people, who are smarter and better than you.  Be willing to look stupid. Hang out with the most talented people in the room. Channel the energy you’d use on enemies and embarrassment on your art. Keon tells us to keep a record of all the compliments you receive for when you need that. Save any nice emails, comments tweets in one place

Try this: Write fan letters. Not to get a response, just to express your kindness. Public fan letters. Write blog posts about people you admire and link to their site. Make art dedicated to your heroes. Do it for your own sense of gratitude and appreciation. If you’re a big fan of a Rihanna or Beyonce, why not just Tweet to them and let them know you’re a fan. Or handwrite fan mail. The idea that you did something out of appreciation will enrich your own life. You might not get validation. Many artists didn’t until after their lives. The guy who wrote the musical Rent was never able to see its success. Neither did Van Gogh. People usually wont see or understand your struggle, good artwork looks effortless.

9. Be boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.)

Take care of yourself. Your personal finances, your family, and your friends all may need your attention. You need to sleep, eat right, exercise. This gives you energy to act creatively. Stay out of debt. Learn about money, make a budget, spend less than you make, save, get educated for as cheap as possible. Say no to take out and new things to replace things that work. Keep your day job for connection to the world and routine and control over your life. Limiting your time helps you schedule your creativity. “Work gets done when time is available.” Use your calendar and schedule more things until you have most things scheduled.

Try this: Keep a logbook, list what you’ve done every day. Not a diary, just lists, projects, a daily record of small details. Keep track of how far you traveled. What are the best things that happened today? Draw and sketch around your lists. Pick your friends, partner, and even family who you choose to have around you and how much.

10. Creativity is subtraction.

Choose what to leave out.  Place constraints on yourself. Painting with one color. Make things work with what you have. Do with less. Art is struggle against limitations.


If I have one major complaint about the book Steal Like An Artist it’s that it’s too short! However, I’m definitely going to pick up the authors next book: Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered. I love that the book ends with a spread of “deleted scenes” explaining how the book began its life on index cards and showing you what didn’t make the cut.

More book reviews

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

15 Tips to Work More Like Pixar: Creativity Inc. by former Disney president Ed Catmull

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration tackles Pixar and Disney from the view of technology, individuality, and artistry all while creating a viable business. 

As a graphic designer, I love to balance creativity and responsibility. Like Pixar, we’re in the business of bottling and selling our imaginations

Ed Catmull, the computer scientist who became president of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios, deals with this awesome collision of seemingly conflicting interests with sincerity right out of Wall-E.

I’m a huge pop culture fanatic: My friends would do trivia and one night they turned in a guess before I even heard the question figuring no one would know the answer. I felt shocked to learn that no one else knew who played Robin in the old Adam West version of Batman. It was Burt Ward, people. Burt Ward. Do people not know this?

So as you can imagine, I’ve laughed and cried with Pixar in the theatre over the years. Remember in Toy Story 3 when Woody and his friends held hands and resigned themselves to incineration? You have no soul if that didn’t rock you to the core.

In the spirit of Pixar’s films, I have 15 tips on how you can apply Ed Catmull’s experiences at Pixar and Disney to your own life full of imagination and wonder:

Tip 1: Build trust

In business we all hear so much about positivity, though do we question what that means? 

For Ed, positivity is about putting people first. People want to trust, hope, and have faith. The book targets anyone who wants to be creative and says anyone can be creative. We want people to solve problems without feeling that they have to ask for permission.

“Trust doesn’t mean that you trust someone won’t screw up – it means you trust them even when they do screw up”

Ed Catmull

Tip 2: Respond well to failure

When we create an environment not driven by fear and failure, we develop the people around us and help them grow. 

To cut the natural fear response of controlling and micromanaging, we have to make surprises more comfortable and not threatening. Trust can’t be created as quickly as fear.

Ed tells us that facing the fear of failure and forming trust happens when we avoid secrecy when it’s not necessary. Sharing “secrets” shows that employees are trusted. When given trust, people are more likely to keep secrets. As a company, Pixar is excellent at keeping secrets internal by treating employees as smart, trustworthy, and capable partners.

“Every single Pixar film, at one time or another, has been the worst movie ever put on film. But we know. We trust our process. We don’t get scared and say, ‘Oh, no, this film isn’t working.'”

John Lasseter

Tip 3: Step back to see the big picture

Our view remains the only perspective we really will ever know. 

Pixar views daily versions of each film to discover problems. Ed describes “The Problem of the Beautifully Shaded Penny”, that if not aware of the big picture each employee will treat their piece as if it was the greatest piece. 

The penny metaphor describes how a motivated animator could create a very detailed penny if that’s the task given, even though in the final film it would only be seen in a blink of an eye.

“Working at Pixar you learn the really honest, hard way of making a great movie, which is to surround yourself with people who are much smarter than you, much more talented than you, and incite constructive criticism; you’ll get a much better movie out of it.”

Andrew Stanton  

Ed reminds us that we can’t assume creativity can’t be quantified as data. Creativity times time, it takes several revisions, and we can compare time estimated versus real-time. We can view the state of work at deadlines and the quality level at every transfer between departments.

Tip 4: Know your weaknesses

Ed acknowledges that sometimes we’re all confident. Sometimes we’re not. The key reason for constructive and practical communication is letting others know it’s okay to make mistakes. 

How we deal with mistakes is what counts. As a designer, I have to make revisions, corrections, and changes. Rather than leap to the idea that we should have known, remember this is part of the process.

Tip 5: Evaluate the process

Something as simple as the shape of a table can change the way we interact. A beautiful table at the Pixar office was impractical for work, setting up a hierarchy that left employees feeling too intimidated to speak. Remember how King Arthur brought his knights together around table? This showed they were all equals.

In our personal and professional lives, encouraging proximity and equality in all situations benefits communication. The Pixar building was also designed to force employees from all departments to interact. 

Informal interactions between employees with no working relationships encouraged solutions that you’d never come to in a meeting while sitting around a table of any shape. This matches research about proximity and friendship.

How do we enable you to solve problems and do things differently? Question the perceptions and assumptions that went into the current situation.

“You don’t actually do a project; you can only do action steps related to it. When enough of the right action steps have been taken, some situation will have been created that matches your first picture of the outcome closely enough that you can call it “done.”  David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Tip 6: Embrace the unknown

The best managers make room for what they don’t know. 

Loosen controls, accept risks, and build trust. Engage with and pay attention to anything that creates fear.  The book’s subtitle, “Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration”, is a great summary of this theme.

Ed reminds us that many of these forces may stay unnoticed and may not ever be visible. Employees may never want to discuss certain issues with their manager. The best managers, according to Ed, are the ones who don’t need all the information.

When Pixar employees attempted to become middlemen, Pixar reminded them that in their culture anyone can talk to anyone at any level. The communication structure shouldn’t mirror the organizational structure. 

Being a manager means employees won’t be so open with you.

Tip 7: Show that you listen

It’s not enough to listen. Take responsive action.

Use words that connect those actions to what you heard and who gave you the idea. Try not to expect others to guess where you’re coming from.

Ed describes how Japanese-made manufacturing defied the conventions of American companies that only allowed the very highest levels of managers to stop the production line. Manufacturers in Japan shifted assembly lines away from quality control inspection after the fact.

Instead, every employee on the production line was responsible for product quality. While the American system gave each employee no say in how to make their job more efficient, the Japanese worker culture created pride. They felt encouraged to carry out even the smallest changes and not just accept their role in a robotic assembly line.

Silicon Valley, Pixar, and Apple brought these ideas to the United States building trust with each employee as an ally in making quality products.

Tip 8: Embrace humility

We tend to think success or failure signifies factors within our control.

Often external forces and randomness play a role. We must use care in not believing our own hype. We can’t account for these factors. The simplest explanation with fewer assumptions. Unforeseen things happen that are not anyone’s fault.

Tip 9: Take risks

Don’t prevent risk, make it safe for others to take a risk.

The cost of preventing errors is often greater than fixing them. Pixar animators show characters moving before going forward to make movements predictable. Moving left for a split second makes the audience anticipate moving right. Leaving out these moments and ignoring the rule, however, gives an element of surprise.

Tip 10: Acknowledge the challenge

The general agreement won’t lead to change, it takes a lot of energy even when all agree. 

Success in creativity isn’t repeatable by process and pointless to try to recapture it exactly as it was. Steve Jobs predicted that Pixar would one day make a bad movie, it was inevitable. 

The team had to be prepared for a disaster and look for other hidden problems. Accept that flaws exist. Inevitably, there will always be some problems that cannot be avoided.

“Our fate lies within us. You only have to be brave enough to see it. “

Merida, Brave

Tip 11: Be decisive

Director Brad Bird learned to deal with stress by acknowledging he holds stress and must find coping mechanisms. 

We all have feelings, it’s just about how we deal with them. Sometimes Brad’s coping method is simply to do nothing.

As Andrew Stanton said, “Hurry up and fail”. Decide to be decisive and forgive yourself. A director is like a ship captain. Commit to a destination and if you are headed in the wrong direction, you can change course then.

“When life gets you down, do you wanna know what you’ve gotta do? Just keep swimming.”

Dory, Finding Nemo

Colleagues want committed decision-making and honesty about decisions that didn’t work. Make your best guess and hurry up about it, then simply change course. Collaboration creates complications.

When we have allies, the nature of collaboration makes us a solver of problems. Letting others know about problems allows them to offer solutions as well. Be prepared and not irritated with challenges. Creatives know that when we’re sailing, we will face weather and waves.

Tip 12: Embrace teamwork

Movies don’t often emerge from a single visionary, even if it’s possible as a seed. 

Even a good idea needs to be excavated through effective collaboration. Like in archeology, Ed tells us that the bones you find in creative work may belong to several different dinosaurs. 

When working with Disney, they decided to move away from a notes system where people did not have film experience and did not know how to give constructive feedback.

“You and I are a team. There is nothing more important than our friendship.”

Mike, Monsters, Inc.

While Ed and his new team started at Disney, he did have to train Disney employees to be more helpful by steering clear of negative evaluations and focusing on the positive. This balance helps everyone feel more comfortable with the facts of the day. 

With their own truths, detached from those of Pixar, Ed helped Disney as a modern studio to have its own individuality reflecting the culture its own employees wanted. 

In graphic design, art, and movies, the most effective creatives know that every team and every project is unique.

Tip 13: Expect Change

Creativity is complex and evolves. Small companies work differently than big ones. 

Things change and we have to keep changing. New employees didn’t know the history or reasons for processes and had new ideas for processes. 

At Pixar, as new employees joined the company that was now viewed as a modern legend, new challenges to the core values emerged.

“I can’t stop Andy from growing up… but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Woody, Toy Story 2

As a bigger company, Ed and his team created drawing, sculpting, and coding classes to teach about each other’s work. Classrooms are where mistakes happened. This also put all of them in social interactions outside of the work structure and set a tone for everyone to keep learning and be flexible.

“Protect the future, not the past”

Ed Catmull

Tip 15: Make it personal

In a creative business, we all know that there exists a huge personal element. 

At Pixar, the leaders would not only hand out bonuses. They would personally deliver them with a thank you. After the success of Tangled, they printed personal letters and give each of them a DVD copy.

“Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way.”

Ed Catmull


Creativity, Inc. uses the how-to and self-help book format to tell the story of Pixar. 

When viewed as a storytelling framework it is an effective and time-tested format for all kinds of content. 

Tina Fey told her story this way in Bossy Pants and Amy Poehler took the format self-reflectively with Yes Please which seems more comparable here. 

Ed has some of the expected behind-the-scenes stories for the Pixar movies up to this point. Still, his focus remains on cultivating an environment of ideas.

We also get a look at Steve Jobs’s evolution and how his strength of views. His vision remained malleable and formed based on his reliance on building a good team of people. 

As a designer and artist, the idea of incorporating that feeling of creativity into sustainable living is the end game for me. For the creatives, at Pixar, Disney, and everywhere else the obstacles of combining creativity, art, and business ultimately form our lives.

More ideas from my favorite books

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.