Just Stay Curious

Garrison Smith

29 March 2015

I had the opportunity to be part of the team that visited Emeryville, CA last week. Most people, if they even know Emeryville existed, only know it as small city just outside of Oakland. However, for the creative community, it is home to one of the most innovative and inspiring companies in the world…


We were on campus to film a special tribute video for one of the speakers for Leadercast this year, Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. We spent two days on campus filming colleagues and co-workers at Pixar about Catmull’s leadership and influence. People ranged from people he mentored to producers he worked with to professors he became friends with over the years. It was a wide cross-section of people who painted a very robust picture of the type of man Ed Catmull was and is.

One question our team asked each person was “What do you think drives Ed?” As I listened to the interviews we were capturing, there was one refrain I heard over and over again with every answer to this question: curiosity.

I found it fascinating that everyone mentioned this curiosity about Ed at some point or another regardless of their interaction with him.

But as I reflected throughout the day and in the time since, it makes sense.

As someone who has helped create one of the most creative and innovative companies in the world, you have to stay curious. Otherwise, you fall into complacency—whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Take Disney Animation Studios. Once heralded as the most innovative section of Walt Disney Studios, they were on the forefront of all things animation. The 80s and 90s were a golden age of animation for Disney with the introduction of new Disney princesses. 2D animation was conquering all sorts of new territory and Disney was king. But as the early 2000s came, Disney began to lose its foothold—ironically to the newly founded 3D animation studio, Pixar.

I can’t say with absolute certainty that the reason Disney Animation began to fall behind in that time was because of a loss in curiosity, but after reading Creativity Inc., Catmull does allude to a culture decline that gradually happened over time. He explains how one of his biggest challenges when appointed President of Disney Animation Studios was helping revive the culture of innovation and creativity that had been started by Walt and carried on throughout the years after his passing.

After listening to those that work with Catmull talk about his curiosity driving his creativity and bravery, I am convinced it is essential to the formula of how to successfully lead creatives.

All creatives want to be innovative.

All creatives want to make inspiring works.

All creatives want to push the boundaries and create beautiful things.

Unfortunately, life has a rhythm that defaults to routine. Innovation becomes difficult, so we choose familiar. Simplicity becomes hard, so we choose ease. Inspiring becomes draining, so we choose shallow. 

As a leader, you have to be keenly aware of the dynamics of your team and whether or not they are settling and choosing, deliberately or by default, complacency. It’s your job to keep your finger on the pulse of your team—not just for the sake of projects and deadlines. You have to be aware of their creativity as well.

Are your designers feeling like they’re just churning out the same thing over and over again? Challenge them to find a brand new problem to solve that they know nothing about.

Are your copywriters exhausted from mind-numbing blog posts? Encourage them to explore new areas of information that inspire them to think differently.

Are you worn out from trying to keep all the plates spinning at the same time? Give yourself permission to discover something fresh and new that takes your heart and mind on an adventure.

The cure for complacency is curiosity.


So you want to be creative? Just stay curious.

Now, it’s your turn:

How will you encourage curiosity as you lead today?

Garrison Smith

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