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Confessions of a Reformed Micromanager

It's easy to convince myself that I know better than everyone else. But I don't.

Confessions of a Reformed Micromanager

Director Brad Bird had to stretch to get The Incredibles right

[Incredibles Image: Everett Collection]

I have a lot of ideas. I like to think that they're good ideas. I've been at this a while, so I've honed my skills. It's easy to convince myself that I know better than everyone else. But I don't. If Fast Company presents only the ideas of Bob Safian, it will get narrow, predictable, and boring. One person can have only so much perspective. By including more voices, more ideas, and more perspectives, Fast Company can offer a more dynamic experience. Our collective creativity is far richer than any single source could provide.

It isn't easy to unlock the creativity of an organization, though. As Pixar president Ed Catmull deftly illuminates in his forthcoming book, Creativity, Inc.—which (we've excerpted as part of our cover package this issue—it's not just bureaucracy and rules that deaden creative impact. It's also human nature: We hesitate to challenge those we work alongside, not wanting to risk amity in the service of candor. What Catmull teaches is how to bridge that divide, to pair candor and amity, to build trust that allows creative sharing to bloom.

One story I love from his book, which isn't included in the excerpt, is about the making of The Incredibles. After an early screening, director Brad Bird's colleagues gently but firmly shared that the relationship between the husband and wife wasn't working. They felt that a major rewrite was in order. Bird took the criticism at face value—but not the solution. He believed in his characters, but why weren't they coming across as he intended? Bird zeroed in on one scene, an argument in which the rather large Mr. Incredible raised his voice at his waifish wife, Elastigirl. Bird realized that the visuals made the husband seem a bully, and the wife a victim. His solution: to have Elastigirl expand her body at a key moment in the scene. The dialogue remained unchanged. When Bird screened the revised film, his colleagues applauded him for what they perceived as a radical rewrite. They didn't realize that just one small thing had been adjusted.

A creative culture requires giving your talent room to explore, treating one another with candor, and trusting all to do what they do best. That's what we strive to do at Fast Company, and it sure is fun. We hope the result of all that—this magazine, our websites and mobile offerings, and everything else we create—is fun and enriching for you too.

A version of this article appeared in the April 2014 issue of Fast Company magazine.