How to Become Exceptional
This is the type of question Ed Catmull, one of the founders of Pixar, asks in his book titled Creativity, Inc. (affiliate link). The book is part memoir telling the stories behind one of the most creative companies of our time. But the book is also part challenge to become exceptional.
Or in my words, to live not just a better, but an exceptional story.
A Pixar-esque Story
Every movie made by Pixar accomplishes what you expect out of an animated film, the entertainment of children. But the movies also do more. They help adults to discover the child within by showing what is truly important in life.
They tell stories that touch our hearts. They create characters that all of us identify with. They touch on what it means to be human. And they tell incredibly creative stories.
How do they do it?
While anyone would be jealous of the kinds of stories the people of Pixar tell both on the screen and through their company, few attain this level of accomplishment. In his book Catmull reveals some of the secrets behind their success. Based on the quality of the products they create, you might guess they use magic.
Pixar makes exceptional look easy, but the truth is both simple and difficult.
One key component on the path to exceptional is the willingness to be honest with yourself. You have to be ready to examine who you are and what you do. You have to understand why you choose the things you do. You have to understand your weaknesses.
Catmull has this to say about this process of self-understanding.
Companies, like individuals, do not become exceptional by believing they are exceptional but by understanding the ways in which they aren’t exceptional.
Pixar tells incredible stories, and has become an exceptional company, because they have developed ways to see themselves. They have developed a culture of candidness. They have developed ways to unearth what would typically stay hidden.
And then they choose to change those parts of themselves for the better.
Your beliefs about yourself, or your hopes and dreams for what you want to become, do not change you. What changes you is what you choose to do.
The Hardest Part
Catmull’s statement is obvious, isn’t it? You fix what is broken. You add what is missing. You change what does not work. What is not so obvious is how to see the ways in which our stories are less than exceptional.
The less than better parts of your storu are hard to see. There are aspects of your life you would just assume not see. Parts that are embarrassing. Or parts that your subconscious does not want you to know about. Parts that you think you have all figured out when you do not.
Parts that you would love to keep hidden from everyone else. Parts that you would love to keep hidden from you.
The first step in transforming your story is being able to see what needs to change.
How Do We Learn to See Ourselves?
Seeing yourself is incredibly difficult. You are so accustomed to yourself it is hard for you to understand that there could be a better way. You are so used to what you do, you imagine it is the only way to do it.
Need help learning to see what is less than exceptional about your story? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Assume that you do not know everything.
Be humble. Be willing to Look at everything with fresh eyes, and start over.
2. Question everything.
Dissect your story. Take it apart piece by piece. Don’t just question the things you don’t like. But everything. Make the assumption that every part of your story could be better. And find out how.
3. Assume others do things better than you.
Be willing to learn. Be willing to ask questions and interact with somebody else. The more somebodies the better.
4. Try something new.
Go to a different country. Eat different food. Visit a different church. Read a book that don’t want to read. Challenge yourself with ideas that are different from your own.