There’s a good article in the April issue of Fast Company about Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar and Disney Animation, a trusted peer of Steve Jobs, and the author of a new book, Creativity, Inc. that I really want to read.
What caught my eye in the article was one of his tips on how to lead a creative business: Save the Ugly Baby from the Hungry Beast. The net net of this concept is that in the beginning, all ideas are ugly. Or half-baked. Or only a shadow of their future selves. And at this stage they are both fragile and precious.
As the incubator of the baby, it’s your job to protect and nurture it so that it has a shot at succeeding in the real world, aka the lair of the Hungry Beast — whether that’s customers, movie watchers, the financial markets, or the competition. Judgment day will come, and if the baby remains ugly, the toll will be swift and painful.
Catmull goes on to say that all of Pixar’s multi-billion dollar blockbuster hits, from Toy Story to Monsters Inc., started this way. Pretty remarkable.
What struck me immediately is the similarity to apparel design. In the beginning, when we first receive a prototype, or “proto,” it’s often laughable. For starters, it arrives in the dreaded “available” colors, which means everything from mushroom brown to Pepto pink. The fit is off. The measurements are wonky. The trims are temporary. It’s a very ugly baby. And to be honest, you’d prefer to kill it off quickly.
Just seeing it on your desk makes you queasy. You question everything from decisions you made on the details, to the meaning of life, your world view and the viability of your future as a designer. It’s heavy stuff. But then something changes. You see a good angle, a decent fit, a tweak here and there that will smooth it out. Someone in the office says, “Oooh! What’s that?” And then you begin to believe. You see that it has the potential to morph. To improve. And to possibly, just maybe, transform into something someone wants to wear.
But in the beginning, it’s scary.
When all you have is a mother’s love for an ugly baby.