In his book “Creativity, Inc.” Ed Catmul looks at the philosophy or culture inside the organisation he leads, Pixar. The company which has produced animated classics like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Monsters Inc. is a creative environment that is constantly striving to be the best at what it does. Amongst the essential ingredients of the culture Catmul has developed, he lists candor. Truth telling. He suggests it is necessary in this environment, and yet like all of us, he is aware of the dangers.
Often in the effort to tell the truth to someone, we can end up tearing them apart and leaving them wounded. At Pixar they understand the point of truth telling isn’t to tear down, but to inspire a colleague and help build something with them. From this framework he writes, “candor isn’t cruel. It does not destroy. On the contrary, any successful feedback system is built on empathy, on the idea that we are all in this together, that we understand your pain because we’ve experienced it ourselves.”
It is the idea that I am telling you this out of a desire for you to be the best you can be, and from a posture of humility where I don’t think I have it all together. In fact, remembering our own pain at critical candor rather than constructive candor can be a good place to start when deciding how to enter into a conversation like this with another.
Interestingly, this is not a new idea. In Ephesians 4: 15-16, Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Truth, any truth, must be undergirded by love and a desire to help the community or organisation you are part of – be all it can be.
As Catmul rightly observed, “candor isn’t cruel”, but it can be when delivered the wrong way or with the wrong motives. It is a reminder that honest conversations are a necessary part of life and community; yet without love, empathy, humility and a deep concern for another then it can be cruel. Yet, when offered the right way, candor can be a gift.