Today I fulfilled a professional dream, to work with one of the most creative companies on the planet, Disney. When I studied creativity several years ago I chose to write about how Pixar innovates and how the company (now owned by Disney) builds creativity into its DNA. So inspired by my visit I thought I’d share some of one of my papers on the subject from the innovation module of the course (the MA in innovation, creativity and leadership, MICL) at Cass Business School. I’ve written about some of the peer-review practices at Pixar that drive collaboration before here. In this excerpt I’m focussing on creative leadership and what it takes to keep moving a company forward creatively.
Innovation is the lifeblood of the business. Pixar is constantly seeking, encouraging and provoking change. As Catmull says:
“Things never stay the same, they are supposed to change. We are not trying to freeze anything in time.”
Pixar began as George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic Company in the 1980’s as leaders in software development and computer graphics. If a key tenet of leadership is inspiring a shared vision then Lucas, Catmull and latterly Steve Jobs, who invested in the company, had it in spades.
Support risk-taking & tolerate ambiguity
This is a key element of Pixar’s culture and one that is actively fostered. Catmull on finding a big idea:
“If you want to be original, you have to accept the uncertainty, even when it’s uncomfortable, and have the capability to recover when your organization takes a big risk and fails.”
“My strategy has always been: be wrong as fast as we can. Which basically means, we’re gonna screw up, let’s just admit that. Let’s not be afraid of that” says Andrew Stanton, Director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E. You can read more about this topic in my book In Your Creative Element.
In what seems like a contradiction, there is a random element deliberately built into the very fabric of the Pixar building. Designed by Steve Jobs it is “…structured to maximize inadvertent encounters” says Catmull.
This is echoed by the notion of the ‘60-foot radius rule.’ “The idea here is that innovation is inherently social and is best propagated in busy communal areas or where people are seated close to each other. Beyond 60 feet people tend not to talk to each other, with the result that ideas aren’t passed around” so says futurologist Richard Watson.
Looking after their people is absolutely central to Pixar’s success. As Brad Bird, Pixar Director says, “in my experience, the thing that has the most significant impact on a movie’s budget—but never shows up in a budget—is morale. If you have low morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about 25 cents of value. If you have high morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about $3 of value. Companies should pay much more attention to morale.”
All types of creative styles and approaches are considered equal. Employees are encouraged to work and learn together. Pixar has its own University whose motto is Alienus Non Diutius Latin for ‘alone no longer.’
“It’s the heart of our model giving people opportunities to fail together and to recover from mistakes together,” Dean Randy Nelson.
Everyone from accountants to chefs learn how to draw as well as 100’s of other courses. They share their work at each stage in the same way as the ‘dailies’ in order to continue the open culture of feedback and improvement.
If you’re interested in how to develop a creative culture and build your leadership capabilities contact firstname.lastname@example.org