Pixar’s story is a little like those in its films: Some kids with moxie who did things differently took a risk and won over the world. Each of Pixar’s 14 computer-animated films has opened at number one; together they’ve grossed $8.5 billion worldwide. And, just like in a fairy tale, Pixar’s story has a hero.
The current president of both Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios, Ed Catmull, came to movies by way of science. He garnered degrees in physics and computer science from the University of Utah. And his groundbreaking work in computer animation, while there, attracted the attention of the New York Institute of Technology, which hired him to lead it’s new Computer Graphics Lab in 1974. From there, in 1979, George Lucas brought in Catmull to lead Lucasfilm’s computer-graphics division, which, in 1986, was purchased by Steve Jobs and renamed Pixar. The rest, as they say, is history.
But it might not have been, if not for Catmull and his cofounders’ forward-thinking managerial style and approaches toward growing a business.
With the help of journalist Amy Wallace, Catmull has distilled his working ethos into an engaging book, “Creativity, Inc.”, which will be published by Random House on April 8, that is part memoir, part storytelling, and part business guide.
Pixar fans will enjoy behind-the-scenes stories and trivia (“Monsters, Inc.” was originally about a grown man dealing with frightening creatures no one else can see); business leaders will glean not just information but motivation too (see below). Catmull’s secret to success seems to be an unwavering dedication to looking for unknowns and dealing with what he finds. He focuses on preparing himself and his team to deal with unseen challenges when they’re found, rather than trying to prevent them or, worse, pretend they aren’t there. Being unafraid of challenges and working cooperatively first and foremost are things that Catmull believes will make businesses better. To Pixar fans, it sounds familiar.
Tips from Ed Catmull:
“If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources.”
“There are many valid reasons why people aren’t candid with one another in a work environment. Your job is to search for those reasons and then address them.”
“Do not fall for the illusion that by preventing errors, you won’t have errors to fix. The truth is, the cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.”
“Change and uncertainty are part of life. Our job is not to resist them but to build the capability to recover when unexpected events occur.”
“Similarly, it is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.”
“Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.”
“Trust doesn’t mean that you trust that someone won’t screw up—it means you trust them even when they do screwup.”
“A company’s communication structure should not mirror it’s organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.”
“Do not accidentally make stability a goal. Balance is more important than stability.”
Don’t confuse the process with the goal. Working on our processes to make them better, easier, and more efficient is an indispensable activity and something we should continually work on—but it is not the goal. Making the product great is the goal.