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Innovate the Pixar Way

In: Business and Management

Submitted By melyac
Words 2883
Pages 12
Mamoune El Yacoubi

Innovate the Pixar way by Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson

Through the years, Pixar has been producing both technological and artistic breakthroughs. In fact, this organization is the pioneer in the computer-animated technology with its release of Toy Story in 1995, and has established itself as a creative company (Ed Catmull, 2008). Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson have decided to write the book, Innovate the Pixar way, which provides “business lessons from the world’s most creative corporate playground”, being Pixar.

When asking Ed Catmull, cofounder of Pixar and the president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, in a Harvard Business Review paper about how to foster creativity in his organization, three main points are raised; Culture, leadership and collaboration.

In the book under our analysis, the same points are raised. However, the authors believe that the key factor of Pixar’s great creativity is the fact that everyone thinks like a child and acts like a child within the organization. In fact, Pixar will inspire the readers to (Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, 2010):
- Dream like a child.
- Believe in your playmates.
- Dare to jump in the water and make waves.
- Do unleash your childlike potential.

The book is then divided into four parts and deal with the four main components that will help readers enhance their creativity: Dream, believe, dare and do. The first part talks about a supportive organization, where leadership plays a great role. Then, collaboration is the company is touched on. After, three aspects of creativity that are risk-taking, play and imagination are dealt with. Finally, the key points to create a “playground” similar to Pixar’s have been introduced. In order to review the book we will analyze the four sections of it, namely Dream, believe, dare, do. In addition, we will relate the book to what we have learned in our corporate creativity class. However, in order for our analysis not to be a kind a basic summary, we are going to follow the three key points introduced by Ed Catmull in his discussion; Culture, Leadership and collaboration.


- Introduction

In Innovate the Pixar way, the most important thing that we notice in terms of the company’s culture is the fact that people see the things from the “eyes of a child”. Pixar understands that creativity comes naturally to children, as they are “born that way”, and tries to bring its employees back to childhood in order to foster their creativity further. As opposed to most organizations today, the company gives a lot of freedom to its employees. Pixar rewards its employees’ imagination, as it is believed to be “the very thing that kept us so interested in discovering and trying new things when we were young”. Also, it allows its employees to let loose their childlike magic and energy as children, in order for them to “tak[e] risks and pursu[e] big ideas”, the essence of creativity. (Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, 2010)

- Corporate Structure

“Creativity doesn’t follow titles; it just comes from where it comes from.”

Pixar believes there should be no hierarchical structure, and almost no “span of control” is its offices. In fact, the barriers created by it, slows the creativity and innovation processes. Hence, the company tries to remove those barriers, and encourages work between people from different positions, backgrounds and disciplines. Open communication channels are established within the company, meaning that regardless of its title or department anyone could approach anyone else within an open and energizing environment. This adds on the relaxed atmosphere in Pixar offices.

The Corporate structure at Pixar can easily be compared the IDEO’s one we have studied in class. In fact, in IDEO, there is no hierarchy, meaning no organization charts, no titles. The interaction between the employees is made easier as no titles are given. (Perry, T.S. 1995)

- Imagination and play at Pixar

“Imagination in the bridge to reality when you dream for infinity and beyond!”

As stated above, imagination is very encouraged in a company like Pixar as it is the essence to creativity and innovation. What comes along with imagination is dream. Pixar believes that what drives people, is the pursuing of their dreams in a long-term basis. Most companies today fail to understand that.
A comparison of what Pixar thinks an exciting imaginative and a dull unimaginative culture is, is proposed below.

Exciting Imaginative Culture Dull Unimaginative Culture

Linked employees Ranked employees
Seek ideas through collaborations Top-down ideas
Enabling others = power Telling other = power
Teach soft and hard skills Teach only hard skills
Live with ambiguity Pragmatic facts only
Make intuitive decisions Rational decisions only
Flexible and quick acting Inflexible, slow to act
Become highly diversified Little diversity
Make work play Work requires suffering

From this table (Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, 2010), we can see that a lot of things have to be taken into account in addition to dreaming, in order to develop an exciting imaginative culture.
The fact that the employees are allowed to “play” in a conducive physical environment is an important factor to develop one’s imagination and foster his/her creativity. In fact, according to John Lasseter, Pixar understands that “play is part of [their] work.”
The environment and architecture in Pixar’s offices is favorable to creativity with its artist friendly and non-corporate atmosphere. E.g. the stage is set with Steve Jobs’ inspired design of the curved metal roof resembling an airplane hangar. No “sterile hallways” are to be found. (Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, 2010) In addition, Pixar allows its employees to personalize their office space to their tastes, which is another way of having fun in the workplace and at the same time stimulating their creativity.
As stated above, Pixar understands that play has advantages for both the employees and the company itself. Facilities such as an atrium for improvised meetings, company celebrations, foosball games, or simply plain having fun, an Olympic-sized lap pool and a game room are available and constitute the Pixar “playground” in a campus-like office building. This allows the employees to interact between each other and share ideas, but also stimulate their creativity as the physical surroundings play a major role in the employees’ comfort and cheerfulness.

In the article “ Ideas are born in fields of play”, two kinds of play are introduced and that can be seen in Pixar. First, Diversionary play, a form of diversion from work, is made possible through the many facilities available in the office. (As described above) Engagement play, which is a way for engaging with one’s work is noticed through the actual culture of the company in which the people actually play and have when working and giving their views on current projects.
Another example that can be given, dealing with play, is the Pike Fish company where the employees actually have fun and play at work where delivering an experience to their customers.

- A risk taking culture

“It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you lived so cautiously that you might as well not [have] lived at all – in which case you failed by default.”

In the book, Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson have dedicated a whole chapter, named “The skater who never falls will never win the gold!” on risk-taking as they have noticed that is essential and central in Pixar’s culture.
Being in an industry where innovation is highly important, Pixar has to put itself at great risk. In fact, when brining something new, the company does not know what to expect in terms of the audience’s reaction. An important thing that the organization has to fight against is “risk minimization”. It is from the human nature to take the easy way and copy previous successes. (Ed Catmull, 2008) However, in Pixar, they tried to avoid this by “destroy[ing], demolish[ing], eradicate[ing], nuk[ing], vaporiz[ing] and zapp[ing] it”. (Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, 2010)
The key thing to come up with a successful new service is to be willing to accept uncertainty, and have the ability to recover when taking a risk and failing. A failure tolerance culture is required for achieving success.
Ten ideas to encourage risk taking and a “try, learn, and try again” culture is proposed in the book, which educates the readers. An interesting example states that we have to “celebrate failure with the same intensity that [we] celebrate success”. (Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, 2010) In fact, in Pixar, failure is not punished, but rather rewarded. Another interesting thing is the fact that the authors list failures of known artist in order for the readers to reach easily to their point.

We can relate this risk taking culture to the one in SAATCHI & SAATCHI. In fact, one of their philosophies is that the “encouragement of creativity means encouragement of risk taking” This basically means that the company rewards risk but never punishes failure.


- Introduction

“I have always had men working for me whose skills were greater than my own”

In today’s world, most companies strongly believe that employees should follow their leaders. Instead of developing self-motivated thinkers who strive to find new ideas themselves and use their diversity to the benefit of the company, the leaders are followed, assuming they are always right. Walt Disney has quickly understood that this kind of leadership slows the creativity of a company and that there are more disadvantages to it than advantages.

- Supportive leadership

“It is all for one and one for all!”

In order to foster creativity in an organization, an environment of trust is needed in order for the employees to be self-motivated to the success of the company. Pixar clearly understands this. In fact, when analyzing the environment where the employees work in (refer to parts above), we can see that the company is willing to make all the resources needed available. In addition, Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith establish the company with a clear vision that is communicated among the employees. They understand that communication is highly important for great leaders and that it is vital to provide the people in the organization with the information needed for success and then let them do their work.
Pixar differentiates its leadership styles from other companies in the way people with different titles interact and support one another for achieving the company success. Both creative “brain trust” and “the dailies” (Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, 2010) emphasize this supportiveness in terms of leadership.
The “brain trust” highly shows the level of cooperation available within Pixar. It is a group consisting of eight directors and other team members who are available whenever a director or a producer is in need of support. The team is willing to give feedback in order to make the current state of the movie or else better. Trust and respect are fundamental for success to be achieved.
Pixar believes that communication and supportiveness has to be available among all the employees. “Dailies” have then been implemented. It is basically a way for the employees to get constant feedback on their current work. According to this method spurs creativity as everyone is “energized and inspired” by what is being done by other, and allows communication within the overall company.
To sum up, we can say that Pixar employs a procreativity leadership in the way it supports all its employees with all the resources and information needed. Further, the company empowers them, by both stimulating their brains with challenging tasks and giving them autonomy.

The supportiveness in the leadership we have been talking about in this part of the review can be assimilated to the one of two different companies we have been dealing with in Corporate creativity, being, SAATCHI & SAATCHI and Lanyard Corporation.
In the former, the company thinks that the best creative thinking comes from a sympathetic and supportive community culture. In the latter, conditions in order to reach creativity are defined. An important factor being the supportiveness of the staff and the delivery of constructive feedback.


- Introduction

“We have to hire people smarter that ourselves”

According to Ed Catmull, the biggest problem creative organizations face is finding good people, and not finding good ideas. In fact, he thinks that talented people are the ones that help the company recover when the organizations takes a risk and fails. Pixar is a “community in the true sense of the word” (Ed Catmull, 2008). This basically means that the company believes in its people and invests time, resources and money in practices to manage the talent. An example on the organization’s investment is Pixar University. Pixar understands that each and every one of its employees whatever its title, is a great asset to the company. The company’s university offers more than a hundred classes in different disciplines, not only art. This is to foster further the staff’s creativity. Four hours of classes each week can be taken by the employees, and counted as their work time. The autonomy given to them to choose whatever course they like or even not to choose any empowers and intrinsically motivates (as they learn) them.
In terms of Human resources practices, Pixar understands that it is not enough to hire the best person. Empowering as well as energizing the talents is a highly important factor. Pixar then provides an on-the-job training program as well as an on-going education mentioned before.
- Team collaboration

“If you give a good idea to a mediocre group, they’ll screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a good group, they’ll fix it.”

Once the talented people are found, knowing how to get these employees to work effectively together is important. However, some problems rise when trying to do so. In fact, getting people from different backgrounds and disciplines can be very beneficial for the company. It is however, difficult to do so. Pixar looks for people who are willing to work together and support one another (Ed Catmull, 2008). According to Randy Nelson, there are four proficiencies to making “art a team sport” (Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, 2010):
- Depth: Having the skill to perform a task and pursuing the project until the end.
- Breadth: Having the willingness and ability to explore diversified interests.
- Communication: Having the ability to receive feedback from others without fear of failure.
- Collaboration: Being able to bring together all the above proficiencies.
In the industry where Pixar is in, a healthy interaction with the people is important, as everyone’s input is important to come up with the best output. Failure and errors have to be tolerated by each and everyone in the company. The communication is highly important too. We have been talking above about the ways Pixar uses so everyone can communicate within the company: “dailies” and “brain trust”.

When talking about teaming, another company, just like Pixar stands out. This company is IDEO. As we have said in previous parts of the review IDEO believes that no titles are needed for a company’s success. Another thing the organization believes is in its people and their interaction. In fact, the company works as small teams in which people from different disciplines work together. They believe that when allowing diverse employees work autonomously creativity can be reached. (Perry, T.S. 1995)
Further, we can talk about an article we have been dealing with in Corporate Creativity: Hot Groups. When analyzing this article, we can see that almost all the internal requirements for a group to nurture creativity e.g. openness and flexibility, independence and autonomy are available in a company like Pixar. (Leavitt Harold J. & Lipman-Blumen Jean, 1995)


In conclusion, we can say that Pixar is a great company with a strong corporate culture, in which trust and respect are highly values. The company understands that its people are the greatest asset they have and capitalize on them. It allows them to play in a conducive environment that nurtures creativity. Next, the organization believes that communication and supportiveness are two fundamental factors to a company’s success. Last, the collaboration between both members of the same team as well as people in the overall company is thought to be very important in an organization such as Pixar, which strives to make more breakthroughs in the animation industry.
In order to end this paper, I would like to give my opinion on what I thought about this book. Innovate the Pixar way, is a book that is both entertaining and educative. In fact, I tend to think that the authors have taken “a child like approach” in writing this book. It is an easy to read book, which gives actual examples of what is happening within the company. Regarding the educational part, I can say that this book can be an example for companies that want to implement play into their organizations. In fact, the authors even include in one of the chapters, “Forty-one neat things to unleash your imagination.”

From reading this book we can see that Pixar has been highly inspired by Disney. However, as one of their important points is not to copy successes, Pixar has always worked on an idea and improved it e.g. Pixar University idea comes from Disney.

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...Leadership Success and Failure Failure is life’s greatest enabler. Each time I attempt and fail it gives me an opportunity to renew and reinvent myself. Failure is not a loss, it is always a lesson. Being able to preserver and apply new solutions is what makes a failure become a success. To be a successful leader I must always be held accountable for the outcome and be responsible for the lessoned learned, to be motivated to never give up. Once I am proactive about my decisions and actions, I will be able to trust my instincts that have embedded into my memory of past failures. Each time I experience a failure, my intuition sharpens. Failure empowers me to trust myself to be fearless in new experiences. The more times you fail the clearer opportunities become. “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill According to Forbes article, Five things Failure teaches about Leadership, “Failure is not fatal.   It is a wake-up call for the next opportunity.” As a leader, I have to have the abundance mentality that there is plenty of opportunities. I find myself asking myself “If I only knew then what I know now.” Each opportunity allows for more wisdom. I will start to be able to see hidden opportunities that I could not see before. A successful leader will always have the enthusiasm to learn. Steve Jobs is an example of a successful leader. He was passionate about his journey and never gave up. Steve Jobs worked on his......

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...Business Leadership EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Steven Paul "Steve" Jobs, the man who saved a company that was literally a fiscal quarter away from bankruptcy and proceeded to grow it into the largest company in the world by market capital the company ‘The Apple’. Steve Jobs was an American businessman, designer and inventor. He is best known as the co-founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Apple Inc. Through Apple, he was widely recognized as a charismatic pioneer of the personal computer revolution. Good leadership is major, particularly in today’s competitive global economy, and can make the difference between the success and the failure of the organization. As per the sentence Steve jobs is the concrete example of a lifetime natural successful leader, evidence is the Apple’s success. Apple’s market capitalization is over $300 Billion (Elmer-Dewitt, 2011) making it the second most valuable publicly traded company in the world, surpassing even giant (and rival) Microsoft. Steve Jobs was an American businessman, designer and inventor. He is best known as the co-founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Apple Inc. Through Apple, he was widely recognized as a charismatic pioneer of the personal computer revolution. He was different from many other corporate leaders in that he always knew what he wanted. When he returned to Apple after his decade-long banishment starting in the mid-80′s, the company was on the margin of bankruptcy. He actually wrote some of the...

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