Creativity at Pixar

What makes Pixar a creative company? Here are a three suggestions to what provides the company with its corporate culture.

In the September 2008 edition of Harvard Business Review Pixar’s CEO Ed Catmull wrote a piece on how his company constantly is reinventing itself. How is that possible and what does he do?

Catmull claims that ‘talent is not equally spread among all people’. Therefore Pixar has three operating principles for constantly reinventing their corporate culture and I’ve seized the opportunity to associate on my own around his headlines:

1. Everyone must have the freedom to communicate with anyone

First, I believe it is crucial for leaders to constantly demonstrate the importance of having freedom to communicate with anyone within an organisation.  Most organisations are by default separated in silos. People act out work within these silos. Naturally, this is because it may be hard keeping constantly in touch with everyone across an organisation. Thus, silos establish themselves as social patterns guiding the flow of (or lack of) knowledge between the silos.

Brilliant people challenges the habit of silos. They move freely as they like and ask anyone they believe may add value to their work independently of their position.

2. It must be safe for eveyone to offer ideas

Sharing ideas and inviting people to give feedback on your ideas can be a rush – and it can end up being uncomfortable. Any leader should to as much as possible to enable co-workers a climate of well functioning feedback.

Sharing ideas can make people proud and grow. However, it will require leaders willing to display vulnerability, listen actively, acting out the ability to change and admit mistakes and wrongdoings. Only then a climate for sharing ideas will occur. Why? Well, growing up turn us into adults not being used to freely tossing arround ideas and reflections without backing them with reasoning. At least, compared to children, we tend to be more restric about sharing without the fear of being judged by our peers. This point is well illustrated by Tim Brown in one of my previous posts on design thinking.

3. We must stay close to innovations happening in the academic community

Ed Catmull works in a sector where innovation takes place in close collaboration with the technological forefront within animation techniques. Thus linking up with academics may serve useful. Other sectors may find this point of less relevance. Nevertheless, I’d translate Catmull’s claim into a more general statement about ‘active bumping into people you wouldn’t necessary think would serve useful to you’.

My point is: I believe spending time with people who are different from oneself professionally will always be useful and intellectually stimulating. Silos occur and smart thinking slows down because we stick to our cubicles for too much time in a row.

So, what sums it up:

  • leave your silo: discover people adding value to your projects
  • show courage: share ideas without fearing judgement from peers
  • talk to everyone: people you never thought would challenge you will turn out brilliant
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Creativity at Pixar

9 thoughts on “Creativity at Pixar

  1. These are very wise rules, but I am not sure all organizations have the self-confidence enough to apply these rules, regetfully. Thank you for an interesting article and interesting blog :-)

  2. Thanks a lot, Andreas. Messing up quickly to do things well in the long run is a wonderful attitude.

    I’ll try to live by that philosophy.

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