At the new York Institute of Technology, where i headed a new computer-animation laboratory, one of my first hires was Alvy ray smith, who made breakthroughs in computer painting. That made me realize that its ok to hire people who are smarter than you are. Then george lucas, of Star Wars fame, hired me to head a major initiative at Lucasfilm to bring computer graphics and other digital technology into films and, later, games. It was thrilling to do research within a film company that was pushing the boundaries. George didnt try to lock up the technology for himself and allowed us to continue to publish and maintain strong academic contacts. This made it possible to attract some of the best people in the industry, including John Lasseter, then an animator from Disney, who was excited by the new possibilities of computer animation.
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Contrary to what the studio head asserted essay at lunch that day, such people are not so easy to find. Whats equally tough, of course, is getting talented people to work effectively with one another. That takes trust and silverstein respect, which we as managers cant mandate; they must be earned over time. What we can do is construct an environment that nurtures trusting and respectful relationships and unleashes everyones creativity. If we get that right, the result is a vibrant community where talented people are loyal to one another and their collective work, everyone feels that they are part of something extraordinary, and their passion and accomplishments make the community a magnet for talented people. I know what Im describing is the antithesis of the free-agency practices that prevail in the movie industry, but thats the point: I believe that community matters. The roots of Our Culture, my conviction that smart people are more important than good ideas probably isnt surprising. Ive had the good fortune to work alongside amazing people in places that pioneered computer graphics. At the University of Utah, my fellow graduate students included Jim Clark, who cofounded Silicon Graphics and Netscape; John Warnock, who cofounded Adobe; and Alan kay, who developed object-oriented programming. We had ample funding (thanks to the. Defense departments Advanced Research Projects Agency the professors gave us free rein, and there was an exhilarating and creative exchange of ideas.
Talk about unexpected ideas! At the outset of making these movies, we simply didnt know if they would work. However, since were supposed to paper offer something that isnt obvious, we bought into somebodys initial vision and took a chance. To act in this fashion, we as executives have to resist our natural tendency to avoid or minimize risks, which, of course, is much easier said than done. In the movie business and plenty of others, this instinct leads executives to choose to copy successes rather than try to create something brand-new. Thats why you see so many movies that are so much alike. It also explains why a lot of films arent very good. If you want to be original, you have to accept the uncertainty, even when its uncomfortable, and have the capability to recover when your organization takes a big risk and fails. Whats the key to being able to recover?
Its like an archaeological dig where you dont know what youre looking for or whether you will even find anything. The process is downright scary. Pixars customers expect to see something new every time. But if Pixars executives arent always a little scared, theyre not doing their jobs. Then again, if we arent always at least a little scared, were not doing our job. Were in a business whose customers want to see something new every time they go to the theater. This means we have to put ourselves at great risk. Our most recent film, walle, is a robot love story set in a post-apocalyptic world full of trash. And our previous movie, ratatouille, is about a french rat who aspires to be essay a chef.
People tend to think of creativity as a mysterious solo act, and they typically reduce products to a single idea: This is a movie about toys, or dinosaurs, or love, theyll say. However, in filmmaking and many other kinds of complex product development, creativity involves a large number of people from different disciplines working effectively together to solve a great many problems. The initial idea for the movie—what people in the movie business call the high concept—is merely one step in a long, arduous process that takes four to five years. A movie contains literally tens of thousands of ideas. Theyre in the form of every sentence; in the performance of each line; in the design of characters, sets, and backgrounds; in the locations of the camera; in the colors, the lighting, the pacing. The director and the other creative leaders of a production do not come up with all the ideas on their own; rather, every single member of the 200- to 250-person production group makes suggestions. Creativity must be present at every level of every artistic and technical part of the organization. The leaders sort through a mass of ideas to find the ones that fit into a coherent whole—that support the story—which is a very difficult task.
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Unlike most other studios, we have never bought scripts or movie ideas from the outside. All of our stories, worlds, and characters were created internally by our community of artists. And in making these films, we have continued to push the technological boundaries of computer animation, securing dozens of patents in the process. While Im not foolish enough to predict that we will never have a flop, i dont think our success is the largely luck. Rather, i believe our adherence to a set of principles and practices for managing creative talent and risk is responsible. Pixar is a community in the true sense of the word.
We think that lasting relationships matter, and we share some basic beliefs: Talent is rare. Managements job is not to prevent risk but to build the capability to recover when failures occur. It must be safe to tell the truth. We must constantly challenge all of our assumptions and search for the flaws that could destroy our culture. In the last two years, weve had a chance to test whether our principles and practices are transferable. After Pixars 2006 merger with the walt Disney company, its ceo, bob Iger, asked me, chief creative officer John Lasseter, and other Pixar senior managers to help him revive disney animation Studios. The success of our efforts prompted me to share my thinking on how to build a sustainable creative organization.
A few years ago, i had lunch with the head of a major motion picture studio, who declared that his central problem was not finding good people—it was finding good ideas. Since then, when giving talks, ive asked audiences whether they agree with him. Almost always theres a 50/50 split, which has astounded me because i couldnt disagree more with the studio executive. His belief is rooted in a misguided view of creativity that exaggerates the importance of the initial idea in creating an original product. And it reflects a profound misunderstanding of how to manage the large risks inherent in producing breakthroughs.
The view that good ideas are rarer and more valuable than good people is rooted in a misconception of creativity. When it comes to producing breakthroughs, both technological and artistic, pixars track record is unique. In the early 1990s, we were known as the leading technological pioneer in the field of computer animation. Our years of r d culminated in the release. Toy story in 1995, the worlds first computer-animated feature film. In the following 13 years, we have released eight other films (. A bugs Life; toy story 2; Monsters, Inc.; Finding Nemo; The Incredibles; Cars; Ratatouille; and, walle which also have been blockbusters.
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Theyd rather talk about what went right than what went wrong. And after investing extensive time on the project, theyd like to summary move. Structure your post-mortems to stimulate discussion. Example: Pixar asks post-mortem participants to list the top five things theyd do again and the top five they wouldnt. The positive-negative balance makes it a safer environment to explore every aspect of paper the project. Participants also bring in lots of performance data—including metrics such as how often something had to be reworked. Data further stimulate discussion and challenge assumptions based on subjective impressions. listen to Ed Catmull discuss managing creativity.
So, give everyone the freedom to communicate with anyone. Example: Within Pixar, members wallpaper of any department can approach anyone in another department to solve problems, without having to go through proper channels. Managers understand they dont always have to be the first to know about something going on in their realm, and that its okay to walk into a meeting and be surprised. Craft a learning environment. Reinforce the mind-set that youre all learning—and its fun to learn together. Example: Pixar University trains people in multiple skills as they advance in their careers. It also offers optional courses (screenplay writing, drawing, sculpting) so people from different disciplines can interact and appreciate what each other does. Get more out of post-mortems. Many people dislike project post-mortems.
work is shown in an incomplete state to the whole crew. This process helps people get over any embarrassment about sharing unfinished work—so they become even more creative. It enables creative leads to communicate important points to the entire crew at once. And its inspiring: a highly innovative piece of animation sparks others to raise their game. The most efficient way to resolve the numerous problems that arise in any complex project is to trust people to address difficulties directly, without having to get permission.
Pixars has racked up a unique track record of success: Its the leading pioneer in computer animation. It has never had to buy scripts or movie ideas from outside. And since 1995, it has released seven films—all of which became huge hits. The Idea in Practice, catmull suggests these principles for managing your creative organization: Empower your creatives. Give your creative people control over every stage of idea development. Example: At most studios, a specialized development department generates new movie ideas. Pixar assembles cross-company teams for this purpose. Teams comprise directors, writers, artists, and storyboard people who originate and refine ideas until they have potential to become great films. The development departments job?
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The Idea in Brief, a robot falls in love in a post-apocalyptic world. A french rat sets out to become a chef. A suburban family of superheroes defeats a power-hungry villain. Unexpected ideas, all—yet Pixar Animation Studios is turning these and other novel ideas into london blockbuster films. As Catmull explains, pixars leaders have discovered potent practices for structuring and operating a creative organization. For example, they give writers, artists, and other creatives enormous leeway to make decisions. They make it safe for people to share unfinished work with peers, who provide candid feedback. And they conduct project post-mortems in ways that extract the most valuable lessons for mitigating risk on subsequent projects. The effort has paid off.