With a 14 for 14 Record, Pixar’s Ed Catmull Has Some Advice Your Organization Needs to Hear

A 14 for 14 record would be an impressive statistic for a baseball player batting in spring training, but when you apply that stat to Pixar’s box office hits, it becomes simply astounding.

With the release of Toy Story in 1995, culminating in last year’s Monsters University, Pixar has released 14 movies – and all 14 became No. 1 box office hits.

Interestingly enough, though, the president of Pixar says they all were not good – at first.

There’s got to be a lesson for ChurchWorld leaders in there!

A 2014 best-seller entitle Creativity, Inc. by Pixar President Ed Catmull was excerpted in the April 2014 issue of Fast Company magazine (online version). It is a fascinating read, and I’m eagerly awaiting the book’s release.

Till then, here is Catmull giving 8 lessons on how to lead a creative organization:

Protect Creatives from the Organization – Accidentally, and without intending to, organizations smother creativity. The central problem is the stuff organizations put in place that blocks the natural abilities that are already there.

Cherish Your Defining Moment – and Then Find a New One – The work we did to turn around Toy Story 2 was a defining moment in Pixar history. But the bulk of people working at Pixar now didn’t live through that. Solving our newest problem today – these newer people are a part of it, and they will own that solution when they solve it right.

Save the Ugly Baby from the Hungry Beast – Every movie starts out as an ugly baby. A new thing is hard to define; it’s not attractive and requires protection. Pixar is set up to protect our director’s ugly baby. At some point, it will have to grow up and change into something, because the beast is still there.

How to Balance Art and Commerce – With certain ideas, you can predict commercial success. So with a Toy Story 3 or a Cars 2 you know the idea is more likely to have financial success. But it you go down that path too far, you become creatively bankrupt because you’re trying to repeat yourself. So we also want to do things that are unlikely, that are harder to solve – like WALL-E, Ratatouille, and Up.

Getting to Frozen: How the Disney Brain Trust Grew Up – When I became the head of Disney Animation, my starting point was to assume that the animation team already there intended to do the right thing, and it was my job to help them understand the Pixar process. It took over two years, but the Disney team learned they weren’t in competition with one another, but that their successes were built on each other’s. Frozen wasn’t an instant hit, but was built on the groundwork laid by Tangled and Wreck-It-Ralph.

Why Things Will Always Go Wrong, Even at Pixar – It would be wrong to say that Disney is on the way up (with Frozen) and Pixar is on the way down (with the restart of Good Dinosaur). Just a few years ago the situations were reversed. Whenever we miss something, we analyze it to see what we missed. So we rethink the process and we change some things.

Why Real Risk Means Real Failures – People say they want to be in risky environments and do all kinds of exciting stuff. But they don’t actually know what risk means, that risk actually does bring failures and mistakes. We only lose from this if we don’t respond to the failures.

Your Best Tool is a Genius – or a Disaster – There are only two tools that work almost all the time for effecting real change. The first is the presence of a visionary leader, but there just isn’t a large number of these folks. The second is an organization undergoing the right kind of crisis. Everything in between is people trying to do their best.

Excerpted from Fast Company’s April 2014 cover story and related articles about Pixar President Ed Catmull.

jacket illustration: © Disney • Pixar

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