Michal Lev-Ram reports for Fortune, “For our recent cover story on Disney, I sat down with Ed Catmull at Pixar headquarters. Here is an edited excerpt from our conversation in October, which ranged from Pixar’s rocky beginnings to Disney’s use of technology to the late Jobs.”
The thing that the general public has missed is that there is a perception of ‘bad boy Steve’ when he was younger and that that behavior led to this giant success at Apple. But while Pixar was going through its rocky beginnings, the reality is that Steve was learning and changing dramatically. About 15 years ago he figured out things and we saw the change in the person. He became very empathetic and changed the way he worked with people. And after that point everybody that was with Steve stayed with him for the rest of his life. It was the changed Steve that made Apple great, not that guy. It’s like the classic hero’s journey, except people didn’t know that.
I’ve written before about Pixar a lot. It has been a hallmark of the 21st century company. Apple is one also and Jobs is a big reason. I wrote a long, three part series on the Synthetic Organization based on Pixar.
As discussed in the original article, Pixar views each movie as a reason to incorporate new technology, to solve a new problem. DIscussing the new movie coming out:
So that group has to solve the problem for how they make that work, and how you do exaggeration and carry the emotions with those kinds of characters. Every film has new technical problems that we have to solve.
“Every film has new technical problems we have to solve.” Hierarchical authorities – which is how 20th century companies were organized – are designed to take action, not to solve problems. Distributed democracies – which are strong in 21st century organizations – are designed to solve problems, but not really for taking actions.
Pixar has created a company with a tremendous balance between the authoritarian need to get things done and the democratic need to solve problems. Strong leadership from Lasitter and Catmull at the top permits difficult problems to be solved.
The article details very quickly how this is done – keeping two separate animation groups who each have to figure out solutions themselves, instead of depending on another. Diversity, smart people and low hierarchy.
So now we have two great animation studios. And Jobs learned how to accompish this while working at Pixar and neXt. Instead of being the authoritarian at the top – as he was so often in his first stretch at Apple – he began to create a culture that allowed talented individuals to solve difficult problems.
This is the key – very strong leadership that works with the distributed democracies solving problems. There needs to be hierarchy to get things done but there also needs to be ways to route around the hierrchy to solve problems, to get answers from anyone.
An average person in the small town (population – 4233) has 6 connections who have a 25% chance of knowing each other. In a large town (population – 564.657), the number of friends is 11 but the chance that they will know each other remains 25%.
This fits a lot of previous data – the majority of any community connect with one another to a very high degree. The difference between living in a large city or a small town lies in how big the network is, not in its shape.
And, it shows that the size of the network increases faster than the size of the community. Not only are there more people to connect to in a large city. People in a large city connect to more people than those in smaller groups.
But the chance that those people know each other remains about the same. That is, the structure of the social network does not change. No matter the size of the town or the size of the network, about 25% of the people will know each other.
Interestingly, as the size of the town increases, the networks get larger, and people make contact with other people in the networks more often. So not only are the networks scaling ‘linearly’ but the total number of contacts increases super-linearly.
If we look at the total cumulative calls made, we see that more calls are made to more people in large towns than in small towns.
What they were then able to show in the paper is that because of the types of connections seen in bigger cities, information spreads much more rapidly here than in smaller communities.
In a world dealing with rapidly changing environments and increasingly more complex problems, the ability to move information around rapidly so as to create knowledge and wisdom becomes critical.
But it also shows that people in large cities are not isolated at all but maintain rich connections with others. We live in communities that are about as tightly knit in large cities as in smaller ones. They are just larger.
This year its organisers wanted to pay particular attention to the place of Technologies in mental health, and so I was tapped to offer a series of talks as well as presentation skills workshops.
The talks were part of a seminar featuring how to best understand how current and imminent technologies have a role to play in mental health in schools. The presentation skills effort was a one hour talk, showcasing the highlights of my half day and longer workshops.
All in all, there were about a dozen speakers, comprised of authors, psychologists, researchers and technologists including those from the Australian arms of Microsoft and Google, who visited the cities of Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.
The arrangement, as told to me by the organisers, was that each city would receive the same presentations. On the surface, that sounds ideal and easy: the same talk four times. But as it turns out for a few of the presenters, including myself, this wasn’t ideal and in fact we gave variations for all of our presentations. It was an iterative process, learning from each presentation what worked best and which slides and ideas appealed to the audience.
By the fourth conference I felt I had “honed” my presentations and delivered the “biggest bang for the buck”; that is, in the time I had these were my most impactful presentations.
During each of the conferences, conducted over two days including large auditoriums and break out rooms for smaller concurrent workshops, I was able to attend as an audience member and watch others in action.
For each conference, there were times when all the attendees (400+) would gather in one large auditorium to hear the speakers, including me on technologies.
What I, and the organisers, found interesting were those highly paid professional speakers who gave the same presentation each time. I was perhaps the least known to the audience of all the presenters and likely the least financially compensated, so I had to prove myself and win over the audiences with my content and presentation style. Which is why I welcomed the opportunity to present and improve each time.
Too many people, either due to fear or inexperience, forget that it is the personal interaction – you are THERE – that explains the audience’s presence. Otherwise they could just watch the video online.
Anything on the screen has to enhance your presence. not detract from it. That is what Powerpoint bullet lists are deadly. Focus moves away from the speaker to a static list, often simply reread out loud by the speaker.
Why even have them there?
If the speaker cannot provide a reason why their personal presence is important, why should the audience?
Videos need to be short and provide an easy to understand visual to support the speaker. Why show someone else speaking? That generally implies laziness, not exactly what an audience wants to see.
Even in scientific presentations, the speaker is there to provide context, not to read data out loud. To be personal.
Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull reveals in a new book that the now-legendary animation company was nearly sold to General Motors and Philips for its technology, but the deal fell through just before it could be signed.
What happened at Pixar not only serves as an example of an innovative business but may also help explain one of the great transformations in recent history – Steve Jobs from his original Apple incarnation to his modern Apple incarnation.
He gained much better understanding of what worked with creative solutions and how to positively destroy things in order to move on to new areas.
Things would be so much different today if GM and Philips had gotten Pixar.
Posted by: Richard Gayle in: Distributed Democracy
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the Washington Redskins trademark registration, an extremely rare move the office said it made because the name is offensive to Native Americans.
Trademarks that disparage or belittle other groups are not permited under federal law. The ruling Wednesday pertains to six different trademarks containing the word “Redskin.”
Native American groups have been fighting the football team, its owners and sponsors for decades to change the name.
The ability of a distributed democratic approach to route around the damage of hierarchical authoritarians is one of its strength. Authoritarians can be very strong and focussed – their strength – which gives them early success against winds of change.
Like a a mighty tree, if the winds change rapidly, buffeting them hard from different directions, along with massive amounts of rain and a lightening bolt or two,, the oak tree will fall.
One distributed way to shift the wind and deal with the Washington team is for people simply not go to the games.
But today, not only was there a shift in the wind but a lightening bolt as well. And it did not use a tool of distributed democracy against the authoritarians.
It used one of hierarchical authoritarian’s own tools against itself – government bureaucracy. Not a mob with pitchforks and torches but a nice long legal document.
In America, our government is usually a direct reflection of how the people balance distributed democracy and hierarchical authority.
We as a society have made the decision that derogatory names cannot gain trademark protection. It has been incorporated into the authoritative power of the government.
That government – which can provide trademark protection – has now removed that protection from the Washington team, and the NFL. The ability of that trademark to generate large amounts of money for them is now pretty damaged.
This is a very big lightening bolt. This will hit the relevant parties in the pocket book but does not take away their First Amendment rights. They can name themselves what ever they want.
But we, as a society have determined that we will not protect that name with the authority of the government.
“Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.”
While we will have to see just what this means, it espouses something very important – a 21st century company must remain nimble and adaptive. Relying too much on patents and IP protection can induce complacency.
Patents may be a good defense but should not be really used to prevent someone else from innovating.
And patent trolls are a bane of our existence.
So good for Musk.
Most people would agree that many organizations today are too stiff, too slow and too disconnected to do well in the complex world we live in now.
Many large organizations have placed their bet on a new technology platform that will connect all their people’s work. Some think that real change can only come from the bottom up. Many feel that any form of hierarchy is outdated. Some talk about culture but are not clear about what this means.
Few are making any progress. So what is the better way to go?
Great discussion. We are out of balance dealing with complex problems because authoritarian hierarchies –so important for 20th century processes – are seen as the only way to get things done. Maybe for simply processes but not the complex ones facing us.
Distributed democratic approaches using social networks are all the rage. For the first time in 10,000 years we have major tools that leverage these inherent activities of humanity’s culture. They can now overpower hierarchies especially when examining complex processes.
But, they alone cannot solve what we face. Disctibuted democracy is great at cranking the DIKW cycle to get to knowledge. The problem arises because they often want to keep turning the cycle than actually take an action.
They can spend too much time talking and not enough time doing. I’ve written about the need for a Synthetic Organization, one that is leader-full bit leaderless.
We need some aspects of hierarchy to get things done. It is finding the right balance, designing feedback to permit leader-full approaches to survive while preventing the accretion of power that hierarchies can produce.
I have worked at organizations that found the right balance. We just did not have a firm understanding of why it worked.
Now we are getting much closer to defining how to create the balance between the two key aspects of human social interaction – authoritarian hierarchy and distrubuted democracy.
The groups that accomplish this will be the ones that truly helpus solve complex problems.
Reformers in health care claim gigantic disruption on the horizon: devices that track our movements, new treatments through massive data crunching, fluid electronic records that reflect the patient’s status wherever she goes, and even the end of the doctor’s role. But predictions in the area of health IT are singularly detached from the realities of the technical environment that are supposed to make them happen.
To help technologists, clinicians, and the rest of us judge the state of health IT, I’ve released a report titled “The Information Technology Fix for Health: Barriers and Pathways to the Use of Information Technology for Better Health Care.” It offers an overview of each area of innovation to see what’s really happening and what we need to make it progress further and faster.
Health has always been intimately connected with technology, from removing the handle of a drinking well to a handheld ultrasound wand.
Dealing with human health is probably the most complex system of endeavor mankind us currently trying to solve. Old, authoritarian, top-down approaches are giving way to newer, distributed, bottom-up paradigms.
And new digital tools are driving this.
Often we can only solve health problems because of the technological tools we have access to.
But healthcare has been slow to activate the greatest impacts of the digital revolution – to connect people and communities in ways to solve very complex problems. Healthcare’s natural attraction to the status quo for many medical needs– after all, if a doctor makes a mistake, people can die – means that therapeutic benefit often has to be shown BEFORE anything changes.
Patient healthcare data and its mining does not easily fit this paradigm. Authoritarian approaches stemming from the medical edifice we all face still drives almost all our health concerns. So change is slow.
But it is coming. Faster than many of the authoritarian processes can deal with.
This has not stopped people from doing the mining themselves. From places like 23andme, patientslikeme to crowdfunding projects, individuals are now taking much greater control of their health data.
And finding out all sorts of interesting things.
Often without any form of mediator, because they can.
(It reminds me of the battle I was part of almost 20 years ago. We needed to connect to the internet because it was becoming critical in order to do our biomedical research. The IT department was very reluctant and stonewalled, due to fear of disrupting things. We simply said we could connect to the internet without needing them. Our IT needs had become decentralized , distributed, and we could simply dial-up without needing the IT department at all. So we did.)
Medicine is becoming a more distributed system, decentralizing access and the practice of medicine. It is, in many way, at right angles and in conflict with the authoritarian processes we find in medicine today.
This holds tremendous opportunity to revolutionize what we know about medicine. But with tremendously disruptive effects on the status quo.
There will be real battles here but the conflict between the old, authoritarian system and the new, distributed system will find a balance which eventually helps us all.
Because it has real benefits. And it cannot really be stopped anyway.
Posted by: Richard Gayle in: Cargo Cult Worlds
A study by the University of Massachusetts found that 60 percent of adults could not have a 10-minute conversation without lying at least once. The same study found that 40 percent of people lie on their résumés and a whopping 90 percent of those looking for a date online lie on their profiles. Teenage girls lie more than any other group, which is attributed to peer pressure and expectation. The study did not investigate the number of lies told by entrepreneurs looking for investment capital, but I fear we would top the chart.
Peter maintains that telling lies is the No. 1 reason entrepreneurs fail. Not because telling lies makes you a bad person but because the act of lying plucks you from the present, preventing you from facing what is really going on in your world. Every time you overreport a metric, underreport a cost, are less than honest with a client or a member of your team, you create a false reality and you start living in it.
Drink a cup of coffee before reading this one.
Telling th truth, especially when it exposes errors you have made, can make you feel vulnerable. Especially with so many sociopathic people running things.
Looking weak is not a plus for sociopaths.
But telling lies creates a disconnect from reality, a Cargo Cult World that leads away from what actually happens. It invites more lies that divide you even more from reality.
Eventually you inhabit a world that not only does not exist but can actually prevent you from thriving in the real world.
Too many people today simply construct unsustainable Cargo Cult worlds to inhabit by lying to themselves and others. They will fall.
Here the author shows how even in business setting, telling the truth is best. Because Nature always wins.
This is a test.
The website was hacked, most likely due to the old theme I was using. I’ was looking to change it early next year anyway. Now I just have to accelerate it a bit.
So I’ve put in a transitional theme until then. Not pretty but it will have to do.
Let me know if you see anything weird.