When I freelanced for Disney, they still required creatives to punch a time clock. Women with tight-fitting hair nets roamed the halls with coffee and doughnuts. And the circular dining hall was festooned with pictures of Walt and Roy and executives like Card Walker.
Chances are somewhere in that group of diners was John Lasseter. John was an animator who left Disney to become part of the computer division of Lucasfilm. Steve Jobs bought the fledging company and renamed it Pixar, a fake Spanish word meaning “to make pictures or pixels.”
Jobs, Lasseter and Dr. Ed Catmull overcame a roller-coaster of financial challenges and turned Pixar into a dream company. Ed Catmull isn’t a name most people don’t know outside of the animation world. At Pixar, he not only co-founded the company, he was the key developer of the RenderMan rendering system used in such films as Toy Story and Finding Nemo.
Recently, Catmull wrote a terrific article for the Harvard Business Review called “How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity.” His insights into developing a culture of collaboration and sustaining that culture are an important lesson for other creative organizations.
The Harvard Business Review article has the audio if you want to hear the whole thing.I wrote previously about Pixar in three posts entitled The Synthetic Organization part 1, part 2 and part 3. They discuss my view that Pixar may be a model for a new type of company, one based on many of the principles of Web 2.0 – openness, transparency, rapid diffusion of innovations.
This audio from the Ed Catmull is very useful. He wanted to create a creativity inspired company that is self-sustaining, that no longer needs the vision of a few people at the top to maintain innovation. Marty Baker at Creativity Central breaks some of this down. He presents the key insights:
Pixar’s Operating Principles can be distilled down to 3 principles.
1. Everyone must have the freedom to communicate with anyone.
2. It must be safe for everyone to offer ideas.
3. We must stay close to innovations happening in the academic community.
In addition, many decisions at Pixar take place in a social setting, with a level playing field. That is, there is no organizational chart when it comes to examining problems, the goal is to fix the problem not to assign blame.
Web 2.0 approaches work well in this sort of setting since it is hard to dominate a conversation simply because you are a VP. Everyone’s voice, their criticism, their suggestions, has a more equal standing than in a normal conference room. The lack of many of the non-verbal communications of status makes it easier for the goal of creativity to reached.
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