Pixar’s Ed Catmull: It was the changed Steve Jobs that made Apple great
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.
Image: Brett Jordan