9 tips from Pixar’s CEO

9 Tips from Pixar's CEO

Lack of good ideas? Learn 9 tips from Pixar’s CEO including throwing out a table from an office!


When it comes to unleashing creativity companies, hustle to do their best, but sometimes they ignore the simple things.


I love Pixar’s movies.  These well-told stories are entertaining and inspiring. We look up to Pixar as a filmmaker itself because they developed a unique approach to creating stories.


Ed Catmull, co-founder, and CEO of Pixar (and president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar since 2005) wrote a great book Creativity Inc. Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration revealing how to build and sustain a creative culture.


If you are in a creative industry it’s your prescribed reading but first, quick introduction to Pixar’s approach to creativity I have found reading Ed Catmull’s article in Harvard Business Review some time ago. This is my personal selection and thinks of it as a warm-up before reading the book.


#1 Great ideas come from smart people


Smart people are more important than good ideas. The view that good ideas are rarer and more valuable than real people is rooted in a misconception of creativity. Hire individuals who are smarter than you are.


#2 Creativity is a constant process


Creativity is not a mysterious solo act. 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 large number of problems. A movie contains tens of thousands of idea. Creativity must be present at every level of every artistic and technical part of the organization.


#3 Take risk


If we aren’t always at least a little scared, we’re not doing our job. We’re in a business whose customers want to see something new every time they go to the theater. It means we have to put ourselves at great risk.  At the outset of making movies like Ratatouille or WALL-E, we only didn’t know if they would work. Talk about amazing ideas!


#4 Be prepared for failure


If you want to be original, you have to accept the uncertainty, even when it’s uncomfortable and have the capability to recover when your organization takes a big risk and fails. What’s the key to being able to recover? Talented people!


#5 Learn something new


Craft a learning environment. Break down the walls between disciplines. Reinforce the mindset that you’re all learning—and it’s fun to learn together. “Pixar University” offers courses like screenplay writing, drawing, sculpting so people from different disciplines can interact and appreciate what each other does.


#6 Take care of your community


Pixar’s success comes from adherence to a set of principles and practices for managing creative talent and risk is responsible. Pixar is a community in the real sense of the word. We think that lasting relationships matter, and we share some fundamental beliefs: Talent is rare.


#7 Know yourself  


It’s awkward and uncomfortable for an organization, but systematically fighting complacency and uncovering problems when your company is successful have got to be two of the toughest management challenges there are.


These tips are great but when it seems that creativity apparently flows without any impediments be careful, because you may overlook something.


Ed Catmull starts the book sharing story about a long table in the conference room where meetings were regularly held for 13 years. 30 people were sitting around the table, and more along the walls, communication between the team weren’t perfect, say nothing about making eye contact. Creative leaders were seated at the center of the table to be able to hear what others were saying. Moreover, to ensure that they were always seated together someone began making place cards. It resulted in a situation that the closer team members were sitting in the middle of the table, the more important they thought they were. On the other hand, people seated away were less likely to speak up, in particular when the table was crowded; more participants sat on chairs even further in the room creating a third tier. Unwittingly, as Catmull says, this order created an obstacle that discouraged people to a discussion and establishing an invisible pecking order.
But one day a meeting was held in a smaller room with the square table. Catmull realized that the exchange of ideas was much better, eye-contact automatic and people felt free to speak up.  Catmull admits that they were conscious that room’s dynamics are critical to any good discussion, but despite it, they fell into a trap. So, the old table was replaced by new one and place cards that suddenly appeared once again were finally removed.


So, what’s the punchline?


#8 Good space favors communication


It must be safe for everyone to offer ideas. Unhindered communication is a key, no matter what your position.


P.S. Matsuu supports creativity, collaboration, and power of knowledge sharing.

Also published on Medium.

Back to Blog