All great organizations have their own “way” of doing what they do and how they do it. That is certainly true of Pixar Animation Studios, co-founded in 1984 by Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith. While leading the computer graphics division at Lucasfilm, they hired John Lasseter whose personal credo was and remains “heart, inventiveness, and inspiration.” He once observed, “Quality is the best business model of all.”
Bill Capodaglio and Lynn Jackson co-authored Innovate the Pixar Way: Business Lessons from the World’s Most Creative Playground. They explain how the talents, experiences, values, and (especially) the visions of these three geniuses – Catmull, Smith, and Lasseter – co-created an organization that continues to produce animated feature films of unsurpassed quality. The first film, Luxo Jr., was a computer-generated animated (CGI) film lasting about two minutes (1986).
The series of feature-length animated films began with Toy Story (1995), followed by A Bug’s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Cars (2006), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009), and Toy Story 3 (2010). All CGI films were released under the Walt Disney Pictures banner. Many of the “business lessons” to which the book’s subtitle refers are provided in a series of “Chalkboard” summaries at the conclusion of chapters.
In my opinion, these are “business lessons” that will be most helpful to most people:
• Develop an open, inquiring mind
• Frame communications in the form of a story with setting, characters, plot, crises, etc.
• Think long-term and the Big Picture in mind at all times
• But also nail the fundamentals
• Take as much time as necessary (but no more) to do what must be done as well as it can be done
• Help create and then sustain a workplace culture within which imagination is stimulated, prudent risks are encouraged, and visions are nourished (i.e. a “playground”)
• Develop reasoning skills that absorb, digest, integrate, and synthesize different perspectives
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out David A. Price’s The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company and Karen Paik’s To Infinity and Beyond! The Story of Pixar Animation Studios.
Those who are interested in this book probably include those whose primary objective is to understand how to (a) establish an innovative culture within their workplace, (b) think more innovatively, and/or (c) understand the how the studio could produce classic animated films such as Toy Story (1995), Toy Story 2 (1999), Finding Nemo (2003), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010). I am among those who read this book for all three reasons and congratulate Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson on the wealth of information and insights that they provide.
Capodaglia and Jackson skillfully “set the stage” by creating a context for the establishment of Pixar in 1979 as the Graphics Group, part of the Computer Division of Lucasfilm before it was acquired by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in 1986. The Walt Disney Company bought Pixar in 2006. From the beginning, co-founders Ed Catmull (“Quality is the best business plan”) and Alvy Ray Smith and their associates have shared the same credo: “dream like a child.” They are also perfectionists in every aspect of film production who believe that “art is a team sport.” These are recurrent themes throughout the book because they are core values throughout the entire Pixar organization.
I also appreciate the attention that Capodaglia and Jackson devote to lessons that can be learned as well as policies and procedures that can be adopted and then implemented by leaders of almost any organization (regardless of its size or nature) in which there is a need for more and more effective innovation. For example, developing a mindset that places greatest emphasis on bold and compelling visions, collaborative teamwork based on mutual trust and respect, being willing to take risks that defy what Jim O’Toole characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny if custom,” and being determined to see the world, again, as a child. Here’s the Pixar mindset:
Dream like a child.
Believe in your playmates.
Dare to jump in the water and make waves.
Do unleash your childlike potential.
Robert Fulghum could not have expressed it better. Yes, those at Pixar have created film art of the highest quality but it should also be noted that each of their eleven films (thus far) has also achieved exceptional commercial as well as critical success that includes but is by no means limited to ticket sales.
Finally, I am grateful for the provision of mini-profiles in Appendix X of “other corporate playgrounds” that include Google, Griffin Hospital (Derby, CT), Men’s Wearhouse, Nike, Target, and Zappos. However different these organizations are in most other respects, all of them share with Pixar core values such as those Nike CEO Mark Parker cites in his company’s Corporate Responsibility Report. “And for all the athletic and cultural and financial successes of the company, I believe our work in sustainable business and innovation has equal potential to shape our legacy. For that to happen, we have to focus on the lessons we’ve learned:
• Transparency is an asset, not a risk.
• Collaboration enables systemic change.
• Every challenge and risk is an opportunity.
• Design allows you to prototype the future, rather than retrofit the past.
• To make real change, you have to be a catalyst.”
It is worth noting that those involved in all of these “other corporate playgrounds” continue to outperform their competition in terms of sales, profits, and cap value. It is also worth noting that all seven Pixar films released since the inauguration of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2001 have been nominated for that award, beginning with Monsters, Inc. Five of the seven have won the award: Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up. Up is also the first Pixar film and the second animated film in history (the other is Beauty and the Beast) to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
To those who share my high regard Capodaglia and Jackson’s book, I also recommend two others: David A, Pryce’s The Pixar Touch and Karen Paik’s To Infinity and Beyond. Also, visit the Pixar website that provides a wealth of information, including “How We Do It.”