Whatever the nature and extent of a presentation, be it formal or informal, whatever the objective(s) and audience may be, you will probably have much greater success if you anchor the material in a human context.
The best way to do that?
More specifically, create a setting, introduce major “characters,” focus on an issue (question, problem, opportunity, etc.), identify possibilities, develop a plot, and explain what a “happy ending” would be.
Need some ideas to stimulate your thinking?
Here are “rules” that were originally tweeted by Emma Coats, Pixar’s Story Artist. Number 9 on the list – When you’re stuck, make a list of what [begin italics] wouldn’t [end italics] happen next – is a great one and can apply to writers in all genres.
o You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
o You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
o Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about until you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
o Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
o Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
o What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
0 Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
0 Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
o When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
o Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
o Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
o Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
o Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
o Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
o If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
o What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
o No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
o You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
o Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
o Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
o You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
o What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
Best sources for additional information about storytelling?
I recommend these three:
Stephen Denning’s The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative
Annette Simmons’ The Story Factor (2nd Revised Edition)
Doug Lipman’s Improving Your Storytelling: Beyond the Basics for All Who Tell Stories in Work and Play
Also: Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson’s Innovate the Pixar Way: Business Lessons from the World’s Most Creative Corporate Playground
“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose one’s self.” Søren Kierkegaard
In The Disney Way: Harnessing the Management Secrets of Disney in Your Company, Revised Edition, William Capodagli and Lynn Jackson explain that their book “tells the inside story of just how Disney’s success was achieved — not by epiphanic flashes of creative insight that produced a Pinocchio or a Dumbo, but by the force of a much-considered, carefully wrought process of managing innovation and creativity and by an adherence to a firmly established system of beliefs.” The foundation of that system, the Disney Way, consists of four “pillars”: Dream, Believe, Dare, Do.
Although Whitney Johnson follows a somewhat different sequence of thought in her book, she agrees with Disney and other great visionaries throughout history that it takes courage to dream and to dream boldly, and then even greater courage to pursue that dream with relentless faith and tenacity to make it come true. Hence the wisdom of Kierkegaard’s insight, quoted in the title of this review. However, many (most?) people are unwilling and/or unable to summon the courage to “dare to dream.” With vigor and eloquence, Johnson provides a wealth of material to help them to follow the example of Tennyson’s daring and dauntless hero, Ulysses: “To strive, to seek, to find…and not to yield.”
What I especially appreciate about this book is that much (most?) of the most valuable material is provided by several dozen quite different men and women with whom most readers can readily identify. They are real people, in real situations, struggling to answer real questions and to solve real problems. Their personal stories, in their own words, are carefully organized and presented within 15 chapters, divided among three Parts (DARE: Why Dreaming Is Essential, DREAM: Boldly Finding Your Dreams,, and DO: Making Your Dreams Happen). In Parts One and Two, they help readers to understand how to
o Make meaning of their life
o Find their voice and authentic self
o Truly “grow up”
o Demonstrate to children by example how to dream
Note: This material (in Chapter 4, Pages 53-70) will be of great value to parents, of course, but also to teachers, coaches, school officials, physicians, and anyone else with whom children frequently interact.
o Be the hero or heroine of their story
o Make “space” for their dreams
o Invest in their strengths and competencies (i.e. increase them)
o Know (really know) their deeply-held beliefs
o Build on their strengths
o Rightsize their dreams
In Part Three (Chapters 11-15), Johnson shifts her attention to “Making Your Dreams Happen.” Twenty contributors share their own experiences when seeking to achieve that goal. They also share the lessons they learned – and what others can perhaps learn – from those experiences.
However, only a reader can achieve Johnson’s ultimate objective: To make their life and their achievements “remarkable” by daring to dream. In fact, as Johnson and countless contributors to this book affirm and then reaffirm without hesitation, a “chain of dreams” must be initiated and then sustained. These dreams need not be epic in scope or universal in impact. In essence, each dream (whatever its nature and extent) offers a “snapshot” of what can be better, more fulfilling, of greater value to one’s self and to others. As for the “chain,” it will be created during a personal journey of discovery. Whitney Johnson prepares her reader well for that journey. Let it begin now.
The ROI of “Magic”
According to William Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, “This book tells the inside story of just how Disney’s success was achieved — not by epiphanic flashes of creative insight that produced a Pinocchio or a Dumbo, but by the force of a much-considered, carefully wrought process of managing innovation and creativity and by an adherence to a firmly established system of beliefs.” In his biography of Walt Disney also published in 2006, Neal Gabler explains that the company’s management evolved over time, gradually adjusting to the increasing complexity of its operations that began with shorts, developed into animated feature films, and then added the first theme park prior to Disney’s death (December 15, 1966). Its subsequent growth helps to explain many of the management systems that Capodagli and Jackson describe but it is also worth noting that four themes continue to serve as “pillars”: Dream, Believe, Dare, Do.
The material is organized within 11 chapters, followed by an Epilogue in which the authors observe that the integration and interplay between and among the ten principles they have examined can be of substantial benefit to other companies. The “Dream, Believe, Dare, and Do Process” does indeed have all manner of potential applications for companies in industries wholly unrelated to entertainment. There must be dreams to believe in and courage to pursue those dreams. Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman’s Organizing Genius, one of whose chapters focuses on the Disney animation team that produced classic films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, and Pinocchio.
I realize that the Disney organization has become a vast global network of several “magic kingdoms” but the ten core principles continue to serve as its foundation:
1. Give every member of your organization a chance to dream, and to tap into the creativity those dreams evoke and nourish.
2. Stand firm on your beliefs and principles.
3. Treat your customers like guests.
4. Support, empower, and reward employees.
5. Build long-term relationships with key suppliers and partners.
6- Dare to take calculated risks in order to bring innovative ideas to fruition.
7. Train extensively and constantly to nurture and strengthen the company’s culture.
8. Align long-term vision with short-term execution of what achieves that vision.
9. Take full advantage of storyboarding techniques during brainstorming sessions to generate ideas that answer questions and solve problems.
10. Pay very close attention to every detail.
However vast and diversified the Disney organization is today, all of these core principles are relevant to almost any other organization, whatever its size and nature may be. Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to read the aforementioned biography of Walt Disney as well as v and Jackson’s Innovate the Pixar Way.
I re-read this book after reading the more recently published book co-authored by Bill Capodaglio and Lynn Jackson, Innovate the Pixar Way: Business Lessons from the World’s Most Creative Corporate Playground. (They also co-authored The Disney Way, Revised Edition: Harnessing the Management Secrets of Disney in Your Company.) Karen Paik is the author of another book, To Infinity and Beyond!: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios, that also provides a wealth of information about a unique organization and the brilliant people who have been centrally involved in it for more than 20 years.
Others have their reasons for thinking so highly of The Pixar Touch. Here are thtree of mine. First, David A. Price’s does a brilliant job of delineating the complicated chronological sequence that began with the hiring of Edwin Catmull (then at the New York Institute of Technology) to head the graphics group within the computer division at Lucasfilm (1979). Subsequently, Pixar Animation Studios (later shortened to
Pixar) was purchased by Steve Jobs in 1986. After a highly successful IPO (11/29/1995), Years later, Jobs sold it to the Walt Disney Company for $7.4 billion (in an all-stock deal) in 2006. Price covers each of the company’s transitions thoroughly without bogging down in details. With the predictable exception of Jobs, those who provided leadership at Pixar demonstrate remarkable composure, indeed style and grace, during difficult times and sincere appreciation when lavished with praise, awards, and wealth. (Jobs’s primary – if not only – motive was and remains, the creation of “insanely great work.”) Price’s mini-biographies of the major figures probably provide the information that most people require.
Second, I was especially intrigued by the fact that the key people provide what Price characterizes as “unlikely ingredients” for success when they joined Pixar. Lasseter was hired by Disney immediately after college and had just been fired. Catmull had been turned down for a teaching position and “ended up in what he felt was a dead-end software development job” at Computer Graphics Lab. Smith was employed by Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) “and then abruptly found himself out on the street.” As for Jobs, he had been forced from the company he co-founded, was widely ridiculed, and considered a has-been. Price suggests that, despite and perhaps because of these and other serious setbacks, those who established and developed Pixar illustrate Joseph Schumpeter’s observation that successful innovation “is a feat not of intellect, but of will.”
Finally, I admire Price’s skills when explaining the artistic significance of each of the feature films that Pixar has produced from Toy Story (1996) until WALL-E (2009). He establishes a multi-dimensional context for each, identifying the challenges the production process faced and eventually overcame. With regard to the creative process, for example, the original attributes of the two central characters in Toy Story (Woody and Buzz Lightyear) underwent significant changes as did the initial thoughts about the relationship between them. Those involved in collaboration at Pixar have always followed John Lasseter’s admonition that “quality is the best business plan” and embraced Ed Catmull’s assertion that perfection is a minimum standard. Production of each of the other feature films also demonstrates the same commitment to artistic standards that few other films achieve.
Leaders in any organization can read and re-read this book, then attempt to apply the business principles and core values that define what Pixar does and how it does it. Although the principles and values are sound, however, they are insufficient. What is also needed is the Pixar “touch” and there is no way that David Price or anyone else can explain how to develop it but you’ll know it when you see it…in any of the Pixar films.
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.”
Here is my take on what Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson learned during a lengthy and probing study of the Pixar culture:
1. Celebrate failure with the same intensity as you celebrate success. View each setback as a precious learning opportunity.
2. Become a “prototype junky.” There is no project too big [or too small] to conduct a real-world test of it within a few weeks.
3. Develop your own “skunk works” within the organization. [click here.], At least form a small group and enable it to meet regularly to brainstorm how best to answer questions, solve problems, and respond to unmet needs…especially those identified by past and current customers.
4. Dream BIG. Ask team members to think of ten over-the-top, outlandish, eccentric, far-out, wacky, unheard-of, unorthodox ideas for a project.
Note: In the most innovative organizations (such as IDEO, Nike, Apple, and yes, Pixar), two quite different approaches are taken: generate lots of what Jobs calls “an insanely great idea” and then decide what to do with them, or, tackle an especially serious problem with a totally open mind.
5. Don’t cry poor. The best new ideas tend to be produced by groups whose members are world-class scroungers. External limits and constraints tend to inspire original thinking and below-the-radar initiatives.
6. Planning is OK but do not allow the process to be a distraction from achieving the desired objective. Beware of meetings and considerations devoted to “planning to plan.” General George Patton once said, “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan next week.”
7. Each project is a “work in progress” so establish a planning center (perhaps online) where evidence of progress is on display. Grab low-hanging fruit” ASAP and celebrate completion of “baby steps” to reassure everyone that progress really is being made.
8. Forget about lengthy meetings, reports, analyses, etc. What’s happening NOW? Why is it happening? What more needs to be done? Who will do it? Everyone involved must have a sense of urgency. John Wooden said it best: “Be quick but don’t rush.”
9. Assume authority and do whatever must be done and done NOW. If appropriate, ask for forgiveness later. That said, be sure to do your homework, consider all the possible implications and consequences, and be prepared to explain later why the initiative you took had risks but the decision to make it was rigorously thought-through and prudent. Also be fully prepared to explained what of value was learned, especially if action was unsuccessful.
I highly recommend Capodagli and Jackson’s Innovate the Pixar Way: Business Lessons from the World’s Most Creative Corporate Playground, published by McGraw-Hill (2010).
The best books on brainstorming, idea generation, etc.? Check out these two:
The Idea of Innovation
The Ten Faces of Innovation
If you need additional assistance:
A Knock on the Side of the Head
A Kick in the Seat of the Pants
Roger Von Oech
Thinkertoys (Second Edition)
Jump Start Your Brain
Six Thinking Hats
Edward De Bono