Behind Pixar’s string of hit movies, says the studio’s president, is a peer-driven process for solving problems. by Ed Catmull
64 Harvard Business Review
How Pixar Fosters
A few years ago,
I had lunch with the head of a major motion picture studio, who declared that his central problem was not ﬁnding good people – it wasﬁnding good ideas. Since then, when giving talks, I’ve asked audiences whether they agree with him. Almost always there’s a 50/50 split, which has astounded me because I couldn’t disagree more with the studio executive. His belief is rooted in a misguided view of creativity that exaggerates the importance of the initial idea in creating an original product. And it reﬂects a profound misunderstanding ofhow to manage the large risks inherent in producing breakthroughs. When it comes to producing breakthroughs, both technological and artistic, Pixar’s track record is unique. In the early 1990s, we were known as the leading technological pioneer in the ﬁeld of computer animation. Our years of R&D culminated in the release of Toy Story in 1995, the world’s ﬁrst computer-animated feature ﬁlm. In thefollowing 13 years, we have released eight other ﬁlms (A Bug’s Life; Toy Story 2; Monsters, Inc.; Finding Nemo; The Incredibles; Cars; Ratatouille;
photos: Deborah Coleman; characters courtesy of Pixar
Harvard Business Review 65
How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity
and WALL·E), which also have been blockbusters. Unlike most other studios, wehave never bought scripts or movie ideas from the outside. All of our stories, worlds, and characters were created internally by our community of artists. And in making these ﬁlms, we have continued to push the technological boundaries of computer animation, securing dozens of patents in the process. While I’m not foolish enough to predict that we will never have a ﬂop, I don’t think our successis largely luck. Rather, I believe our adherence to a set of principles and practices for managing creative talent and risk is responsible. Pixar is a community in the true sense of the word. We think that lasting relationships matter, and we share some basic beliefs: Talent is rare. Management’s job is not hbr.org to prevent risk but to build the capaListen to Ed Catmull bility to recover whenfailures occur. It discuss the managemust be safe to tell the truth. We must ment of creativity at pixar.hbr.org. constantly challenge all of our assumptions and search for the ﬂaws that could destroy our culture. In the last two years, we’ve had a chance to test whether our principles and practices are transferable. After Pixar’s 2006 merger with the Walt Disney Company, its CEO, Bob Iger, asked me,chief creative ofﬁcer John Lasseter, and other Pixar senior managers to help him revive Disney Animation Studios. The success of our efforts prompted me to share my thinking on how to build a sustainable creative organization.
What Is Creativity?
People tend to think of creativity as a mysterious solo act, and they typically reduce products to a single idea: This is a movie about toys, ordinosaurs, or love, they’ll say. However, 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 great many problems. The initial idea for the movie – what people in the movie business call “the high concept” – is merely one step in a long, arduous process that takes four to ﬁveyears. A movie contains literally tens of thousands of ideas. They’re in the form of every sentence; in the performance of each line; in the design of characters, sets, and backgrounds; in the locations of the camera; in the colors, the lighting, the pacing. The director and the other creative leaders of a production do not come up with all the ideas on their own; rather, every single member...
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