How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity

I’ve just read an excellent article from the Harvard Business review magazine: “How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity”. The article is written by Ed Catmull, the cofounder of Pixar and the president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. He describes how is the creation process of Pixar movies, and how this process changed and evolved since Toy Story, the first movie from Pixar.

There are some points in the article I’d like to highlight.

What is creativity?

  • Creativity involves a large number of people from different disciplines working effectively together to solve a great many problem
  • A movie, like a software, is not only a single idea. Movies and softwares contains literally tens of thousands of ideas.
  • The leaders sort through a mass of ideas (and possible designs in software) to find the ones that fit into a coherent whole, which is very difficult task
  • What is the key to be able to recover from fail? Talented people! And such people are not easy to find. What is equally though, of course, is getting talented people to work effectively with one another

The roots of pixar culture

  • Smart people are more important than good ideas
  • It is OK to hire people who are smarter than you
  • In the process of creating a new movie (software), the first versions are very rough, but they give a sense of what the problems are, which in the beginning are many. Then we have to iterate, and each version typically gets better and better.
  • If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will crew it up; if you give a mediocre idea to a great team, they will either fix it or throw away and come up with something that works.
  • Deeply ingrained in Pixar culture is that everything they touch needs to be excellent.

Power to the creatives and a peer culture

  • Creative power in a film (software) has to reside with the film’s creative leadership
  • The creative vision propelling each movie (software) comes from one ow two people and not from either corporate executives or a development department (this point is similar to what Fred Brooks says about conceptual integrity. I don’t completely agree with that. I also like Richard Gabriel’s vision, that there are many hidden co-authors and the things designed themselves)
  • Good artists understand the value of limits. I completely agree with this. This makes me remember a phrase from my theater director. He said that “an actor has to have the German discipline with the Brazilian creativity both at the same time. Hot side with cold side”.
  • Everything in Pixar is done by peer reviewing. This works because all the participants have come to trust and respect one another

Technology + Art = Magic

  • Walt Disney believed that when continual change, or reinvention, is the norm in an organization and technology and art are together, magical things happen
  • Showing unfinished work each day liberates people to take risks and try new things because it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time
  • At Pixar, we believe in this swirling interplay between art and technology and constantly try to use better technology
  • Technology inspires art, and art challenges the technology
  • The most efficient way to deal with numerous problems is to trust people to work out the difficulties directly with each other

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