How Disney and Pixar manage creative people

A recent blog post on Harvard Business Review got me really excited. It’s an interview about how to manage in a creative environment with Ed Catmull, the president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios. His words match many of my beliefs about modern management, and I’ve highlighted below my key takeaways.

Embrace diversity
Disney has several studios doing animation, so a lot of traditional managers would push for unification of technology in search of economies of scale. Ed advised his employees differently:

“You may look at the tools that the other has, you may use them if you want, but the choice is entirely yours. You don’t have to take ideas from anybody else.”

Deliver quality
There was some media attention that Pixar had to push to 2015 the movie The Good Dinosaur, originally planned for 2014. Ed isn’t worried though:

Ultimately, there’s a criterion whether the film is good enough and we don’t let the other stuff get in the way of it. One thing I don’t believe in is the notion of a perfect process. Our goal isn’t to prevent all the problems; our goal is making good movies.

Create a spirit of trust
When Ed took the leadership position, there were several people leaking information about the movies to the press. Instead of entering an Inquisition mode, he focused on building trust. He had a speech in front of the employees in which he highlighted that when somebody goes to the press, they break their colleagues’ trust. This simple message was way more powerful than threats to change behavior:

When I said that, the entire audience burst into applause. For the one or two people who were talking to bloggers on the outside, what they saw was that everybody else in the studio was really upset that somebody was doing this. So the message didn’t come from me, the message came from that response of the audience − and whoever was doing it stopped doing it.

If you want to learn more, Ed has a longer article (How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity) and a book (Creativity, Inc).


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