creative vision, leadership and pixar // 19 Apr 2010

Huge thanks to Scott Berkun for transcribing some of the most interesting bits from Martin Giles' interview with Pixar president Ed Catmull at The Economist's innovation conference. The interview is a great view into the culture of Pixar, and how they balance the creative vision of a filmmaker with the need for highly collaborative work from large teams of crewmembers.

Here are two quick excerpts that connect the dots...

I do believe you want a vision, so you start off with a person who has a vision for a story. And we do things to try and protect that vision and its not easy to protect it, because they feel these pressures. They also have misconceptions about the creative process sometimes. We do have these people who we give a chance to on the belief they’re right, and can rise to the occasion, and we are wrong sometimes, because we can’t see what goes on in their heads. And our measure, because we can’t see inside people’s heads, is the team. If the team is functioning well, and healthy, it will solve the problem.

And another about what happens if things go south.

We will support the leader for as long and as hard as we can, but the thing we can not overcome is if they have lost the crew. It's when the crew says we are not following that person. We say we are director led, which implies they make all the final decisions, [but] what it means to us is the director has to lead.. and the way we can tell when they are not leading is if people say 'we are not following'.

If this is up your alley, Ed Catmull had a piece in the Harvard Business Review back in September 2008. Ostensibly the piece is about creativity...but it's really about collaboration and teamwork. A good chunk of it is available online, including this wonderful paragraph:

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 of the 200- to 250-person production group makes suggestions. Creativity must be present at every level of every artistic and technical part of the organization. The leaders sort through a mass of ideas to find the ones that fit into a coherent whole—that support the story—which is a very difficult task. It’s like an archaeological dig where you don’t know what you’re looking for or whether you will even find anything. The process is downright scary.

Can't wait to see the results of the archaeological dig called Toy Story 3.