By | Abhijit Bhaduri | Founder, Abhijit Bhaduri & Associates
Did you read the 22 rules of storytelling by Pixar? They are powerful insights that can help a writer. They reflect the thinking that goes into creating Rule no 1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes. Rolling Stone magazine summarized it, “Pixar has continually set the standard for how to do animated characters right: give them humanity, a sense of humor, and a lot of heart; get some top-notch talent to voice them; and provide them with a story that taps into the ties that bind all of us, from the joys and fears of childhood to finding your bliss.”
Managing a culture of creativity
At the time when businesses are going to rely on A.I. to do all the routine work they Will depend on humans to do the creative work. What kind of a culture would actually be called a creative culture? Would it be the kind of culture that created the creative powerhouse called Pixar? How should a leader manage a culture of creativity?
Pixar has gone through many avatars. Starting first with the belief that there was room in this world to make a full length animation movie-toy story. How does someone who is a computer engineer build a gigantic storytelling machine? As you read Creativity Inc, you will admire Ed Catmull for attempting more than for his successes. The voice is one of a reflective leader who is going through the notes written in his diary and attempting to make sense of it. He speaks of the challenges of stepping into a leadership role and refining his way through it.
The book is divided into four parts. Part one is about Ed’s years in college and the evolution of the idea of Pixar. In part two, he speaks of the choices he made as a leader to establish the culture of Pixar. If there is more candor in the hallways than in meetings, where policies and decisions are being made, you have a problem. To protect yourself against this fate, find people who are willing to level with you. When you find them, make sure you do not lose them. A real gem is the way they run Braintrust meetings. This is a group of people where the entry criteria is not job title but the ability to understand the emotional arc of a story. Check out Andrew Stanton’s TED talk on storytelling
Braintrust and Steve Jobs
Ed Catmull, John Lasster and Steve Jobs were the three co-founders of Pixar. How did these three talent people work with each other? My bet is that Ed worked as the glue that kept them doing what they did best. What was it to work with Steve Jobs? In this book Creativity Inc, Ed Catmull talks about telling Steve Jobs very early that he should not attend the Braintrust meetings. Particularly endearing is the way he describes the evolution of know-it-all Jobs to one who would grow to observe and admire the magic that Pixar teams would create. I found that to be a far more nuanced view of Steve Jobs personality. Don’t miss it.
Magic potion of culture
Pixar managed to be part of Disney and yet manage to retain its unique culture. This required skilful navigation of office politics. It was amusing to see how the fear of losing the magic potion that drove Pixar made Catmull get serious about learning how to keep big company politics away. Mergers and acquisitions fail very often because leaders do not figure out how to manage the merger of cultures.
Creativity thrives in an environment where people constantly learn new skills and stay curious. Pixar follows eight different mechanisms that helps to keep their thinking fresh. From daily problem solving sessions and research trips and short experiments helps everyone keep learning. In the 13th chapter, Catmull tries to distil his wisdom into 33 principles. He describes them as starting points for leaders rather than as t-shirt slogans. I found them truly helpful.
Work Rules by Laszlo Block described what it takes to create a work culture like that of Google. It is a very left brained approach to culture building. How do you use data and analytics to make decisions from the mundane to the sublime.
Creativity Inc is the other end of the scale. It tells you how to build a culture of creativity and innovation. Leading a team of data driven engineers is very different from leading a bunch of creative mavericks. If you want a workplace that can produce the magic of Pixar, then this is the book you must read.
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