Current Events - Week 3 - Leadership (e.g. Vision)

“How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity"

“Creative power in a film has to reside with the film’s creative leadership. As obvious as this might seem, it’s not true of many companies in the movie industry and, I suspect, a lot of others. We believe the creative vision propelling each movie comes from one or two people and not from either corporate executives or a development department. Our philosophy is: You get great creative people, you bet big on them, you give them enormous leeway and support, and you provide them with an environment in which they can get honest feedback from everyone. After Toy Story 2 we changed the mission of our development department. Instead of coming up with new ideas for movies (its role at most studios), the department’s job is to assemble small incubation teams to help directors refine their own ideas to a point where they can convince John and our other senior filmmakers that those ideas have the potential to be great films. Each team typically consists of a director, a writer, some artists, and some storyboard people. The development department’s goal is to find individuals who will work effectively together. During this incubation stage, you can’t judge teams by the material they’re producing because it’s so rough – there are many problems and open questions. But you can assess whether the teams’ social dynamics are healthy and whether the teams are solving problems and
making progress. Both the senior management and the development department are responsible for seeing to it that the teams function well.
To emphasize that the creative vision is what matters most,
we say we are “filmmaker led.” There are really two leaders:
the director and the producer. They form a strong partnership.
They not only strive to make a great movie but also operate
within time, budget, and people constraints. (Good artists understand the value of limits.) During production, we leave the operating decisions to the film’s leaders, and we don’t second-guess or micromanage them…”
“What does it take for a director to be a successful leader in this environment? Of course, our directors have to be masters at knowing how to tell a story that will translate into the medium of film. This means that they must have a unifying vision – one that will give coherence to the thousands of ideas that go into a movie – and they must be able to turn that vision into clear directives that the staff can implement. They must set people up for success by giving them all the information they need to do the job right without telling them how to do it. Each person on a film should be given creative ownership of even the smallest task.
Good directors not only possess strong analytical skills themselves but also can harness the analytical power and life experiences of their staff members. They are superb listeners and strive to understand the thinking behind every suggestion. They appreciate all contributions, regardless of where or from whom they originate, and use the best ones…”
“Although we are a director-and producer-led meritocracy, which recognizes that talent is not spread equally among all people, we adhere to the following principles:
Everyone must have the freedom to communicate with anyone. This means recognizing that the decision-making hierarchy and communication structure in organizations are two different things. Members of any department should be able to approach anyone in another department to solve problems without having to go through “proper” channels. It also means that managers need to learn that they don’t always have to be the first to know about something going on in their realm, and it’s OK to walk into a meeting and be surprised. The impulse to tightly control the process is understandable given the complex nature of moviemaking, but problems are almost by definition unforeseen. The most efficient way to deal with numerous problems is to trust people to work out the difficulties directly with each other without having to check for permission.
It must be safe for everyone to offer ideas. We’re constantly showing works in progress internally. We try to stagger who goes to which viewing to ensure that there are always fresh eyes, and everyone in the company, regardless of discipline or position, gets to go at some point. We make a concerted effort to make it safe to criticize by inviting everyone attending these showings to e-mail notes to the creative leaders that detail what they liked and didn’t like and explain why.
We must stay close to innovations happening in the academic community. We strongly encourage our technical artists to publish their research and participate in industry conferences. Publishing may give away ideas, but it keeps us connected with the academic community. This connection is worth far more than any ideas we may have revealed: It helps us attract exceptional talent and reinforces the belief throughout the company that people are more important than ideas. We try to break down the walls between disciplines in other ways, as well. One is a collection of in-house courses we offer, which we call Pixar University. It is responsible for outsiders who will challenge the status quo aren’t enough.
Strong leadership is also essential – to make sure people
don’t pay lip service to the values, tune out the communications, game the processes, and automatically discount newcomers’ observations and suggestions.”

Excerpts from:

Catmull, E. (2008). How pixar fosters collective creativity. Harvard Business Review 86 (9) pp64-72. Retrieved on August 27, 2008 from

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