3 IT Manager Secrets From The Folks At Pixar

by drjim on January 16, 2009

Pixar Makes Great Movies And Has A Lot To Teach IT About Manging Creativity

Pixar Makes Great Movies And Has A Lot To Teach IT About Manging Creativity

Toy Story, Cars, Finding Nemo, Wall-E – who hasn’t been amazed at the movies that Pixar has created over the past few years? I think that we can all agree that clearly Pixar has found a way to foster and grow creativity within their organization. What if IT Leaders could find out how to do the same for our departments and teams…

Ed Catmull is one of the founders of Pixar and he is currently the president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios (they merged just awhile ago). He wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review in which he discussed just what makes Pixar work so well.

Catmull make the point that he was once talking with a studio executive who lamented the fact that his biggest problem was not finding good people, but rather finding good ideas.

Catmull flat out disagrees with this thinking – he thinks that it reflects a misunderstanding of creativity. He also thinks that it places way too much importance on the initial idea in creating a new product.

Since the release of Toy Story in 1995, Pixar has released eight other films which have all been blockbusters. The real interesting point is that Pixar has never bought a script or movie idea from the outside. The ingredients that make their movies magic, the stories, the characters, and the worlds in which they live, have all been created internally by Pixar employees.

Here’s where the real learning for IT Leaders comes:

Catmull believes that Pixar’s adherence to a basic set of principles and ways of managing creative talent and risk is done responsibly. At Pixar, the job of management is NOT to prevent risk but rather to build in the capability to recover when failures occur (and, of course, they do occur).

In order for this type of environment to exist, it must be safe to tell the truth. In order for the organization to grow and improve, it must constantly challenge all of its assumptions and be searching for any flaws that could ultimately search for any flaws that could destroy the organization.

IT Leaders, just like Pixar management, need to find a way to resist our built-in tendencies to try to either avoid or at least minimize risks. I realize that this is easy to say, and very hard to do.

If an IT Leader can’t overcome his/her desire to avoid risk, then each project that they are in charge of will be an imperfect copy of a previous project that they worked on. This will result in many copies of what was never a perfect process with no hope of achieving a break through.

To have a break through in how a project is done, IT Leaders need to be able to find a way to live with uncertainty. This of course means that you also need to make sure that your department or team has the built-in ability to recover when you’ve taken a big risk and it ends up failing.

The key to being able to recover lies in the people that you have on your team, but we’ll have to talk about how you do that next time…

What’s your favorite Pixar movie? Why? Do you feel that your IT department manages creativity well? Do you have a plan for how to recover if you take a risk and it ends up failing? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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