How did Pixar’s management help Disney get its creative Mojo back?

Mike Gillam, 30 March 2015

Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar with John Lasseter, and inventor of an astonishing variety of GPU technologies used by every programmer today on virtually every movie and video game, recently released his book Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

This fantastically insightful book into Pixar’s story and the management approaches that have helped lead them to success had some key take aways.

Perhaps the most profound lessons were around candor. Pixar regularly created “BrainTrusts” – small groups of up to 20 people who would listen pitches about movies then give honest and sincere feedback. The Brain Trusts jobs were not to solve the problems in the project, but rather to point out problem areas.

Pixar regularly created “BrainTrusts” – small groups of up to 20 people who would listen pitches about movies then give honest and sincere feedback. The teams were expected to return in two to three months with solutions to the problems the Brain Trusts had pointed out.

 

Projects were given the “green light” sometimes even two to three years after this iterative process.

This process led to fundamental revisions in virtually every movie they have released. Importantly, if people were too quiet in the meeting, perhaps uncomfortable speaking, smaller breakout meetings were held so their input could be captured as well.  Perhaps the most profound story transformation occurred in the movie Monsters Inc. which began as the story of an accountant facing his childhood fears when actual monsters he drew as a kid suddenly appeared in his life but couldn’t be seen by others. Across three years of revisions, the movie became what we saw today.

The mission of candor was taken to Disney as Ed Catmul and John Lasseter found an organization paralyzed by politeness and fear of taking risk. Soon after some dramatic cultural changes – Disney’s 16 year gap of no #1 movies was broken with Tangled, Wreck it Ralph, Frozen and Big Hero 6.

It is remarkable to think how much is broken today in healthcare and how much might be fixed with small project teams receiving feedback from “Brain Trusts” until a project reaches “green light.”

How else might we bring the creative mojo back to healthcare?

— Mike Gillam, MD, FACEP  2015

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