Pixar ﬁlms are not good at ﬁrst, and our job is to make them so–to go, as I say, “from suck to not-suck.”
Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation & Disney Animation:
$8.6 Billion(!) in Revenue
Pixar is the company that has created 14 movies that have ALL been # 1 box office hits – and that’s 14 in a row, no misses, no letdowns, no we’ll get’em next time efforts. They’ve generated over 8.6 billion dollars in revenue since 1995 when Toy Story first came out.
What the heck? How in the world can they do that !!??
One or two, maybe even four or five blockbusters you might rationalize could be done with a great team working hard. But 14? In a row? – these are back to back to back to back….well you get the picture. Can you imagine a sports team doing that?
How many business owners do you know that have that kind of record ? How many would like to….?
What follows are some management insights taken from Ed Catmull’s recent book, Creativity, Inc. and an article in April edition of Fast Company magazine. $8.6 Billion !
The Pixar Braintrust
According to Ed, one of his key management tools is, the Pixar Braintrust. When I read about what the Braintrust is and why it works, I was struck by the alignment with EOS®.
[Catmull] on expectations of the members of the Braintrust – The Pixar Braintrust meets every few months or so to assess each movie we’re making. It’s premise is simple: Put smart, passionate people in a room together, charge them identifying and solving problems, and encourage them to be candid. The Braintrust is not foolproof, but when we get it right, the results are phenomenal. Our decision making is better when we draw on the collective knowledge and unvarnished opinions of the group. Candor is the key to collaborating effectively. Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional environments.
[EOS] Every session with a leadership team there are two overriding expectations – open & honest, and for the greater good. As long as the team is true to these principles, everything is fair game. In Catmull’s terms – passionate and candid. Be open to hearing what others are saying and when you have a thought – just say it.
[Catmull] on his role in the Braintrust meeting – making sure that the compact upon which the meetings are based is protected and upheld. This part of our job is never done because you can’t totally eliminate the blocks to candor. The fear of saying something stupid and looking bad, of offending someone or being intimidated, of retaliating or being retaliated against–they all have a way of reasserting themselves. And when they do, you must address them squarely.
[EOS] Facilitating these meetings is critical in order to create and maintain environment where these frank discussions can be held. If the leader of the team is also the facilitator, you need to focus on the facilitation role as your primary responsibility in order to get the most out of the team. An advantage of having an EOS Implementer in the room is to provide this facilitation and ‘enter the danger’ when the fears that Catmull identifies appear.
[Catmull] on qualifications for the Braintrust – The people you choose must (a) make you think smarter and (b) put lots of solutions on the table in a short amount of time. Seek out people who are willing to level with you….
[EOS] Does your leadership team agree with you & each other most of the time? We call this ‘artificial harmony’. Too often we seek harmony when we should be creating some conflict. Don’t be afraid of a little conflict, embrace it. As a colleague of mine recently wrote about this specifically, Conflict creates clarity.
[Catmull] on solving the problems – While problems in a film a fairly easy to identify, the sources of those problems are often extraordinarily difficult to assess. Think of it as a patient complaining of knee pain that stems from fallen arches. If you operate on the knee, it wouldn’t alleviate the pain, it could easily compound it. To alleviate the pain, you have to identify and deal with the root of the problem.
[EOS] One of the most powerful tools we teach in EOS is The Level 10 Meeting™. This is a regularly occurring meeting where the focus is on identifying the issues, determining the root cause, and then the solution. Don’t solve the symptom, solve the root cause. It’s a meeting whose sole focus is on solving the biggest issues impacting your key milestones (we call them Rocks), your key metrics, your customers, and your employees.
[Catmull] on criticizing – The film – not the filmmaker – is under the microscope. This principal eludes most people, but it is critical. You are not your ideas, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when challenged.
[EOS] Similarly, it’s the business, not the business owner/leader under the microscope. The leadership team is working for the greater good of the business.
[Catmull] on Managing a Braintrust – For those who are going to try their hand at creating a Braintrust, managing one can be tricky. Steve Jobs was the majority shareholder of Pixar. Catmull extorted a promise from Jobs that he would never attend a Braintrust meeting. Now why would someone with access to the creative genius of Jobs lock him out of the room? Jobs was too big of a personality, say Catmull. He would have thrown off the balance.
Lesson Learned: If your opinions tend be dominant (or even perceived that way by your team), you either need to get out of the way, or have a neutral party facilitate. Otherwise the only answers you’ll get, will be yours….
Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace. Copyright 2014 by Ed Catmull. Published by Random House.
The article on Creativity, Inc. by Rick Tetzeli in the April 2014 edition of Fast Company.