Wednesday, 7 October 2009

How Pixar foster Creativity - from HBR

The Idea in Brief

A robot falls in love in a post-apocalyptic world. A French rat sets out to become a chef. A suburban family of superheroes defeats a power-hungry villain. Unexpected ideas, all—yet Pixar Animation Studios is turning these and other novel ideas into blockbuster films.

How? As Catmull explains, Pixar’s leaders have discovered potent practices for structuring and operating a creative organization. For example, they give writers, artists, and other “creatives” enormous leeway to make decisions. They make it safe for people to share unfinished work with peers, who provide candid feedback. And they conduct project post-mortems in ways that extract the most valuable lessons for mitigating risk on subsequent projects.

The effort has paid off. Pixar’s has racked up a unique track record of success: It’s the leading pioneer in computer animation. It has never had to buy scripts or movie ideas from outside. And since 1995, it has released seven films—all of which became huge hits.

The Idea in Practice

Catmull suggests these principles for managing your creative organization:

Empower your creatives. Give your creative people control over every stage of idea development.

Example: At most studios, a specialized development department generates new movie ideas. Pixar assembles cross-company teams for this purpose. Teams comprise directors, writers, artists, and storyboard people who originate and refine ideas until they have potential to become great films. The development department’s job? Find people who’ll work effectively together. Ensure healthy social dynamics in the team. Help the team solve problems.

Create a peer culture. Encourage people throughout your company to help each other produce their best work.

Example: At Pixar, daily animation work is shown in an incomplete state to the whole crew. This process helps people get over any embarrassment about sharing unfinished work—so they become even more creative. It enables creative leads to communicate important points to the entire crew at once. And it’s inspiring: a highly innovative piece of animation sparks others to raise their game.

Free up communication. The most efficient way to resolve the numerous problems that arise in any complex project is to trust people to address difficulties directly, without having to get permission. So, give everyone the freedom to communicate with anyone.

Example: Within Pixar, members of any department can approach anyone in another department to solve problems, without having to go through “proper” channels. Managers understand they don’t always have to be the first to know about something going on in their realm, and that it’s okay to walk into a meeting and be surprised.

Craft a learning environment. Reinforce the mind-set that you’re all learning—and it’s fun to learn together.

Example: “Pixar University” trains people in multiple skills as they advance in their careers. It also offers optional courses (screenplay writing, drawing, sculpting) so people from different disciplines can interact and appreciate what each other does.

Get more out of post-mortems. Many people dislike project post-mortems. They’d rather talk about what went right than what went wrong. And after investing extensive time on the project, they’d like to move on. Structure your post-mortems to stimulate discussion.

Example: Pixar asks post-mortem participants to list the top five things they’d do again and the top five they wouldn’t do. The positive-negative balance makes it a safer environment to explore every aspect of the project. Participants also bring in lots of performance data—including metrics such as how often something had to be reworked. Data further stimulate discussion and challenge assumptions based on subjective impressions.

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