More Pixar philosophy

The two most interesting points from the Harvard Business Review blog post "Pixar's Collective Genius" about keys to the successful leadership of Pixar cofounder Ed Catmull:

Redefining the vision. For decades, Ed's driving ambition was to help create the first full-length computer-animated feature film. After realizing that dream with Toy Story, he set himself a new goal: to build an organization that could continually produce magic long after he and Pixar's other cofounders were gone.

This is the challenge for all entrepreneurs: to make the transition from doing something themselves to creating organizations that can carry on without them. Walt Disney, genius that he was, failed this test.

Delegating power. Ed and his fellow executives give directors tremendous authority. At other studios, corporate executives micromanage by keeping tight control over production budgets and inserting themselves into creative decisions. Not at Pixar. Senior management sets budgetary and timeline boundaries for a production and then leave the director and his team alone.

Executives resist exercising creative authority even when it's thrust upon them. Take reviews of works in progress by "brain trusts" of directors at Pixar and Disney Animation. The rule is that all opinions are only advice that the director of the movie in question can use as he or she sees fit. Catmull, chief creative officer John Lasseter, and executive vice president of production Jim Morris often attend these sessions but insist that their views be treated the same way and refuse to let directors turn them into decision-makers.

Even when a director runs into deep trouble, Ed and the other executives refrain from personally taking control of the creative process. Instead, they might add someone to the team whom they think might help the director out of his bind. If nothing works, they'll change directors rather than fashion solutions themselves.

It's fascinating that Pixar is often spoken of as having such an empowering, delegation-based style while being fused at the hip with Apple, where you-know-who is famed for being a micro-managing tyrant (but one we love since we don't work for him).

Also, HBR hosts a longer interview with Ed Catmull, Pixar cofounder and president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios titled How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity.

I recently finished The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company and am halfway through To Infinity and Beyond!: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios, both of which tell the history of Pixar. It's more of an improbable story than I'd realized. For many years before it became the success story we know today, Pixar struggled to stay in existence with meager to no revenues. The former book is recommended if you just want an inexpensive textual history of the company, while the latter is more expensive but larger, like a coffee table book, with color photos printed on high quality paper.