Manage Innovation the Pixar Way

The real creativity leader during the late 1990s and early 2000s was Pixar.

August 18, 2010
KEYWORDS disney , leadership , pixar
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During the late 1990s, a new company emerged that redefined innovation: Pixar Animation Studios.

Author and consultant Bill Capodagli took notice and researched how the company provides a working environment that encourages imagination, inventiveness, and collaboration.

Subscribe to Credit Union MagazineThe result was “Innovate the Pixar Way: Business Lessons From the World’s Most Creative Corporate Playground.”

Capodagli tells Credit Union Magazine how Pixar’s approach to innovation may apply to credit unions.

CU Mag: What inspired you to study Pixar and its approach to managing employees?

Capodagli: Pixar came on our radar screen around 1995 when we were researching our book, “The Disney Way."

We watched this rather obscure boutique studio that first appeared to be just a technical subcontractor to The Walt Disney Co. but, in the late '90s and early 2000s seemed to virtually replace Disney Animation. It was ultimately purchased by Disney in 2006 for $7.4 billion.

As we looked at this company, we found that many of its principles were more like the original principles of Walt Disney than [Disney's] had become.

CU Mag: So you think Disney lost its way?

Capodagli: Michael Eisner, Disney CEO, did a lot of creative things for the first half of his tenure. But during the second half of his tenure he lost his way, looking at new creative outlets and long-term vision.

Walt Disney created an organization based on mutual respect and trust. These concepts were lost during the late '90s, and Disney started making formulaic movies: Cinderella II, The Lion King II, The Lion King 1½. What was that all about?

As we started looking at where real creativity was coming from during the late ‘90s and early 2000s, it was coming from Pixar.

Next: Pixar's approach to managing employees

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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