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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                     MagazineCU Mag: What’s Pixar’s approach to managing employees?

Capodagli: It’s based on a collaborative effort. Pixar goes to great lengths to make sure employees are a group of creative people who are, first and foremost, collaborative teammates.

That means they try to accomplish a common goal based on a lot of different skills. They’re constantly reviewing.

One thing many creative types there had to get used to was that Pixar has a daily review of all their work. It’s not about saying something is wrong or bad. It’s just an open area where everyone can comment and help each other.

To do that you need to have a safe haven where people feel safe to tell the truth and express their ideas.

CU Mag: How can CUs create a safe haven for innovation?

Capodagli: It starts with leadership. Leaders must realize they can’t be everywhere all the time and they don’t have all the answers.

One cofounder of Pixar said it’s about people functioning as a team and being enabled to make decisions. That’s more important than great ideas coming down from top management.

I did a keynote for a financial institution a few years ago, and I love what its president said: “We have to do what our customers ask of us unless it’s illegal, immoral, or unethical. They’re entrusting us with their money and their financial future. We need to solve their problems, not cause more problems.

CU Mag: How does Pixar motivate employees to be creative?

Capodagli: The whole premise of our book is that Pixar is this corporate playground. When you go there, you may see people playing foosball or swimming in an Olympic-sized pool.

It has created an atmosphere where work is fun—working hard and playing hard. That’s the greatest motivator.

CU Mag: How can employees embrace playfulness when their employer doesn’t?

Capodagli: That’s tough. If leadership doesn’t embrace or create an atmosphere that enables workers to have a good time, it’s hard for the worker to do that.

On the other hand, front-line employees can still embrace fun during their interactions with customers. You see a lot of examples of that in non-fun organizations, where there may be one employee who’s a little wackier than the rest of them. But the customers love that person and wonder why the whole organization can’t be that way.

Next: How to encourage risk-taking

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