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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Subscribe to Credit Union MagazineCU Mag: How can an organization encourage risk-taking, especially during these poor economic times?

Capodagli: As children, we learn by exploration and discovery. We try something, fail, and try again.

Organizations need to do that. They need to learn to fail forward fast rather than being risk-averse during these tough times.

We need to embrace risk and try new things, but be able to react quickly to them and make adjustments so they ultimately can be successful.

CU Mag: What are the best ways to improve employee morale?

Capodagli: We’ve about having fun, collaborating, and trusting. When people know they’re trusted in how they do their work and that their work is valued, that improves morale.

CU Mag: How can companies benefit by employing Pixar’s approach?

Capodagli: Disney, Pixar, Men’s Warehouse, and Nike have three to five times better turnover—that’s lower turnover—than their competitors.

Two studies have shown that replacing an employee making $8.50 per hour costs $10,000 to $12,000 for training, advertising, and service disruptions. If you’re doing three to five times better than your competitors, that gives you quite a competitive advantage.

CU Mag: What mistakes do some organizations make when they try to be more innovative?

Capodagli: We worked with one organization, an engineering group, that was trying to promote fun in the organization. It said that every Tuesday afternoon would be fun time.

People in the organization starting referring to this as FFT: forced fun time.

The problem organizations have is that they try to dictate a set of values rather than showing people why it’s important to embrace those values. If achieving great customer service was as simple as posting values on a wall, every organization would be innovative.

It’s a matter of embracing those values, and seeing examples of leadership embracing those values, that really makes organizations innovative, creative, and customer-centric.

Walt Disney was once asked, ‘What’s the secret to your success?’ He said he’d dream of things that never were, test those dreams against his values, dare to take the risk to make those dreams come true, and put plans in place to make those dreams become reality.

Pixar’s ‘dare, dream, do’ philosophy is alive and well. You need to dream like a child, believe in your playmates, dare to jump in the water and make waves, and unleash your childlike potential.

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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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