Dare, Do, Dream

How to innovate like a Pixarian.

March 25, 2011

Pixar Animation’s John Lasseter faced a Herculean task as he embarked on the production of the movie Toy Story 2: How could he possibly make it as good as the original?

Daunted by high expectations and intense media interest in the sequel, Lasseter vowed not to let his standards slip, consultant and author Bill Capodagli told the 18th Annual CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council Conference.

Lasseter took several steps to ensure the quality of Toy Story 2 remained high.

First, he selected employees who were as passionate about the film as he was, and who exhibited these traits:

  • Proficiency. People who are very good at what they do and who exhibit remarkable tenacity.
  • Depth. People who have a wide variety of interests outside the workplace.
  • Communication and collaboration. People who will work with others to achieve a common goal.

“Pixar goes to great lengths to make sure employees are a group of creative people who are, first and foremost, collaborative teammates,” Capodgli says. “That means they try to accomplish a common goal based on a lot of different skills. Team is everything.”

Lasseter also:

• Focused on quality. All Pixar employees were allowed to take four hours of education per week in classes ranging from drawing to self-defense. When asked why accountants should learn to draw, Lasseter replied, “We’re teaching them to be more observant.”

"Quality is the best business plan," he once said.

• Embraced fun. One day, Lasseter brought his son’s scooter to work and rode it around the building. The following weekend, some Pixar staff scoured local garage sales for used scooters and brought several to work the next week.

“The scooter became Pixar’s symbol of fun,” Capodagli says, noting that such efforts boost an organization’s creativity and create a fun work atmosphere.

• Embraced risk-taking. As children, we learn by exploration and discovery: We try something, fail, and try again, Capodagli explains.

“Organizations need to do that,” he says. “They need to embrace risk and try new things, but be able to make adjustments so they ultimately can be successful.”

Lasseter ultimately achieved his goal: Toy Story 2 earned $120 million more than the original and became a classic among animated films.

“Pixar’s ‘dare, dream, do’ philosophy is alive and well,” Capodagli says. “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.”