Sunday, May 9, 2010

Ed Catmull on rendering successful business


I stumbled upon this great talk by president of Pixar, Ed Catmull on maintaining successful creative environment. As an artist, personally I feel creating and sustaining a creative environment on workplace is the most crucial part of any art production. Art is all about expressing our emotions or ideas in such way that the audience feel and embrace it with their own collective experience. So if artists are working in an environment where they are intimidated by the managerial forces then it is merely impossible for them express their emotions or ideas.

I found issues raised by Catmull very intriguing and it made me dig more deep into more articles on Pixar's business model.

Later, I came across couple of other good articles and a great video interview of Catmull on The Economist. All of the articles I came across discussed the same issues he addressed in the first talk which is derived from his own tremendous experience in the computer graphics and animation industry.

One of the main point raised by Catmull was that lot of companies confuse the organisational structure with the communication structure which will hinder the creativity of the team. According to him flow of information between all the departments irrespective of structural management is must to facilitate a creativity. This is in very much contrast to the general idea of management where you report only to your manager or supervisor. But according to Catmull, the efficient way to manage people is to trust them and make them responsible for the work they do instead of getting permission from manager for each task.

He gives a good example on above issue in Harvard Business Review as follows, "Within Pixar, members of any department can approach anyone in another department to solve problems, without having to go through 'proper' channels. Managers understand they don't always have to be the first o know about something going on in their realm, and that it's okay to walk into a meeting and be surprised."

The above management philosophy goes together with the peer culture in Pixar which relays lot on trust and honesty. Since everyone have a shared responsibility and trust then it is easy to recover from a failure and Catmull stress that good management is not about preventing the errors but it is about recovering from the failures.

In order to facilitate communication, trust, high morale and spirit practically into work environment of Pixar, they have formulated Pixar University which trains employees at any level on general fine arts education. The classes are mainly on pushing unconventional thinking, creating peer culture and teamwork among the all levels of the company. According to Pixar University Dean Randy Nelson, "If you don't create an atmosphere in which risk can be easily taken, in which weird ideas can be floated, then it's likely you're going to be producing work that will look derivative in the marketplace."

It is very important to note that at Pixar they put more importance on people and workplace than the ideas they create. As Catmull says in the talk, if a good idea is given to a bad team they won't come up with anything but at the same time if the team was good then they would have either fixed it and or would have come up with a idea that works.

So it is very much crucial to put together teams of people to function well because because if they work well together then the ideas they created would sell anyway. The significance of people working together is so much important for Pixar because a movie was never about an idea but it was all about collective ideas from people working effectively in different disciplines and levels. So it makes perfect sense why they put so much money and effort into making the creative space for their artists.

Finally it is interesting to note that great art always comes from unstable environment and like Catmull points out in the above talk that good teams are inherently unstable. So much of what I discussed above goes to the fact that it is essential to have working environment which not only creates great ideas but keep people together and I hope people get that right and not just they get notion of it.

'The prhase is important in the community but it just doesn't have any effect on the behavior"
Ed Catmull
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