creativity-inc-pixar-catmull1The new book from Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, is a must-read. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration is fascinating in its portrayal of Pixar’s history of successes and failures, and insightful in its boiling down of Pixar experience into transferable principles.

From the book, here are 18 lessons we can learn from the culture of Pixar:

  1. Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better. If you get the team right, chances are that they’ll get the ideas right.
  2. Always try to hire people who are smarter than you. Always take a chance on better, even if it seems like a potential threat.
  3. If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.
  4. There are many valid reasons why people aren’t candid with one another in a work environment. Your job is to search for those reasons and then address them.
  5. If there is fear in an organization, there is a reason for it—our job is (a) to find what’s causing it, (b) to understand it, and (c) to try to root it out.
  6. If there is more truth in the hallways than in meetings, you have a problem.
  7. Many managers feel that if they are not notified about problems before others are or if they are surprised in a meeting, then that is a sign of disrespect. Get over it.
  8. Careful “messaging” to downplay problems makes you appear to be lying, deluded, ignorant, or uncaring. Sharing problems is an act of inclusion that makes employees feel invested in the larger enterprise.
  9. Do not fall for the illusion that by preventing errors, you won’t have errors to fix. The truth is, the cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.
  10. It is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.
  11. Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.
  12. Trust doesn’t mean that you trust that someone won’t screw up—it means you trust them even when they do screw up.
  13. Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way. And that’s as it should be.
  14. A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.
  15. Our job as managers in creative environments is to protect new ideas from those who don’t understand that in order for greatness to emerge, there must be phases of not-so-greatness. Protect the future, not the past.
  16. New crises are not always lamentable—they test and demonstrate a company’s values. The process of problem-solving often bonds people together and keeps the culture in the present.
  17. Excellence, quality, and good should be earned words, attributed by others to us, not proclaimed by us about ourselves.
  18. Don’t confuse the process with the goal. Working on our processes to make them better, easier, and more efficient is an indispensable activity and something we should continually work on—but it is not the goal. Making the product great is the goal.
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10 thoughts on “18 Principles from Pixar’s Culture”

  1. Ivan Mesa says:

    Make sure to read Collin Garbarino’s article in the May/June edition of Touchstone mag. “Pixar might be the most subversive force for good in contemporary American popular culture.”

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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