Innovation and Leadership Lessons from Pixar

The McKinsey Quarterly always has some excellent work on-line, even without a premium membership (though you do need to register).  This interview with Brad Bird, a two-time Oscar winning director at Pixar, caught my eye (here).  Three points in particular from both technically challenging projects (The Incredibles) and team turnarounds (The Iron Giant):

When coming up against the impossible, seek out the “black sheep”

“Give us the black sheep. I want artists who are frustrated. I want the ones who have another way of doing things that nobody’s listening to. Give us all the guys who are probably headed out the door.” A lot of them were malcontents because they saw different ways of doing things, but there was little opportunity to try them, since the established way was working very, very well.

The perfect is the enemy of the good

There are purists in computer graphics who are brilliant but don’t have the urgency about budgets and scheduling that responsible filmmakers do. I had to… frighten them into realizing I was ready to use quick and dirty “cheats” to get something on screen if they took too long to achieve it in the computer…. Certain shots need to be perfect, others need to be very good, and there are some that only need to be good enough to not break the spell.

Make it crystal clear that productive dissent is welcome

[W]ith the previous director, anyone who dared to say anything got their head chopped off. 

For two months, I pushed and analyzed each person’s work in front of everybody. And they didn’t speak up. One day, I did my thing, and one of the guys sighed….  And I said, “No, you sighed. Clearly, you disagree with something I did there…. I might not have it right. You might. Show me.” So he came up, and… [e[verybody saw that he didn’t get his head chopped off. And our learning curve went straight up.


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