Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Innovation at Pixar

The McKinsey Quarterly recently profiled (Registration required) innovation at Pixar, in the eyes of director Brad Bird. Brad Bird joined Pixar in 2000, shortly after Pixar saw tremendous success with Toy Story.

When asked what type of people are best for innovation, Bird responded that involved people make for better innovation. Contrary to common thought, not just happy people but involved people. Bird observed that if you have something invested in the project, ideas are more likely to be better and more streamlined thought process.

Another key process to innovation at Pixar was the collaboration between the different groups. Bird found it difficult at first to harmonize the work between so many different departments when creating a film. So how did he do it? He gathered everyone together in the same room, and tore apart their work. After pushing artists to the edge, he had a breakthrough:

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. I shouted, “What was that?” And he said, “Nothing man, it’s OK.” And I said, “No, you sighed. Clearly, you disagree with something I did there. Show me what you’re thinking. I might not have it right. You might. Show me.” So he came up, and I handed him the dry-erase marker. He erased what I did. Then he did something different and explained why he thought it ought to be that way. I said, “That’s better than what I did. Great.” Everybody saw that he didn’t get his head chopped off. And our learning curve went straight up. By the end of the film, that animation team was much stronger than at the beginning, because we had all learned from each other’s strengths. But it took two months for people to feel safe enough to speak up.

I encourage you to read the article here. It gave me a fresh new perspective on innovation at one of the most well known places for doing it, Pixar.

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