Pixar's Brave Take On Leadership
by Leslie Dickson
Note: We recently discovered that Jonah Lehrer, who inspired this blog post, has recently admitted to fabricating quotes used in his book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. Details are provided in the Wall Street Journal story. We apologize for any misrepresentation. Please read our reaction article here.
Have you read Johan Lehrer’s new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works? Team collaboration is a hot topic with VoicePro clients, and this must-read book does a powerful profile on the process at Pixar, the production company that brought us Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and their newest movie Brave.
The book’s focus is on creativity, but isn’t out-of-the-box thinking part of what makes any organization successful? His premise – and Pixar’s – is that success is more than one person having a brilliant idea. It takes a team to create something special. Sound familiar? And, in case you’ve forgotten, one of Pixar’s early leaders also took this process to his next company. That leader was Steve Jobs, and his next company was his return to Apple.
Here are some ideas of Lehrer’s, ideas that struck me as particularly insightful.
#1. Engineer casual interactivity.
Great thinking doesn’t always happen in meetings -- or in solitary effort, for that matter. At Pixar, they wanted computer programmers and writers and animators to bump into each other regularly and casually, breaking out of the constraints of meetings and conference reports. To promote interaction, they moved all the mailboxes to a big, airy atrium. Then the cafeteria. And the coffee bar. And the gift shop. And finally the building’s only bathrooms. Maybe you can’t renovate your offices, but consider what you could do to build engagement. Regular lunches? A bulletin board? Turn a conference room into a gathering space?
#2. Hear all the voices.
When Pixar is making a movie, there’s a daily team session to review the previous day’s work. All the disciplines are there – writer, editor, computer graphics artist, software engineer. Anyone can bring up an issue, agree or defend. And, most important, they work together on a solution – because in Pixar’s business, that could require new words, new music, or even new technology.
#3. Brainstorming isn’t enough.
Author Lehrer piles on the research findings that say pure, freeform brainstorming awash in positive feedback doesn’t lead to the most creative ideas. Criticism and debate (not to be confused with cynicism and defeatism) within the group hone the ideas. In one study Lehrer cites, the groups required to brainstorm and debate generated almost 25% more ideas than the pure brainstormers.
#4. Focus on improvements, not mistakes.
Of course, it’s important for team members to feel safe within the critique-and-debate scenario. That means the focus is on improving the work and not demoralizing the people who did it. At Pixar, they’ve coined the phrase “plussing”. A criticism should contain a new idea, a “plus.” Do people’s feelings get hurt? Sure. But that’s where the regularity of critique comes in – everyone makes mistakes, everyone plusses. That regular casual interaction in the Pixar atrium (and cafeteria, mailroom and bathroom) also helps keep relationships on an even keel.
How could stronger team collaboration shape your organization? Are you ready to lead it? Is your team ready to try? It’s not magic – it can be learned. Let’s talk more about ways to change, think differently, and communicate more powerfully.
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