Article on Pixar’s Culture Featured in Economic Times

Economic Times LogoPixar’s leadership team has discovered the secret to consistently creating great films, and it has nothing to do with merely hiring great talent (although they do that too). The secret can be summed up in one word: connection.

An article I wrote on the topic has been featured in the Economic Times, India’s premier daily business publication. Be sure to read Animated Leadership: How Catmull & Co. Created a Culture that Consistently Makes Great Films and share your thoughts in the comments.

What lessons from Pixar’s culture will you apply to your own organization?

3 Ways Pixar Gains Competitive Advantage from Its Culture

As seen on Fox Business.

To infinity and beyond: That’s where Pixar Animation and Walt Disney Animation Studios are headed, provided they maintain the type of leaders that have gotten them this far. Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Walt Disney Animation Studios, describes what he’s learned about leadership and corporate culture in his excellent new book, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.

Pixar has been phenomenally successful with the likes of Toy Story, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, and Up, to name but a few of its films. In 2006, Disney bought Pixar to boost its struggling Walt Disney Animation Studios unit. Catmull and John Lasseter, Pixar’s CEO, were appointed to lead the unit as president and CEO, respectively.  With the leadership change, Disney began to produce hits such as Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph.  If any doubt existed that Disney’s magic was back, it was put to rest with the 2013 release of the blockbuster movie Frozen.  Having earned well over a billion dollars in revenue at the box office in its first six months, Frozen became the highest-grossing animated feature ever and moved into the top-10 worldwide highest grossing movies of all time.

The success of Pixar and Disney Animation begs the question: what’s the secret sauce? In a word, it’s “culture,” i.e. the shared attitudes, language and behavior that consistently produce excellence in a given endeavor.  With 70 percent of American workers disengaged today, Pixar and Disney Animation provide a model for engaging and energizing employees by making culture a competitive advantage.

Here are three ways Catmull and his leadership team create a culture that consistently makes great films.

Consider the Effect of Physical Space on Connection

Pixar Headquarters

Pixar Headquarters, Photo Credit Pixar Animation Studios

#24 Consider the Effect of Physical Space on Connection

When Ed Catmull, CEO of Pixar Animation, and Steve Jobs, Pixar’s primary owner at the time, designed Pixar’s new headquarters, they created a large centralized space that included the company’s entrance and visitor reception area, meeting rooms, company cafeteria, employee mail slots and restrooms.  Their rationale was that a centralized space would facilitate connection.

Research supports that physical location and office space design does affect connection.  In general, people who work in physical space near one another feel more connected and physical spaces that are more open encourage connection. Consider how your organization’s physical space and office design encourages or discourages connection and how you can make changes to boost connection.

This is the twenty-fourth post in our series entitled “100 Ways to Connect.” The series highlights language, attitudes and behaviors that help you connect with others. Although the language, attitudes and behaviors focus on application in the workplace, you will see that they also apply to your relationships at home and in the community.

Pixar’s Competitive Advantage? A Connection Culture

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At the Technical Academy Awards ceremonies held in Hollywood, the Associated Press reported that it wasn’t the host, actress Jessica Biel, who attracted the most attention. Instead, it was an understated, bespectacled, computer engineer named Ed Catmull. When Catmull’s name was announced to receive an Oscar for his lifetime of work in computer animation, the crowd went wild, whistling and whooping. And rightly so. The impact Catmull and his collaborators have had on Hollywood may last for decades to come.

Ed Catmull is the president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. He has rejected the traditional Hollywood star system and its often toxic work environment and replaced it with an environment that emphasizes community and long-term relationships. Catmull described it this way in a Harvard Business Review article he wrote: “[Pixar has] an environment that nurtures trusting and respectful relationships and unleashes everyone’s creativity…the result is a vibrant community where talented people are loyal to one another and their collective work, everyone feels that they are part of something extraordinary, and their passion and accomplishments make the community a magnet for talented people…”

What is it about Pixar’s environment that attracts talented employees and helps them produce outstanding movies such as the blockbuster hits Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and WALL-E that have made Pixar the envy of Hollywood?

Webinar: Jobs, Catmull, Lafley Have the “Connection Edge”

Jason Pankau and I are presenting a 60 minute webinar for Communitelligence about the “Connection Edge” that leaders such as Steve Jobs, Ed Catmull and A.G. Lafley employ to boost strategic alignment and employee engagement.  The webinar will be held on June 9 at 2:00 PM Eastern.  You can sign up at this link.

What Steve Jobs, Ed Catmull and A.G. Lafley have in common

Jobs, Catmull and Lafley connect with employees of their respective organizations, although they do so in distinctly unique ways. This is the topic of a webinar Jason Pankau and I will be doing for Communitelligence. You can learn more about it at this link. This topic is relevant today because Corporate Executive Board research shows that 90 percent of employees are either not engaged and giving their best efforts or they are not aligned with their organization’s goals. Research by both The Conference Board and the Corporate Executive Board shows that the solution to this problem to develop the emotional and rational connections that employee have with their organization’s mission and values, supervisor, colleagues and day-to-day work tasks. In the webinar, Michael and Jason show how great leaders do this.

Strategic Alignment: Pixar Puts the “Corpus” Back in Corporation

The definition of corporation is “a group of people combined into or acting as one body.”  My colleague Jason Pankau pointed out to me that the root word of corporation is “corpus,” which in Latin means “body.”

Does your organization act like one body?

Do personal rivalries and silos exist so that the members are working at times against the body’s interest?

One of the greatest challenges leaders face is to lead the members of the corporate body to work together as one.  We call this “strategic alignment.” Great leaders increase strategic alignment  by making it clear that “we” are one organization.  They find ways to make members feel proud of the overall organization.  They get out regularly to meet people and tell stories about members who sacrificed the me for the we.  They reward members who cooperate and help their colleagues and the overall organization. They confront members who behave in selfish ways.  They promote a feeling of partnership so that everyone feels like part of the team and that they can make a difference.

Ed Catmull, CEO of Pixar Animation, excels at this.  On one trip when I visited Pixar’s corporate headquarters, I observed an extraordinary Connection Culture.  Here’s what Catmull once wrote about his aspiration for Pixar’s culture:

“What we can do is construct an environment that nurtures trusting and respectful relationships and unleashes everyone’s creativity.  If we get it right, the result is a vibrant community where talented people are loyal to one another and their collective work, everyone feels that they are part of something extraordinary, and their passion and accomplishments make the community a magnet for talented people coming out of schools or working at other places.  I know what I’m describing is the antithesis of the free-agency practices that prevail in the movie industry, but that’s the point: I believe that community matters.”

Does Catmull’s description fit your organization?  If not, why don’t you become a catalyst for change.  Get started today by reading this changethis manifesto entitled  The Connection Culture: A New Source of Competitive Advantage.

New Articles on Pixar and Selecting CEOs

Here are two new articles I wrote that will appear shortly in publications in India and the US. As with all of the articles I write they relate to leadership and employee engagement. Email me at mstallard [at] epluribuspartners [dot] com if you have any comments or suggestions. Thanks – Michael

The Competitive Advantage of Pixar’s Environment  

By Michael Lee Stallard

At the Technical Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood, the Associated Press reported that it wasn’t the host, actress Jessica Beil, who attracted the most attention.

Pixar: Keeping Its Eye on the Ball

Pixar Ball

I’m in San Francisco this week filming SmartBytes for
Athenaonline.com, speaking at ALI’s social media conference, doing a television interview and meeting John Walker, a producer at Pixar Animation. John was the producer of “The Incredibles” and pre-Pixar he produced “The Iron Giant.” John’s the business guy in a partnership with director Brad Bird.

Presently, I’m working on an article about Pixar Animation and why it has been so successful. My thesis is that Pixar has a Connection Culture that provides a competitive advantage. I also suspect that there is so much pressure to produce results that the risk to Pixar is that it focuses on task excellence alone to the detriment of its Connection Culture. To sustain its success, Pixar must keep its eye on maintaining both task excellence and a Connection Culture that produces relationship excellence.  When organizations fail to maintain relationship excellence it ultimately sabotages task excellence because disconnected workers don’t give their best efforts to their work and stop communicating (which leads to ill-informed decisions.)

I’m pulling for Pixar and believe as long as it stays keenly aware of this risk and actively maintains a Connection Culture, it will continue to be the shining star in the dismal motion picture production industry.

The Incredibles: Everyone has a “Voice” at Pixar

incredibles.jpgConnection Cultures have three elements: Vision, Value and Voice.  When people feel connected to the organization’s identity, to their colleagues and to their day-to-day tasks, they thrive (and so does their organization). Here’s a link to an article in Harvard Business Review by Pixar CEO Ed Catmull about how Pixar fosters creativity. It should come as no surprise that Voice is an integral part of Pixar’s culture.  With a string of hits that are the envy of the entertainment industry, I think it’s fair to say Pixar is thriving.  You might even conclude, they’re “Incredible!”

To learn more about Connection Cultures and how they increase employee engagement, productivity and innovation, download “
The Connection Culture Manifesto“at changethis.com.