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Why Pixar Focuses On Great People More Than Great Ideas

By Sukh Singh, Associate Partner, Lighthouse International 

"If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up; if you give a mediocre idea to a great team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something that works."

- Ed Catmull, President, Pixar

Have you ever been told or believed, that the key to building an incredible business is having that one idea - that magic bullet that changes the scene? Or that bit of funding that will get the idea off the ground... Surely there's more to building a great, long lasting, highly successful business than just great ideas??

Pixar Animation Studios has become one of the most successful film studios for over 20 years. When a Pixar film comes out (whether it's Toy Story, The Incredibles or Inside Out...) most people expect it to be a great film without needing to see the trailer. The Pixar President Ed Catmull, shared some of his insights with the Harvard Business Review, as to what makes Pixar such a successful company, and how that is rooted in having the right people on board...

Prioritise Relationships In Your Business

" Pixar is a community in the true sense of the word. We think that lasting relationships matter, and we share some basic beliefs: Talent is rare. Management’s job is not to prevent risk but to build the capability to recover when failures occur. It must be safe to tell the truth. We must constantly challenge all of our assumptions and search for the flaws that could destroy our culture."

Use Less Management, More Innovation 

"In filmmaking and many other kinds of complex product development, creativity involves a large number of people from different disciplines working effectively together to solve a great many problems. The initial idea for the movie—what people in the movie business call “the high concept”—is merely one step in a long, arduous process that takes four to five years.

...We as executives have to resist our natural tendency to avoid or minimize risks, which, of course, is much easier said than done. In the movie business and plenty of others, this instinct leads executives to choose to copy successes rather than try to create something brand-new. That’s why you see so many movies that are so much alike. It also explains why a lot of films aren’t very good. If you want to be original, you have to accept the uncertainty, even when it’s uncomfortable, and have the capability to recover when your organization takes a big risk and fails. What’s the key to being able to recover? Talented people!"

Getting People To Work Well Together Takes Hard Work

"What’s equally tough, of course, is getting talented people to work effectively with one another. That takes trust and respect, which we as managers can’t mandate; they must be earned over time. What we can do is construct an environment that nurtures trusting and respectful relationships and unleashes everyone’s creativity. If we get that 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."

People and relationships are the lifeblood of any organisation. When people are treated poorly and when they treat each other badly, business does badly. Former GE CEO Jack Welch knows it. Liverpool Football Club coach Jurgen Klopp knows it. As Ed Catmull notes well though, it is probably the hardest thing in business to get right. So when we are not taught how to develop incredible relationships in business, then our work suffers!! It is absolutely vital that we learn how to do so, whether we are business leaders or employees - the good relationships will open up doors and the bad relationships will slam those doors firmly in our face!

To read the full HBR article by Mr Catmull, click here for some amazing insights!


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