Creativity and Innovation Management at Pixar

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Creativity, Inc." by Ed Catmull. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How does Pixar handle creativity and innovation management? What are the strategies for embracing creativity while keeping on track towards business goals?

Creativity and innovation management is all about creating a framework that supports new ideas. While it may not always be simple or straightforward, creativity and innovation management is essential to Pixar’s success.

Read more about strategies for creativity and innovation management.

Creativity and Innovation Management

At Pixar, creativity is part of the business model and innovation has allowed the company to remain successful. Creativity and innovation management requires protecting new ideas, embracing the mess, finding balance, and letting a project fly.

Protecting New Ideas

When searching for a new concept to work with, it’s easy to look for flaws that can lead you to dismiss a project. While critique and feedback are essential to growth, the best way to find a new project is to look for what makes it exciting instead of what makes it problematic. It can be risky to endorse an unproven idea, but often, those are the projects that produce the best results.

As a leader in a creative organization, it’s your job to protect and nurture these concepts until they grow into full-fledged creations. Think of a new idea as a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Before its transformation, a caterpillar is vulnerable and slow. It needs time inside of its protective cocoon to develop into a butterfly. When you oversee creative projects, create that cocoon to allow new concepts to grow into something greater. Creativity and innovation management doesn’t mean isolating the project from feedback or input, but give it the room to fail and struggle in order for it to develop.

Embracing the Mess

The creative process isn’t clear-cut and straightforward. It requires trial and error to be successful. Because this process can be time-consuming and expensive, you may try to cut out the messier parts of your process to speed up development and ensure lower costs.

However, be careful about the amount of streamlining you do. Trying to avoid the creative “messes” by cutting time out of development and overcommitting to choices early on prevents your team from finding potential errors and developing stronger ideas. While the need to efficiently create new works can create a level of motivation for you and your team, it often leads to unfinished projects or poorly developed concepts.

Finding Balance With Creativity and Innovation Management

In a creative company, you have to balance the wants and needs of each department. Each department in your organization has a different interest. For instance, your marketing team wants to create a product that sells, your management team wants to create a product that’s easy to make, and your creative team wants to make a product that’s wholly original. There isn’t one clear-cut way to ensure balance in your organization. 

However, there’s one rule-of-thumb in creativity and innovation management: Don’t let one team or person get everything they want. Because departments’ “wants” often conflict with one another, they act as a counterbalance with other teams. If one team gets everything that they want, it throws the company out of balance. For example, if you’re leading a film studio, giving the creative team everything they want may lead to a bloated and over-budget film that’s too niche to sell. On the other hand, giving the marketing team everything they want may lead to an unoriginal and predictable film that appeals to the lowest common denominator. 

Balance is not stagnant. It changes all of the time and requires constant attention. Even if a project achieves perfect equilibrium for a moment, the balance will likely begin to shift as team members make more decisions. Be aware of the shifting dynamics between decisions and make choices accordingly. 

Letting a Project Fly

While protection is important in the early phases of a new project, the concept will eventually have to stand on its own. Once you’ve taken the time to develop and foster a project, hand it off to other people to ensure that it’s worth continuing to invest in. At that point, it will either fly or fall. If it flies, you can continue to work with the project or concept. If it falls, you’ll have to swallow your pride and let go of it for the good of your organization.

Creativity and Innovation Management at Pixar

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  • How Pixar went from selling computers to successful animation studio
  • What it takes to build a creative workplace culture
  • Why George Lucas sold Pixar to Steve Jobs

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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