Pixar Culture: 5 Principles That Rescued Disney

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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What is the Pixar culture? How did these principles work in practice after Pixar was purchased by Disney?

In 2005, Pixar was sold to Disney Animation Studios. The Pixar culture, which was critical to its success, was adapted for Disney. The result was a resuscitation of Disney’s struggling animation business.

Read more about the five principles of Pixar culture, as applied to Disney Animation Studios.

The 5 Principles of Pixar Culture

While Catmull insisted that he didn’t want Disney to become a clone of Pixar, he recognized that the core values of the company were universal. With this in mind, Catmull immediately started making changes:

  1. He championed individuality. Artists need the room and freedom to express themselves. It helps them feel comfortable in their environment and be more original in their work. At Pixar, employees would make elaborate designs and environments in their cubicles and offices. Catmull brought this same creative freedom to Disney. 
  2. He redesigned the workplace. Catmull promoted interactivity and collaboration by moving departments so certain teams could be closer together, and he created communal environments where teams could relax and talk with other colleagues. He also moved his and Lasseter’s offices to the middle of the main floor to show that anyone could talk to them at any time.
  3. He promoted candidness. Catmull insisted that employees could be candid without the fear of retaliation. This was challenging because many of the Disney employees had been told for years that their opinions held no value and expressing them could actually hurt them. Catmull held multiple meetings with creatives and explained the importance of candidness. While it took some time, the Disney team eventually embraced this concept.
  4. He helped develop Story Trusts. Catmull invited various Disney employees to fly out to Pixar’s studios and observe a Braintrust meeting. Using this information, the Disney team worked with Catmull to develop Story Trusts into a similar feedback mechanism. While Story Trusts did have their own unique elements, the core purpose of delivering candid feedback in a structured setting helped boost the quality of Disney’s future films.
  5. He removed those unwilling to change. While most employees were retained after the merger, those who refused to make changes were let go. Catmull found the people who he believed were ready and willing to make the necessary adjustments to move the studio forward. 

After implementing changes using the Pixar culture within Disney, the studio’s work began to improve. In fact, one of the first films under Catmull, Bolt, received an Oscar nomination. This sudden surge of success proved that the Catmull’s concepts could be effectively applied to another creative organization to boost their efficiency and creativity.

Pixar Culture: 5 Principles That Rescued Disney

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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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