Who amongst us does not love the work of Pixar? Very few I am sure. Pixar has succeeded as well as anyone in mastering the art of creativity. The company has produced one animated hit after another—including “Finding Nemo”, “Cars” and “The Incredibles”. Rather than being crushed by Disney, as many feared, Pixar has reinvigorated its parent company.
What is most interesting is how Pixar has embraced collaboration within the organisation, with a view, strongly supported by myself, that collaboration powers innovation. In his article in The Economist (June 17th, 2010), Schumpeter says the company devotes a lot of effort to getting people to work together. In most companies, people collaborate on specific projects, but pay little attention to what’s going on elsewhere in the business. Pixar, however, tries to foster a sense of collective responsibility among its 1,200 staff. Employees show unfinished work to one another in daily meetings, so get used to giving and receiving constructive criticism. And a small “brain trust” of top executives reviews films in the works.
Schumpeter continues that Pixar got the inspiration for this system from a surprising place—Toyota and its method of “lean production”. For decades Toyota has solicited constant feedback from workers on its production lines to prevent flaws. Pixar wants to do the same with producing cartoon characters. This system of constant feedback is designed to bring problems to the surface before they mutate into crises, and to provide creative teams with a source of inspiration. Directors are not obliged to act on the feedback they receive from others, but when they do the results can be impressive. Peer review certainly lifted “Up”, a magical Pixar movie that became the studio’s highest-grossing picture at the box office after “Finding Nemo”. It helped produce the quirky storyline of an old man and a boy who fly to South America in a house supported by a bunch of balloons.
Breaking down the barriers is key to successful innovation in any organisation. Pixar certainly sets an excellent example for others to follow.