Monday, November 29, 2010

Pixars workplace Culture

Pixar's phenomenal success in its relatively short history was an eye-opener for the industry. Between 1995 and May 2006, it won 19 academy awards, and in the process reinvented the art of animation.

Analysts were of the view that Pixar with its 730 odd employees had garnered a reputation as a place where creative genius thrived, and had far outpaced the bigger and more institutionalized Disney in the years preceding the acquisition.

"For us now, the high-water mark is Pixar. I remember just a few years ago when students wanted to go to work for Disney. Now they want to go to Pixar," said Dug Ward (Ward), manager of the Animation Workshop at the University of California in Los Angeles film school. Analysts attributed Pixar's success to its distinctive approach to the workplace, which was in stark contrast to the Hollywood model...

Pixar's Culture- The Early Years

In its early years, Pixar was a tightly knit group of about 40 people, many of whom had been working together since the 1970s. Alan Deutschman, author of the book, 'The Second Coming of Steve Jobs,' describes the group as "a nomadic tribe of high-tech gypsies moving from one multimillionaire's think tank to another's".

Pixar's employees were non-conventional. Many of them would arrive at work by lunchtime and work late into the night. Some analysts described the culture at Pixar as "anti-corporate" but even they appreciated the fact that this culture made the company not only highly productive but also a laid-back fun place to work. They worked in a shabby office, with employees moving around barefoot, some even bringing their pets to work. They did not expect to make much money but stuck to their jobs due to its unconventional atmosphere and with the dream of doing something completely new. The company's philosophy was to 'hire people who are better than we are'. This was evident when Catmull and Smith brought in Lasseter, an animator at Disney, in 1984

Thursday, November 18, 2010

PIXAR: Lean and Innovation working together!

Hollywood animation company Pixar, the maker of blockbuster movies including the “Toy Story” series and “Finding Nemo,” is a good example of how innovation and lean practices can enhance outcomes. Pixar has combined lean and innovation to good effect, according to Kartik Hosanagar, Wharton professor of operations and information management. Working within the movie industry “where lack of predictability is the norm,” Pixar has created a set of processes that emphasizes team-based collaboration and continuous feedback loops to help overcome creative blocks and track deliverables, but without the stress that could go with a regime of control.

Part of what helps Pixar succeed is a model of working in which the individual is as valuable to the team as the team is to the individual. To help structure fruitful interactions, Pixar has instituted a system of daily meetings where team members talk about what they have or have not accomplished each day and others provide feedback. The point is not to track people. "In a creative world you often hit roadblocks, and team-based collaboration is critical," he explains. "People might discuss work that is clearly in an incomplete stage; they don't have to feel embarrassed." The process involves cross-company teams, too, where one team working on a project might get feedback from another team working on a totally different project.


For the venerable animation giant, the move is a significant bet on Pixar's digital approach as the successor to the pen-and-ink industry popularized by Walt Disney. The purchase is also the latest indication of a tectonic collision between technology and Hollywood.

Two Pixar veterans will head Disney's animation efforts. Ed Catmull, who had served as Pixar's president, was named president of the combined Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. John Lasseter, the Pixar executive vice president who is widely regarded as the studio's creative leader, was named chief creative officer. Pixar will remain in its San Francisco Bay Area headquarters.

Jobs said Pixar's main choices came down to selling out to Disney or working with another studio under a deal like Lucasfilm has with Twentieth Century Fox, in which the larger studio gets only a distribution fee. The latter option was somewhat attractive, Jobs said, but would still result in an arrangement with "two companies with two separate sets of shareholders and two different agendas."

Disney and Pixar Are Totally Cool, Totally With It

The folks behind some of the most groundbreaking animation of all time, Disney and Pixar, are utilizing another up-and-coming technology: “viral video”. These faux-commericals for Lots-O’-Huggin’ bear have turned up online and it turns out that they’re actually something put together by the people at Disney and Pixar to promote a new character in Toy Story 3.
The bear itself is actually pretty cute and the bunk VHS-to-digital quality of these clips adds a level of authenticity that makes me wonder what other stunts these cats are gonna pull to promote this new flick.

How To Pixar-ize Your Company

Pixar’s creative genius is remarkable. The company has produced nothing but hits (nine in 13 years), astonishing for a movie studio. It has some brilliant people working for it, but in “Collective Creativity,” an article in the September Harvard Business Review, Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, says it’s because he and his colleagues have spent 20 years creating a structure to support that brilliance.

Catmull says that same process has been successfully applied to the technical side of the company.

Yet while the creative decisions rest with just a few people, everyone can contribute. In fact, Catmull says Pixar has three operating principles:

Everyone must have the freedom to communicate with anyone. That means the leaders don’t sign off on every decision, and sometimes may find themselves surprised during meetings. It must be safe for everyone to offer ideas. People at all levels are encourage to use email, for instance, to send feedback, good and bad, to the creative leaders.

Stay close to innovative ideas in academia. It publishes research and goes to industry conferences, because it thinks people are more important than ideas, and engaging with its community helps it draw the best people.
Pixar has also designed its building with the cafeteria, meeting rooms, bathrooms and mailboxes in a central area, to “maximize inadvertent encounters” that can lead to more creativity.

Catmull says that watching computer companies rise and fall has shaped how he manages Pixar. He believes the firm has a way to avoid the innovator’s dilemma — missing the rise of disruptions or otherwise failing to respond to challenges.

One element of this: Pixar has developed a rigorous post-mortem process. It shifts the format of these after each major project, so they will not just come up with the same lessons learned. It also draws heavily on data — how long did something take to happen? Was work finished before it was sent to another department?

Finally, he says that Pixar works hard, when hiring people, to make sure they don’t fall into what he calls “awe-of-the-institution” syndrome. He holds orientations with new hires where he walks through the mistakes that have been made in the past and the lessons they’ve learned, “to persuade them that we haven’t gotten it all figured out and that we want everyone to question why we’re doing something that doesn’t seem to make sense to them.”

Pixar and ways of decision!

We think that organizations with good judgment have a number of typical attributes. One is that they involve a number of different people in making important decisions. Their senior executives keep in mind that they don't have a monopoly on knowledge and judgment and therefore involve multiple people in decision processes.
Pixar uses a process for "postmortems" on the major aspects of movies after they're completed. Ed Catmull described it as "like taking cod liver oil," but the company insists on it anyway. During the postmortems, the team involved in the film is asked to come up with five things they'd do again and five things they wouldn't do again. Postmortems not only surface the information but also help to prevent the problems from festering among team members. Catmull comments that because people are starting to game that postmortem process, Pixar is thinking of alternative approaches.