Thursday, December 11, 2008

Six Hollywood Secrets to Help Leaders Inspire Innovation

The best way to go through these challenging times is to grow through them. And fundamental to the recipe of organic growth is the ingredient of innovation. So, how well do you inspire innovation?

Perhaps we can learn a few lessons from Hollywood's most successful studio, Pixar. (1) They are the creators of extraordinary films such as ‘A Bug's Life, Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, and WALL-E.’ All of these films have been blockbusters. Unlike most other studios, Pixar never buys scripts or movie ideas from the outside. Their community of artists create every story and character. Here are the principles that guide them:

1. Promote creativity in everyone every day. A movie contains tens of thousands of ideas. What the characters say; how they perform each line; the design of the characters, sets and backgrounds; the colors and lighting... Every member of the 250-person production crew needs to make creative suggestions. Creativity is encouraged and celebrated at every level of the organization every day. It is not a single initiative to capture great ideas in a moment of time; it's the way they do things all the time. Is it the way you do things all the time?

2. Hire great teams to make great movies. “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.” (1) So says Ed Catmull, cofounder of Pixar and the president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. How do you attract and retain top talent?

3. Gain breakthrough ideas from people, not committees. Pixar executives believe great movies begin with the individuals who come up with a movie idea. They give enormous leeway to these individuals, and then provide them with an environment in which they get honest and direct feedback from everyone. While the development department in most studios is charged with coming up with new ideas for movies, this is not true at Pixar. Pixar executives believe the department's job is to assemble a small incubation team to help individuals refine their own ideas to a point where they can convince senior executives that these ideas have the potential to make great films. In most organizations however, only the R&D team comes up with great product or service ideas. How could you tap into the creativity of your entire team?

4. Obtain peer review that is honest and true. Pixar has a brain trust that consists of the cofounders of Pixar and eight directors. When a director feels that they need assistance, they ask the brain trust (and anyone else they think might help) to view their work in progress. The session is a two-hour, lively, give-and-take discussion focused on making the movie better. There's no ego, and nobody pulls-any-punches to be polite. It produces results because everyone trusts and respects each other. After the session, the director of the movie decides which ideas to accept or reject. The brain trust has no authority to mandate any changes. How do you solicit feedback that is honest and true?

5. Communicate with anyone anytime. Members of any department are free to approach anyone in any other department to solve problems without having to go through any "proper" channels. As an outside consultant, I'm constantly amazed at how happy executives are when they apply my Systems Thinking Action Team (S.T.A.T.) model to demolish their internal silos and wipe out turf wars. How are you tearing down those walls?

6. Create a unifying vision. A movie needs a coherence that brings together the thousands of ideas that go into a movie. This unifying vision is turned into clear directives that the staff can implement. Yet, most vision statements are boring placards on the wall. The essence of a great unifying vision is that it stimulates action in a given direction. I recently helped a department within the county of San Diego create a vision statement (in less than one-hour) as part of their daylong, executive retreat. Their associate director recently told me that they have already printed it on their stationery because it gives them direction and stimulates action. Does yours?

These are the keys to growing through change. How could you adapt the principles from the most successful Hollywood studio to help you stimulate innovation as you grow through these challenging times?

See you at the movies,


1. Ed Catmull; How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity, ‘Harvard Business Review,’ September 2008, 65 - 72.

No comments: