Management tips from Pixar

March 24, 2010
Today I tweeted about a great post from Mashable that distills a talk from Pixar's president about how Pixar manages to balance creativity with commercial success. It's insightful from a creative perspective, but, surprisingly (though perhaps it shouldn't be since the talk is from The Economist's Innovation Conference) it's also a good lesson on management.
Trying to accomplish creative work in a highly regulated or bureacratic environment can be a tremendous challenge. There are so many opportunities for roadblocks that getting something innovative or fresh cranked out can seem like an impossibility. Whether it's a government office or a production company like Pixar there are always going to be a ton of distractions and competing agendas that likely have little to do with an actual finished product. The real question then becomes how to create a space where people are supported and feel they have the resources (latitude, trust) to truly create something new.
Like it or not, this has to come down to management. Unless a person is creating a masterpiece all alone in their basement, there are going to be people to answer to and varying stakeholders to satisfy. This is part of the package. Yet, this management "package" can take so many forms that one wouldn't be recognizable to another.
This is at the heart of what Pixar president Ed Catmull is speaking about.
The Mashable article is short enough that it's worth just popping over and reading through. But here are a two excerpts:
  • (Catmull) believes in the old saying “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask permission,” but his corollary is that it’s better to fix errors than it is to prevent them, something that he believes many mangers do not get.

  • The need to control and know everything as a manager can stifle innovation. Having great people you trust is a far more scalable method.