Most of us know Pixar Animation as the world leader in producing animation movies, but lesser known are the stories of exemplary leadership and team work that brought about the success of the company. In his excellent work “Superteams”, noted author Khoi Tu documents the initial days of Pixar Animation when the company was struggling to stay afloat in spite of having some of the best minds in the animation industry. No story about Pixar is complete without mentioning the core leadership team of Pixar from its initial days – 3 stalwarts of the industry – Steve Jobs, Ed Catmull, John Lasseter. These were the 3 leaders who led Pixar in times of hardship and transformed the struggling company into an animation powerhouse.
One of the biggest turning points in Pixar’s journey was in 1993 during the production of Toy Story (produced by Disney) which went on to become the biggest hit of the animation industry and catapulted Pixar to the top of heap in the animation world. However in 1993, midway during the production of Toy Story, the situation was very grim – after reviewing the work done so far, the general feeling in both Disney and Pixar camps was that the movie was headed nowhere. Disney was ready to pull the plug and halt production of the movie, when Lasseter (head of animation) convinced them to grant a few weeks extension to turn around the situation. The rest, as they say is history.
The new Toy Story went on to become the biggest hit the animation industry had seen – however more importantly, the crisis brought out the best in the Pixar team – struggling for their very existence, they started intuitively using and practicing excellent team work skills which they incorporated later into the company’s very DNA. What are some of the key lessons from Pixar’s turnaround?
Open communication still continues to be one of the hallmarks of Pixar’s culture, where anyone who faces a problem related to their work has complete freedom in walking up to anyone else in the organization who they think can help, irrespective of their seniority or job profile. The culture also encouraged risk taking and in ensuring all ideas were heard. Catmull sums it up best when he says “Pixar’s customers expect to see something new every time. That’s downright scary. But if Pixar’s executives aren’t always a little scared, they’re not doing their jobs.”
Are there stories of other great teams which have inspired you? Join the conversation….
Check out our other parts of “Stories of Great Teams”: