“Creativity involves a large number of people from different disciples working effectively together to solve a great many problems.” That quote comes from the article How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity, featured in September’s Harvard Business Review. It’s by Ed Catmull, cofounder of Pixar and president of Pixar and Disney Animation, so I will assume the guy knows whereof he speaks. The article really got me thinking about the creative process involved in designing learning resources for organizations.
We tend to think of design as a solitary process, and we identify some individuals as being brilliant at it. Ed Catmull makes the point that the true brilliance is in finding a way to manage a pool of creative talent so that they work together to consistently produce excellent work. And he has a few interesting pieces of advice.
“Creative power in a film has to reside with the film’s creative leadership.” I wonder what would happen if we actually put decision making power in the hands of our lead designers? A challenge I hear from designers all the time is that they feel stifled from doing some really interesting and impactful activities and interactions because there are too many people with influence or power over the final product. (See this interesting post from Karl Kapp to illustrate what can happen when too many people have authority.) The concerns that may be paramount for management and clients are real – there are time, budget, and resource constraints for every project – but at Pixar, Ed Catmull insists “good artists understand the value of limits.” That seems to be a combination we can strive for in our own design teams – give them the broadest parameters and set them free to find out what is possible. This requires, of course, that the lead designers be masters of their craft.
“Everyone is fully invested in helping everyone else turn out the best work.” Pixar has an intense review process where work in progress is shared, so that additional ideas can be added and problems can be identified early on. No egos, and no requirement that all suggestions will be incorporated. A key feature of the review process in the involvement of the “brain trust” of experienced, passionate experts. The trick they found is that the brain trust has no authority to actually make decisions on the project. (That goes back to the point made above; the creative team for the project retains control.) I wonder how much further we might go if we could put aside narrow functional views and perceived hierarchy and work together with a common goal to deliver the best product. To make this kind of sharing a reality, organizations have these challenges: fostering trust and respect among all players, developing a “brain trust” that truly has expertise, and – certainly not least – carving out time to enable such a process.
“Getting people in different disciples to treat one another as peers is just as important a getting people within disciples to do so.” We need to continue to work out the dynamics between the technical folks and the creative ones. John Lasseter (chief creative officer) explains, “Technology inspires art, and art challenges the technology.” As we get more involved with games and emerging web technologies, collaborating with the technical folks will become more and more critical. Opening up the lines of communication so we all understand the driving goals and vision is the best place to start.
“There has to be one quality bar for every film we produce.” Ahh. That’s a tough one. A gut reaction is to say that you can’t have the same quality bar when your time, budget, and resouces vary so greatly from project to project. But – each type of learning product has its own quality standards, and perhaps the least we can do is expect that the standards for the product be met at the highest level possible.
If anyone knows how to release the creative genius of a group of talented people, it’s the folks at Pixar. Every movie they produce has an original story line and pushes the limits of available technology. The most important insight is that creativity is not a “mysterious solo act” and our job as managers is to unleash the collective creativity of the group. Ed Catmul says, “If we get that right, the result is a vibrant community where talented people are loyal to one another and their collective work, everyone feels that they are part of something extraordinary, and their passion and accomplishments make the community a magnet for talented people coming out of schools or working at other places. …The community matters.”
Source article: How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity by Ed Catmull. Harvard Business Review 86(9), September 2008.