The purpose of this report is to analyze creativity process within an organization. Pixar was used as an example of the innovative company to obtain understanding of approaches taken and techniques applied to foster creativity at individual, team and organizational level. Second part of the report explains the impact of emerging technologies on creativity process. Building a creativity community was not an easy and smooth process for Pixar and they were facing different barriers on their way to success. Finally, valuable experience and business practices of Pixar can be transferable to other companies and lessons learned are described in the last chapter of the text.
Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality (Creativity at work, 2015). In business, it is the driving force behind most company’s’ successes. In fact, we might even say that creativity is crucial for businesses today, especially when the market is dependent on innovative, breaking technology. Creativity is often a key differentiator in the success of a company’s individual departments and internal strategies. There are many examples of companies that have built their recognizing brands by producing breakthroughs in technology. One of them is Pixar, the leading technological pioneer in the field of computer animation.
When telling a story on how Pixar fosters creativity, cofounder of the company and the president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios Ed Catmull (2008), starts with emphasizing that creativity is not a solo act but rather ‘involves a large number of people from different disciplines working effectively together to solve a great many problems’. The nature of the business Pixar operates dictates constant strive for innovation because audience expects to see something new every time they go to the theater.
In order to understand how ideas are turned into reality it is necessary to analyze the concept and purpose of creativity process in Pixar.Creativity is what fuels big ideas in computer animation, challenges employees’ way of thinking, and opens the door to new business opportunities(Creativity at work, 2015). The concept that Pixar has developed assumes that creativity is present at every level of the organization:
- Individual level-Hiring talented people
Ed Catmull’s(2008) conviction is that smart people are more important than good ideas. Company’s reputation and brand recognition became a magnet for talented students finishing universities and people working elsewhere to come and join Pixar. People who are pioneers in their area of work and active members in networking and creative exchange of ideas were always encouraged to become part of the team. Talented individuals are often motivated to work for companies that are leaders in their industry, as they feel their personal contribution adds value to the brand.
Creative vision is a foundation on which each successful movie is built. However, people with creative vision are a rare find. In Pixar, these people are given enormous leeway and support and they are always getting an honest feedback from other employees.
- Team level–Building team capabilities
Pixar learned through its own experience how important team composition and leadership is. The production of animated movie Toy Story 2 lead Ed Catmull(2008) to come to the core principle of teambuilding in Pixar: mediocre team will ruin even the good ideas while good team will take a mediocre idea and turn it into something good.
The approach Ed Catmull (2008) adopted is toinitially engage development department in assembling small incubation teams. These teams are producing rough ideas that are of potential to become great films. While working on the filming ideas, teams are assessed on the basis of social dynamics, problem solving and effectiveness.
- Organizational level-Creating a community
According to the Adobe study on creativity (2016), business that invests in creativity as a 78% percent increase in employee productivity. However, only a few organization has managed to build collective creativity and Pixar is one of them. They differentiated from other studios by creating a community where each person make its own contribution to the success of the whole organization.
A key aspect of creativity is that it is a fluid, evolving process. According to the article on creativity published by Mike Straus on Linkedin (2016), creativity actively opposes established thought frameworks and established procedures. On the other hand, fostering creativity in an organization requires adopting certain techniques that will encourage people to take active involvement in the process of creating something good and valuable for its customers. Pixar’s approach to fostering creativity was do develop own techniques that are suited to the needs of the organization and provide opportunity for all team members to take active involvement.
Two main techniques are:
- The Brain Trust
Whenever necessary, movie director or producer convene a meeting to show the current version of work in progress to other directors. Material is then honestly discussed by all the attendants and advise is provided for all the problems than concern movie makers. Peers giving feedback to each other proved as an excellent technique for overcoming problems and resolving crises that occur during filmmaking. Because relationships between colleagues are built on trust and honesty, the brain trust became an excellent problem solving and idea-generating tool.
- The Dailies
Core corporative values in Pixar are built on practice of working together as peers and giving and getting constant feedback. Daily review process is a useful tool to encourage feedback and participation. It consists of showing work in an incomplete state to the whole animation crew and receiving their comments at those sessions. Benefits of this technique include improved communication within the company, people learning and inspiring each other and ensuring that there are no surprises in the final product as all stages of production were subject to review.
- Role of emerging technologies in improving creativity
The convergence of digital technologies have an enormous impact on the production, distribution and consumption of creative content. Clearly, technology has transformed human experience. When it comes to computer animations, programming enabled companies to make simulations and experiment more by using software. Simulations in digital world became cheap and easy. In this way technology enhances creativity, as it drastically reduces the cost of actualizing our intent. People can search domains, mix and match ideas and test concepts almost effortlessly. That means companies can try out a lot more possibilities and increase the chances of producing something truly outstanding.
Being up to date with most recent technological innovations is achieved through maintaining strong academic contact. People in Pixar who pursue the same dream of producing computer-animated movies are at the same time pioneers in technology advancements. In Pixar, great movies are created by interplay of art and technology. A community of artists creates all movie characters internally. During this process, technology is never underestimated and is it an integral part of working life. Many of animation tasks that used to take up a lot of time and effort have become automated and technology has increasedanimator’s potential to engage in the types of experiences that lead to greater creativity (Satell, 2014). Pixar is dedicated to pushing the technological boundaries to the greatest extent that they even managed to secure dozens of patents in the process.
- Overcoming barriers
Like at any other company, Pixar is governed by the management team whose goal is to maximize profits with minimum risk involved. However, pushing the technological boundaries in computer technology is a risky and uncertain undertaking. This is the reason why the first barrier in building collective creativity was adopting a risk taking approach of turning unexpected ideas into movies rather than going with copying previously successful actions. Setting originality as a standard means both accepting uncertainty and having capability to recover when your organization fails. Talented workforce proved to be the key asset in managing risk and dealing with failures.
The second obstacle related to enabling people from different departments to work effectively as a team. The importance of creative leadership comes into focus when tremendous individual contributions are necessary in order to make extraordinary product. Reaching excellence can be very challenging when project team is composed of people who have different priorities and value systems. The challenge was overcome by adoption of ‘freedom of communication’ principle. People are granted with trust to solve their problems directly with the colleague in charge without going through formal communication channels.
- Fostering an innovative culture-lessons for other businesses
Pixar is an innovation driven company whose principles and practices are transferable to other businesses. It is a great example of how sustainable creative organization is built on principles of encouraging talent and participation, freedom of communication and openness to ideas and innovations. Lessons learn from this organization include, but are not limited to:
- Being an introspective organization
Ed Catmull(2008) puts strong emphasis on the importance of introspection and routine postmortems. With each new project, there are good things to retain and mistakes than we want to avoid in the future. Both things are equally important to analyze by discussing personal impressions and conducing an honest review.
- Challenging the status quo
“Challenging the status quo is defined as asking ‘why’ and then identifying new and better ways of doing things” (Brodo, 2017). However, within Pixar, directors are not waiting for something to go wrong and they see change as a constant process. Once again, talent is a critical success driver. Newly hired people bring fresh ideas into organization. The challenge lies in encouraging them to speak up and actively participate in the creative process.
One of the most talked about leadership trends over the past few years has been the concept of ‘creating a culture of innovation’ (Brodo, 2017). The founders of Pixar understood that creativity holds tremendous power. First step in encouraging creativity is designing an innovation-driven working environment. Problems are solved through peer-driven process where everyone is encouraged to offer ideas and give feedback. In this way, Pixar became a unique environment for managing creative talent in a community that values everyone’s contribution.
Brodo R. (2017) ‘Creating a Culture of Innovation? Challenge the Status Quo’, The Advantexe Advisor Blog, 23 Jun
Catmull E. (2008) How Pixar fosters collective creativity, case, Boston, Harvard Business Review
Creativity at work (2015) What is creativity?
Satell G. (2014) ‘How Technology Enhances Creativity’, Forbes, 27 January
Straus M. (2016) ‘We Need to Be More Creative, Like Company X!” and Other Ways of Approaching Creativity That Just Don’t Work’, Linkedin,
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