2008年10月19日 星期日

How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity


by Ed Catmull

Behind Pixar's string of hit movies, says the studio's president, is a peer-driven process for solving problems.

Listen to Ed Catmull discuss managing creativity.

A few years ago, I had lunch with the head of a major motion picture studio, who declared that his central problem was not finding good people—it was finding good ideas. Since then, when giving talks, I've asked audiences whether they agree with him. Almost always there's a 50/50 split, which has astounded me because I couldn't disagree more with the studio executive. His belief is rooted in a misguided view of creativity that exaggerates the importance of the initial idea in creating an original product. And it reflects a profound misunderstanding of how to manage the large risks inherent in producing breakthroughs.

When it comes to producing breakthroughs, both technological and artistic, Pixar's track record is unique. In the early 1990s, we were known as the leading technological pioneer in the field of computer animation. Our years of R&D culminated in the release of Toy Story in 1995, the world's first computer-animated feature film. In the following 13 years, we have released eight other films (A Bug's Life; Toy Story 2; Monsters, Inc.; Finding Nemo; The Incredibles; Cars; Ratatouille; and WALL·E), which also have been blockbusters. Unlike most other studios, we have never bought scripts or movie ideas from the outside. All of our stories, worlds, and characters were created internally by our community of artists. And in making these films, we have continued to push the technological boundaries of computer animation, securing dozens of patents in the process.

While I'm not foolish enough to predict that we will never have a flop, I don't think our success is largely luck. Rather, I believe our adherence to a set of principles and practices for managing creative talent and risk is responsible. Pixar is a community in the true sense of the word. We think that lasting relationships matter, and we share some basic beliefs: Talent is rare. Management's job is not to prevent risk but to build the capability to recover when failures occur. It must be safe to tell the truth. We must constantly challenge all of our assumptions and search for the flaws that could destroy our culture. In the last two years, we've had a chance to test whether our principles and practices are transferable. After Pixar's 2006 merger with the Walt Disney Company, its CEO, Bob Iger, asked me, chief creative officer John Lasseter, and other Pixar senior managers to help him revive Disney Animation Studios. The success of our efforts prompted me to share my thinking on how to build a sustainable creative organization.

What Is Creativity?

People tend to think of creativity as a mysterious solo act, and they typically reduce products to a single idea: This is a movie about toys, or dinosaurs, or love, they'll say. However, in filmmaking and many other kinds of complex product development, creativity involves a large number of people from different disciplines working effectively together to solve a great many problems. The initial idea for the movie—what people in the movie business call “the high concept”—is merely one step in a long, arduous process that takes four to five years.

A movie contains literally tens of thousands of ideas. They're in the form of every sentence; in the performance of each line; in the design of characters, sets, and backgrounds; in the locations of the camera; in the colors, the lighting, the pacing. The director and the other creative leaders of a production do not come up with all the ideas on their own; rather, every single member of the 200- to 250-person production group makes suggestions. Creativity must be present at every level of every artistic and technical part of the organization. The leaders sort through a mass of ideas to find the ones that fit into a coherent whole—that support the story—which is a very difficult task. It's like an archaeological dig where you don't know what you're looking for or whether you will even find anything. The process is downright scary.

Then again, if we aren't always at least a little scared, we're not doing our job. We're in a business whose customers want to see something new every time they go to the theater. This means we have to put ourselves at great risk. Our most recent film, WALL·E, is a robot love story set in a post-apocalyptic world full of trash. And our previous movie, Ratatouille, is about a French rat who aspires to be a chef. Talk about unexpected ideas! At the outset of making these movies, we simply didn't know if they would work. However, since we're supposed to offer something that isn't obvious, we bought into somebody's initial vision and took a chance.

To act in this fashion, we as executives have to resist our natural tendency to avoid or minimize risks, which, of course, is much easier said than done. In the movie business and plenty of others, this instinct leads executives to choose to copy successes rather than try to create something brand-new. That's why you see so many movies that are so much alike. It also explains why a lot of films aren't very good. If you want to be original, you have to accept the uncertainty, even when it's uncomfortable, and have the capability to recover when your organization takes a big risk and fails. What's the key to being able to recover? Talented people! Contrary to what the studio head asserted at lunch that day, such people are not so easy to find.