Photo by Ameen Fahmy on Unsplash

I love Pixar since I was a kid. I grew up with their movies, being a 5 year old when Toy story was released. A Bug's life ๐Ÿž, Nemo ๐Ÿ , Up ๐Ÿง“๐Ÿป ... well, we could say that Pixar just nailed it, right?

I might be a little biased here, but I think we could all agree that Pixar became one of the most successful movie studio of the world. And they did that by being pioneers in their field: Computer graphics ๐Ÿ–ฅ๏ธ. I have a huge respect for that. They delivered a lot of value.

Edwin Catmull, co-founder and President of Pixar and 2019 Turing Award winner, is one of the big minds behind the company, and together with Amy Wallace, they wrote the best-seller Creativity Inc.

This book ๐Ÿ“– is mainly about management and leadership. It gives you a pretty good idea of how a very successful company may grow, both with their virtues and their failures. I saw it as a way to avoid corporatization and how to keep a creativity environment ๐Ÿคก. It's full of Pixar stories and also came with a nice description on how it was to work with Steve Jobs, which was very interesting.

Now, in spite of being a movie studio (quite ligated to software, of course, but a movie studio at last), I found several practices that could be very useful for any software organization. I think it has to do with creativity and how Pixar evolved around it, being creativity one of the top priorities, just as for any software product company (being software development, as many claim, a craft).

So, the book is about growing, and growing in a good way ๐ŸŒณ. I'll list some of the topics/techniques that this book taught me.

WATCH OUT! SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Braintrust

Pixar relies heavily in this thing called 'The Braintrust' ๐Ÿง . They defined it as a periodic meeting where the directors/producers/writers discuss current under-development movies. The main point here is to give and get all the feedback possible, the good and the bad.

In short, the director/producer of the movie shows a draft ๐ŸŽฅ, waiting for any little feedback that anyone could give. The meeting is not for anyone to come up with the way to make the movie better, but to help the director/producer to find that way and reach the goal. Just plain teamwork.

Candor

As stated in the book, the one thing that a company or team cannot lack is candor. If you are not able to give or receive feedback in an honest way, you are doomed, and you are not working properly with your teammates.

Indeed, this is vital for The Braintrust! Imagine a meeting created specifically to receive feedback and you get none or not an honest one! It could end in a disaster ๐Ÿ‘ฟ.

There is a pretty known book called Radical Candor, which encourages a culture of feedback. I haven't read it (yet!) but it's highly recommended in the web and it might help anyone looking for ways to collect and give feedback in an organization ๐Ÿ™‚.

Embracing failure

No leader should expect everything to work properly. It's virtually impossible to do everything right and execute every task with no errors. On the contrary, Ed and Amy tell us to promote a "research ๐Ÿค“ โ‡’ experiment ๐Ÿงชโ‡’ fail โŒ โ‡’ learn โœ…" culture.

In a creative environment, experimentation is key to success. Instead of wasting a lot of time making a carefully designed plan and see how it fails during execution, we should be hands-on and fail quickly.

The thing is, there is no shame in failing or being wrong. We just need to learn from that event and make decisions based on that. And in this decision making is when a leader should be a real leader.

  • First of all, those decisions should be taken without much hesitation. A strong leader encourages a team to go through a certain path with conviction. If it's the wrong path, the leader should correct it and go on. With clear decisions, a leader could build trust from the team

  • Second, the leader is the one who encourages this experiment โ‡’ success/fail culture. It's the person who needs to transmit trust to the team

The Hidden

Being a leader sometimes includes dealing with things that you are not completely sure of (well, that could be true for any job though). For example, being a technical leader, you may find untracked technical debt that you weren't aware of.

Now, what you need to be aware of, is that this unknown problems exists, and they may appear anytime.

What the authors tell us here is that a leader should be working in order to reveal this hidden problems. If a problem remains underground for a long time, it could be worse for the organization as anyone will be acting as it's not there, and it may explode anywhere anytime ๐Ÿ’ฅ.

Any teammate could help us here. I've known plenty of people that finds a problem (maybe, in a very bureaucratic process) and don't raise the hand and inform it. Maybe because that person thinks "this is the way it is done here". But that's a mistake! Everything could be improved! And the leader should be the person that discourages that behavior!

Final thought

There are plenty of other experiences explained in the book, mainly encouraging experimentation and discovery. An invention is not just a brilliant idea of some kind of genius implemented properly, but a mix of different experiences put together and figured out ๐Ÿ’ช.

Definitely a good read!

Happy reading! ๐Ÿค—