“Getting the Team Right”: The Secret to Pixar’s Success

Have you heard of Ed Catmull? He’s one of the founders--along with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter--of Pixar Animation Studios, one of the most successful movie studios in the business. Catmull has a new book out called Creativity Inc: Understanding the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.

In his book, Ed Catmull explains just how vital it is to have the right team if you want to achieve great results:

“If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.

“The takeaway here is worth repeating: Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right. It is easy to say you want talented people, and you do, but the way those people interact with one another is the real key. Even the smartest people can form an ineffective team if they are mismatched. That means it is better to focus on how a team is performing, not on the talents of the individuals within it. A good team is made up of people who complement each other. There is an important principle here that may see obvious, yet--in my experience--is not obvious at all. Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea...

“...To reiterate, it is the focus on people--their work habits, their talents, their values--that is absolutely central to any creative venture. And in the wake of Toy Story 2, I saw that more clearly than I ever had. That clarity, in turn, led me to make some changes. Looking around, I realized we had a few traditions that didn't put people first. For example, we had a development department, as do all movie studios, that was charged with seeking out and developing ideas to make into films. Now I saw that this made no sense. Going forward, the development department's charter would be not to develop scripts but to hire good people, figure out what they needed, assign them to projects that matched their skills, and make sure they functioned well together. To this day, we keep adjusting and fiddling with this model, but the underlying goals remain the same: Find, develop, and support good people, and they in turn will find, develop, and own good ideas.”

No wonder Pixar Studios has dominated the world of animation for 20 years. Ed Catmull’s grasp of the importance of people and their interactions with each other has clearly lead to high performing teams and to one critical success after another.

It’s not enough to find talented people and get them in a room together. You have to understand the mix of talent in the group, match the right people with the right task, and provide emotionally intelligent guidance for working through problems.

I highly recommend Creativity Inc for anyone working to develop, nurture, and maintain high performing teams. Let me know if it inspires you to work at improving the interactions on your team.