Ed Catmull On Why Things Will Always Go Wrong–Even At Pixar

ED CATMULL ON WHY THINGS WILL ALWAYS GO WRONG—EVEN AT PIXAR

IN A WIDE-RANGING CONVERSATION WITH FAST COMPANY, CATMULL–THE PRESIDENT OF PIXAR, WHO HAS LED THE ANIMATION POWERHOUSE TO 14 NO. 1 HITS–SHARES HIS MANAGEMENT SECRETS.

BY ED CATMULL

Right now, since Disney Animation has Frozen, which has a shot at becoming a billion-dollar movie, they’re elated. Meanwhile, at Pixar, after a lot of work we’ve had to say, “You know, Good Dinosaur doesn’t meet our standards, so we’re going to restart. It’s a promising idea, but we need to rethink the team.” That’s painful, but it’s a pain we own. Every time we make a mistake there is pain, and I’m acutely aware that some people bear more pain than others [some 50 people were recently laid off]. But our core belief is that we’ve got to do the right thing for the movies. The ongoing value here is that everything we do is in service of that final story we deliver to the world.

So you can look at this moment in time and say Disney is on the way up and Pixar is on its way down. No! First of all, there was that remarkable run of four films [from 2007 to 2011, Pixar released RatatouilleWall-EUp, and Toy Story 3, all critical darlings and box office leaders], which set the bar so high that we ended up in a situation where our other films were compared to Pixar films, not to the competition. Second, that success brought a kind of scrutiny we didn’t have before. We restarted Toy Story andRatatouille, but no one even noticed. All this really means is that Disney will run up against this problem later, and at Pixar we are facing it now.

Still, in every turnaround case, we did miss something. We screwed up. Whenever one of these things happens, we analyze it to see, what did we miss? And we draw new con­clusions. Sometimes the conclusion we reach actually runs against a decision we reached years before. When we’ve done something and figured it’s right, we operate according to that. But something new can come along and we realize we misread the original event. We did not interpret it correctly, so now we’ll try something different. Some conclusions were heavily weighted by the personality of the director. For that person with that skill at that time, our approach was the right thing; but if we apply the same methodology to a different director, it could blow up in our faces. So we rethink the process, and we change some things.

I do believe that our ability to catch things earlier needs to be improved. And our job is to continually rethink what we are doing. But we will never get it right. One of the messages of my book is that things are always going wrong and that we can’t see them. These things are really hard to see, and they’re hard to explain.I think there are a lot of philosophical reasons why we won’t ever get it right.

INSIDE THE PIXAR BRAINTRUST

In our exclusive excerpt from Creativity, Inc., Catmull unveils one of his key management tools.

Think about our industry, or the things that your readers are facing: The underlying technology continues to change, successful people are always getting older and aging out, and everyone is drawing new conclusions about what really works. There is no stable place. But there is this illusion that somehow you can get to a stable place, figure it all out. People have their fear: They want to be in a secure place; they want to know what to do; they want people to tell them what to do. And there isn’t anything that can remove that underlying piece of human nature. It is when we try to avoid, stop, or control change that we get into trouble.

So it’s better to try to recognize that life is change, to face toward the problems. Now, that’s an old saying, right? Every time I say something like that I think, Oh, actually, I’ve heard that before. But it’s true, and that’s the way I look at it.

 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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