#GLS15 Session 3: Ed Catmul

Live blogging from Willow Creek Global Leadershop Summit. Italics are my editorial comments. Everything else is the speaker.


Ed Catmul!  I am a confessed Pixar geek.  When I studied Steve Jobs, I stumbled across Ed Catmul and Pixar.  It is a fascinating culture and Catmul, who is a computer scientist by training, is a rare breed of creativity and organizational genius.  

Q&A with Bill Hybels

Bill opens with a strong endorsement of Ed’s book.  I agree, it is wide reaching in its application for a leader.  

  • For me, there is no incongruity between art and science.  One of the misconceptions of our time is that they are not connected.
  • Art is not about drawing, it is about the ability to see.
  • People misconceived story.  They see story as entertainment, but actually, story is THE WAY we communicate with each other.
  • Every genre of story has a form. Good story uses the existing form, but connects with emotion and communicates AYA deep human level.

GLS has been overcome by Pixar clips!  

  • Every new movie:  we really don’t know what we’re doing or how to do it.  Every new plot, idea etc, starts out as an ‘ugly baby.’  It is terrible, so what do we do to help, how do we give feedback?  Our measure for effectiveness is the quality of team work.  If the team is laughing together, bonded, they will be able to get the ugly baby t become a beautiful movie.
  • The brain trust is peer to peer.  In that room there is no power structure.  Director is already feeling vulnerable, if they know they will be over rided, they will be defensive.  So no power structure to allow them to hear well.  Each person’s success is vested in each other.  The vested interest is a good end film.  We give and listen to good notes.
  • Fear, embarrassment etc sometimes get in the way and it ruins the room.  But also, sometimes magic happens.  Ego leaves the room.  People do not become attached to their ideas and when people detach from idea, the quality improves.
  • When you are in the middle of a project, you lose objectivity and you lose your way.  Brain trust of peers and outsiders helps you find your way back on track.
  • Creativity isn’t about drawing or animation, it is about solving problems.  Coming up with solutions is a creative act.
  • Culture: embrace failure.  Candor with kindness.
  • In today’s media, especially in politics, there is a genuine danger in failure because there are people hunting you, wanting to capitalize on your failure.  It is important to continue to build a failure culture to help your team risk.
  • What are the barriers to telling someone the truth? When is candor inappropriate?
  • We are not saying, ‘you need to fail.’ We say, ‘you will fail.’ And we buIld a culture to quickly move past the embarrassment of failure, and if you can get over it faster, you become more creative.  We build a culture to fail faster.

Whoever imagined that a genius computer scientist would be a genius student of human nature? 

  • All good art operates within constraint. being unbounded is unproductive,  by working under constraint (time, money), it builds the quality and creativity of the end product.  Unbounded options waste energy.  Budget and constraint keep energy levels high.
  • Often times after a hard project, you want to move on.  But doing a post mortem is vital to glean learning for the next time. People naturally want to use the post mortem to brag on their team.  So it is important to celebrate team and accomplishment separate from analyzing what we need to learn.

Bill Hybels screws up the Pixar/Disney sale and then steps on the guff with a guff!  Oh how I can relate to that when I screw up publicly….

  • Disney team thought we were spreading too thin between Pixar and Disney, but we wanted to teach them the culture and values that had worked for Pixar.  It took about 2 years for the Disney brain trust to start working.  It took 4 years for everything to get into place so Disney was functioning well.
  • Basically the same people at Disney went from being mediocre to being great.  The difference was culture.
  • It took 4 hours to teach culture.  It took 4 years for Disney to live it.  Agreeing to culture is one thing, living it is another.
  • Open office spaces: accessibility of the top leaders, and accidental encounters between people.
  • We don’t have many rules at Pixar because we don’t want to fall into a pattern of repeating ourselves.
  • For our films to work, we must go learn about something we don’t know.  For Ratatouille, watching a cooking channel is not the same as working in an active kitchen.  But by working in a kitchen ourselves, we learn what we don’t know.  When we show the inner detail of the kitchen, even though the audience has not toured a restaurant kitchen, they subconsciously know it is right.  It just feels right.
  • Silent Retreat.  Most people find the notion of being alone with themselves scary.  But when I am quiet, i discover that the chattering voice is not me, and it is fine.  4 days for the chatter to slow down in my head.

A good session.  Ed is an organizational genius who is very in touch with himself, human tendencies.  I find the format of a Q&A after several talks, to be difficult to concentrate on.  But still, LOTS of strong powerful ideas from Ed Catmul.  


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