The Pixar Anomaly

26Sep11

In 2008 Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, wrote a piece for the Harvard Business Review which outlines how Pixar more or less runs their company. Although a few years old, the points he makes in his article and his organization model for running Pixar has been swirling in the back of my mind throughout most of our discussions in class.

Unlike many of the jobs in the creative industries we have talked about, Pixar hires lifers. They aren’t contract workers, but steady, salaried employees. Pixar retains their directors, producers, animators, engineers, artists, and everything for Pixar movies is done in house.

In relation to the Bozenzo article, two points stand out. First, the entire article is focused on the development of Pixar’s culture. From the format of meetings, to the architecture of the building, to the rituals for new hires, the entirety of the Pixar operation is dedicated to promoting openness, honesty, and interaction in an effort to create an environment in which feedback flows freely. As such, Catmull applies the organization culture lens when discussing his own company.

Secondly,  In Bozenzo’s article he mentions that the organizational culture is often shaped by the influence of the founder (p. 18). In the example of Pixar, the leadership lens is likely the most useful tool for understanding how Pixar works. Much too humble in his piece, it becomes painfully clear that Pixar lives and breathes through Catmull and their executive board. Pixar stands in stark contrast to the current trend of media organizations and without the leadership and vision provided by the executive team, the employment structure and the company culture that Pixar promotes would crumble.

In this case, and in many cases of media organizations which often operate against the grain, strong leadership is often the guiding force in shaping how certain companies are perceived. Therefore, as Bozenza notes, it might be a good idea to pay more attention to leadership.

-Mike Lang

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