The Pixar Story

I'm a fan of documentaries, increasingly so since I started  graduate school. Since I don't have much time for casual reading these days, it is nice to sit down to a two hour film and walk away feeling like I engaged my brain. A few days ago the little magic gnomes that live inside the Netflix site (how else do you explain Netflix? Has to be magic gnomes) suggested The Pixar Story as a documentary I might like. They were right!

The Pixar Story is ostensibly about the founders and founding of Pixar, the motion picture studio known for their computer generated feature films. I found the underlying story of culture and leadership to be absolutely fascinating. Pixar founders Ed Catmull, John Lasseter and Steve Jobs knowingly created a culture of support and teamwork which in turn propelled the company to the top of motion picture studios in a remarkably short period.

Culture is one of those elusive things within an organization; paradoxically, it is both hard to define and immediately palpable. I think of culture as the result of the intersection of personalities and work product of an organization. Certainly leadership has a lot do with contributing to both aspects and setting a pervasive tone, a theme which is carried throughout. In the case of Pixar, Catmull, Lasseter and Jobs knew the work. They all had backgrounds making them experts in their respective areas. When they formed Pixar, they assembled a team of other experts whose skill sets were complimentary. Their work product was a singular focus (there is that Jobsian approach to inside out thinking) on telling the best stories and using computers to do it. The stories are first and foremost and their passion for them drives them to push the bounds of animation technology.

Their personalities, along with the rest of the Pixar team, further contribute to the culture. One of my favorite in the film quotes comes from Lasseter, discussing his approach to supporting his staff: "Give 'em creative ownership of what they do so they can be proud of it for the rest of their lives." What a powerful statement. Lasseter believes in giving people enough latitude in their work, in this case creative work, to produce something in which they will have a lasting pride. When is the last time we heard that, particularly at the individual level, in most organizations?

As I think about Pixar my brain turns towards healthcare - hey, thats how I'm wired. Can we adopt Lasseter's mentality in regards to patient care? Can we give people enough ownership in what they do so they can be proud of it for the rest of their lives? Breaking his quote down, ownership is another way of saying empowerment. Jobs might tell us to remember our core competency; what is our work product? If it is caring for everyone who walks in our doors, then how do we support empowering everyone to make delivering holistic care their top priority? As the old joke goes, no one is ever remembered by their job title - we don't usually see a tombstone which reads: "Here lays John, he was great at email." I personally believe our impact on the world is measured by our actions and the affect we have on others. If we truly support our employees making patient care their number one goal, they will undoubtedly produce work they should be proud of for the rest of their lives. What could be more professionally satisfying than saying, "I helped someone today."

You can watch The Pixar Story via Netflix streaming.