Pixar innovation

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Although bits and bytes are its bread and butter, no major studio better embodies humanity in film than Pixar. A recent interview with Pixar director Brad Bird presents ten ways that Pixar promotes innovation. (Hat tip to Joe Carter's Evangelical Outpost.)

I found two points especially interesting. This one ought to interest Forrest Christian, who has been writing about adult underachievers over at his Requisite Writing blog:

Lesson One: Herd Your Black Sheep

The Quarterly: How did your first project at Pixar--The Incredibles--shake things up?

Brad Bird: I said, "Give us the black sheep. I want artists who are frustrated. I want the ones who have another way of doing things that nobody's listening to. Give us all the guys who are probably headed out the door." A lot of them were malcontents because they saw different ways of doing things, but there was little opportunity to try them, since the established way was working very, very well. We gave the black sheep a chance to prove their theories, and we changed the way a number of things are done here.

Later, Bird explains how geography contributes to creativity.

Then there's our building. Steve Jobs basically designed this building. In the center, he created this big atrium area, which seems initially like a waste of space. The reason he did it was that everybody goes off and works in their individual areas. People who work on software code are here, people who animate are there, and people who do designs are over there. Steve put the mailboxes, the meetings rooms, the cafeteria, and, most insidiously and brilliantly, the bathrooms in the center--which initially drove us crazy--so that you run into everybody during the course of a day. [Jobs] realized that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen. So he made it impossible for you not to run into the rest of the company.

There are urban design parallels: The layout of some cities makes chance encounters likely; in others a serendipitous meeting is all but impossible. Chance encounters enable the cross-pollination of ideas, which makes the whole city smarter.

If you are walking to work, riding the bus, hanging out a neighborhood coffeeshop, walking across downtown for a meeting, you're more likely to bump into someone you know and have that conversation you've been meaning to have when you get some time. If you're going from place to place in your car, you might wave at someone you know, but you're not going to stop for a chat.

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3 Comments

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

There's a lot of public safety in places where people run into each other too, even if they don't know each other. I've always wondered if it was true, and I saw an example of it last week.

We had a new bus driver last week, and he went right past a regular passenger - one who mainly keeps to himself. Immediately, roughly half the bus urged the bus driver to stop an pick the passenger up.

These ideas predate Jobs's work, of course, and one can easily cite Christopher Alexander's Patterns. Stuart Brand has argued that one of the reasons MIT became as great as it is was their wretched spaces that forced people in different disciplines to not only use the same bathrooms but walk through "offices" to get there, since so many of their workspaces spilled out into the hallways. What was considered lousy space led to revolutionary cross-disciplinary thinking.

If you want to take this even farther, managers should always be in the center and never in a corner office so that they are always in the middle of things.

Wow...that is an interesting concept about the design of the room. I know Bloomberg had similar ideas that he even brought to Gracie Mansion.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on May 12, 2008 9:40 PM.

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