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3 Lessons for Managers from Pixar

Film critic Anthony Lane visited Pixar for the New Yorker to discover the magic behind the most successful movie studio in history, and discovered some important lessons for managers along the way. Every one of its releases has been a critical and commercial smash. There seems to be an annual Pixar line in every end-of-year list: critical "best ofs," box office champions, and Oscar nominations. The studio's attention to detail is legendary. When things go well, it can produce two seconds of screen time in a day. Often it is less. Lane ends his piece noting that a scene he observed was on take number 310.

This focus pays off in the films. Beliefnet's Greg Kandra noticed one perfect example so subtle it was overlooked by just about everyone else in last year's "Toy Story 3."

I loved that the last shot of "TS3" is the first shot of the original film: a blue sky dotted by clouds. But in the first film, it's a sky painted on Andy's bedroom wall. Here, it's the real sky of the real world -- or, at least, Pixar's real world -- suggesting limitless adventures out there that are awaiting the little boy who grew up, and moved on.
Lane's piece reveals some elements of Pixar's success that are well worth applying in your own office.

1. "Yeah, give it a try; why not?" A sure signal of failure is saying "But we've always done it that way." Deep in Pixar's DNA is an openness and curiosity about trying something new. John Lasseter was fired by Disney because he wanted to develop computer animation projects. So, he and his ideas about using computers for animation went to LucasFilm in San Francisco.

When I first started working at Disney, I had these ideas I kept pushing, and the answer was always, "No, we can't do that, that's not the way it's done." As soon as I got up there, to Northern California, especially the Bay Area, there was a culture of "Yeah, give it a try, why not?"
2. "It's all in service of the story." Pixar has some of the most talented artists, designers, and computer engineers in the world. Lane notes with what I hope is some exaggeration that you won't get a job on the effects team unless "the number of doctorates you hold is divisible by three." And every bit of all of that energy and expertise goes into creating characters we can love and stories that matter.

3. "You've got a friend in me." It isn't just the name of the song from "Toy Story." The reason the people at Pixar are able to evoke such powerful emotions in the audience by creating believable connections between their characters is that they like each other. They cherish their differences. Watch the Pixar contribution to the magnificent "It Gets Better" campaign and you will want to be a part of their family, too.

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