McKinsey Quarterly interview with Pixar award-winning Director, Brad Bird

In the McKinsey Quarterly interview of Brad Bird, the award-winning Pixar film Director shared very interesting insights relevant to anyone leading highly-creative innovation work.   Below are some quotes from the interview and takeaways that are worth sharing.

Before I got the chance to make films myself, I worked on a number of badly run productions and learned how not to make a film. I saw directors systematically restricting people’s input and ignoring any effort to bring up problems. As a result, people didn’t feel invested in their work, and their productivity went down. As their productivity fell, the number of hours of overtime would increase, and the film became a money pit.

In my experience, the thing that has the most significant impact on a movie’s budget—but never shows up in a budget—is morale. If you have low morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about 25 cents of value. If you have high morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about $3 of value. Companies should pay much more attention to morale.

Takeaway:  It is how people feel that determines their productivity!

Our goal is different because if you say you’re making a movie for “them,” that automatically puts you on an unsteady footing. The implication is, you’re making it for a group that you are not a member of—and there is something very insincere in that.  If you’re dealing with a storytelling medium, which is a mechanized means of producing and presenting a dream that you’re inviting people to share, you’d better believe your dream or else it’s going to come off as patronizing.

So my goal is to make a movie I want to see. If I do it sincerely enough and well enough—if I’m hard on myself and not completely off base, not completely different from the rest of humanity—other people will also get engaged and find the film entertaining.

Takeaway:  It is critical to believe in what you are trying to create.  It therefore makes a lot of sense to make something that you yourself find valuable, and then trust your own judgment to represent preferences of a larger group.

[At Pixar] Steve [Jobs] 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. He 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.

Takeaway:  In this information age, with more sophisticated new ideas and technologies swarming around us than ever before, small simple things are still elemental to success.  People making eye contact for example is necessary above and beyond simply being physically near one another.  Communication, engagement, sharing of information, and connecting with colleagues are fundamental elements that lead to effective collaboration and timely execution.

I don’t want him to tell me, “Whatever you want, Brad,” and then we run out of resources. I want him to tell me, “If you do X, we’re not going to be able to do Y.” I’ll fight, but I’ll have to make the choice. I love working with John because he’ll give me the bad news straight to my face. Ultimately, we both win. If you ask within Pixar, we are known as being efficient. Our movies aren’t cheap, but the money gets on the screen because we’re open in our conflict.  Nothing is hidden.

Takeaway:  Don’t waste time with interpersonal conflict.  Seek to identify points of conflict within the team and discuss it right away.   It sounds like, at Pixar, they don’t waste a lot of time and resources building movie parts that don’t ever make it onscreen; rather a large proportion of the work produced ends up in the final product; and this is because the team addresses conflict immediately, without letting it live subsurface, which is distracting and energy-consuming.

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