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Pixar’s Ed Catmull on Innovation (Part I): Why ‘Successful Failures’ Are Good for an Organization

August 25, 2015 by Bruce Jones, Senior Programming Director, Disney Institute


Recently, Fortune magazine interviewed Ed Catmull, president, Pixar and Walt Disney Animation on how his team sustains business success through continuous innovation. We’ve embedded the three-minute video below, and I encourage you to watch it

During the interview, Catmull gives a thought-provoking response when asked how Disney’s and Pixar’s animation units manage to pull off one hit after another. His response: “If something works, you shouldn’t do it again. We want to do something that is new, original—something where there’s a good chance of failure [each time].”

Catmull goes on to explain that his team has many failures, but we (the public) just don’t get the opportunity to see them. Although expensive and difficult for his team, Catmull explained, sometimes a “complete restart” of the development process is necessary to avoid a flawed project ending up on the screen. “We’d rather face the failure internally, rather than release it that way,” he said. 

Take a look:

At Disney Institute, we believe that innovative organizations must sometimes fail in order to be successful. Typically, in these types of organizations we also see high levels of organizational trust. This leads to an important concept we teach in our professional development courses: a critical aspect of organizational trust is that “successful failures” are consistently, authentically and visibly practiced.

What we have found is that effective leaders very deliberately seek to foster a collaborative, non-competitive, non-threatening environment…where generating risky ideas is both plausible and permissible, and where failures ultimately become a successful learning opportunity. We refer to this process as the “Trust. Risk. Fail. Learn. Cycle.” 

Whereas fear of failure can cause creative paralysis in some organizations, implementing this cycle can create a highly collaborative team that consistently comes up with more creative ideas and generates even more innovative solutions.

Check back again this Thursday for Part II of our series: “Pixars Ed Catmull on Innovation.”

Until then…How will you create more “successful failures” in your organization?


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Posted in Business Excellence | Tagged Innovation, Creativity, Organizational Innovation, Organizational Creativity, Workplace Innovation, Workplace Creativity, Inspiration, Collaboration, Successful Failure, Pixar, Ed Catmull, Bruce Jones


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