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Pixar’s Ed Catmull on Innovation (Part II): Why a ‘Brain Trust’ is Key for Successful Team Collaboration

August 27, 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. In “Part I” of our series, we shared why “successful failures” are good for an organization. Now, in “Part II,” we will examine the intriguing second video from the article. Take a look:

During this interview, Catmull introduces us to, “the brain trust,” a group of people who come together to solve problems. Now, any leader can pull together a group of people to solve problems. However, according to Catmull, the key issue – perhaps the only issue he can assess as a boss – is how well that team works together.

Because not everyone is in the business of making movies, this next point is important for any leader faced with solving complex problems - the brain trust is not comprised of a specific group of individuals, but rather any group that operates under these four principles:

  1. No one can override the Director
  2. Conversations must be “peer to peer”
  3. Everyone shares a vested interest in each other’s success
  4. Give and take honest notes

As Catmull says, these guidelines are designed to, “remove the power structure from the room.” Why is that the most important factor for success? One of the lessons we share in our Disney Institute professional development courses is that, while the creative process thrives with a high level of horizontal diversity, be extremely wary of the inhibiting effect of vertical diversity.

Catmull makes this very point in the article, saying, “If they (the director) know that John [Lasseter, chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios] or I can override the director, then they will enter the room in a defensive posture,” which prevents them from listening to comments intended to help them.

What Catmull demonstrates so effectively is that the leader’s role is not just to get the right people in the room in order to solve problems, but also to make a “conscious effort” to get the process right.

So, if your goal is to create an innovative customer experience, be sure that your organizational processes are designed to help the team achieve that goal.

Tell us - How do teams effectively collaborate and solve problems in your organization?

Interested in learning more about Pixar’s Brain Trust process? See this 2014 Fast Company article: “Inside Pixar’s Brain Trust."


Disney Institute is ready to help you apply strategic rigor to your customer experience efforts - call us at 321.939.4600 or complete our Contact Form




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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