The role of Screwups in Pixar's Toy Story 3 management team

Pixar Toy Story 3Pixar Animation Studios. Ten films. Twenty-two Academy awards, four Golden Globes, three Grammys. Each film averaged an eye-popping international gross of $550 million dollars while the last six averaged $637 million dollars.
In the Hollywood business, movie stars, directors, and even film franchise can generate hundreds of millions of dollars today and fall flat in the next release. Simply put, Pixar’s streak is one for the books – legendary massive success.
Pixar’s ten film dominance is expected to be followed by five more films until 2012 beginning with Toy Story 3 in June 2010. Toy Story 1 was released in 1995 and served as the launch pad of Pixar earning $361,958,736 million dollars and winning numerous awards, setting the standard for CGI animation. Toy Story 3 is expected to be one of the biggest hitters for Pixar especially since it comes fifteen years after its first release and movie trailers aired prove their latest installment is nothing short of spectacular.
What magic does Pixar have in producing such astounding and incredible animated films? Wired magazine is running a story where they attribute the success to their unusual creative process. As written, “Pixar’s secret? Its unusual creative process. Most of the time, a studio assembles a cast of freelance professionals to work on a single project and cuts them loose when the picture is done. At Pixar, a staff of writers, directors, animators, and technicians move from project to project. As a result, the studio has built a team of moviemakers who know and trust one another in ways unimaginable on most sets.”
It’s no brainer that animated films in the league of Pixar requires “out of this world”, “supersized creative juices”, but what struck me the most is their management philosophy. Toy Story director Lee Unkrich briefly describes it as “It’s important that nobody gets mad at you for screwing up, we know screwups are an essential part of making something good. That’s why our goal is to screw up as fast as possible.”
In a corporate world of kiss ass, cover your ass and perception rules, screwing up means you’ll have to live the entire year (or succeeding years), of negative perception crushing you during performance evaluation, affecting your promotion, salary increase, benefits package. The works!
I have screwed up numerous of times but what was so frustrating and discouraging is that some of these screw ups were included in your evaluation on the following fiscal year simply because the f** manager can only recall screwups without working their peanut sized brains to accurately recall that it was done in the previous year. My personal experience enforces the fact that superiors don’t like people screwing up and when they do, that finger would be pointed at them for as long as they can covering and saving their ass’ in the process
The message of Lee Unkrich struck a chord and I strongly agree that screw up happens and this is where management needs to create a culture where screwups are opportunities where the team should analyze, learn, correct, grow and create venues to ensure that these screwups do not happen again or at the very least get minimized.
If your work environment has the same philosophies of Pixar, I am happy for you. If your work environment is the same as what I have experienced in the past, think hard. My reflections have led me to the following:

1. What doesn’t break me makes me stronger.
2. I shouldn’t get discouraged. Keep in mind that superiors who love pointing fingers tend to keep it that way while their skills deteriorate rotting their peanut sized brains.
3. Superiors who love to point fingers are those that do not have the skills to work with you to help solve the problem. Solve them on your own and reap the rewards of levelling up on your skills.
4. Remain steadfast, learn, stand up, and in the end you become better than them.
5. In the grand scale of the universe these bastards are not worth your time. Don’t let them get to you.
6. Look around for options. This is a large universe with tons of options. You only get to live once.
7. There is HOPE.

Pixar is a great company and would continue being so because their culture, aside from having an out of this world, super sized creative team, encourages healthy criticism, treat screwups as an opportunity that produces something good rather than getting mad at it and setting themselves up for more screwups.
Don’t let superiors putting you down discourage or lower your self esteem. As I said, in the grand scale of the universe these bastards are not worth your time. Don’t let them get to you.
What is your environment like?
The full write-up of Wired on Pixar is worth reading. Check it out here — Animating a Blockbuster: How Pixar Built Toy Story.
Image from Wired (

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