Brad Bird on Innovation

Pixar’s Brad Bird offers up some mad wisdom on a favorite topic ’round these parts: innovation.

Everything he says is spot on, imho, and I’m sort of loathe to highlight just a few, but – loathe or not – here are some that popped out at me:

Lesson One: Herd Your Black Sheep

The Quarterly: How did your first project at Pixar—The Incredibles—shake things up?

Brad Bird: I said, “Give us the black sheep. I want artists who are frustrated. I want the ones who have another way of doing things that nobody’s listening to. Give us all the guys who are probably headed out the door.” A lot of them were malcontents because they saw different ways of doing things, but there was little opportunity to try them, since the established way was working very, very well. We gave the black sheep a chance to prove their theories, and we changed the way a number of things are done here.

Lesson Five: High Morale Makes Creativity Cheap

The Quarterly: It sounds like you spend a fair amount of time thinking about the morale of your teams.

Brad Bird: 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. [what’s true for a movie is true for a startup!] 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.

Lesson Seven: Encourage Inter-disciplinary Learning

The Quarterly: Is there anything else you’d highlight that contributes to creativity around here?

Brad Bird: One thing Pixar does [is] “PU,” or Pixar University. If you work in lighting but you want to learn how to animate, there’s a class to show you animation. There are classes in story structure, in Photoshop, even in Krav Maga, the Israeli self-defense system. Pixar basically encourages people to learn outside of their areas, which makes them more complete. [and more creative].

This is probably my favorite:

Lesson Eight: Get Rid of Weak Links

The Quarterly: What undermines Innovation?

Brad Bird: Passive-aggressive people—people who don’t show their colors in the group but then get behind the scenes and peck away—are poisonous. I can usually spot those people fairly soon and I weed them out.

[via Daring Fireball and Kottke]

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