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What is your management style and what is your leadership style? Are they the same or different? That was the question that a general manager recently asked me. According to him, many people think management style and leadership style is the same and they use the terms interchangeably, but to him they are different. Management is the way someone manages a group of people to achieve the results in the most efficient way and time. Leadership is the way someone inspires and motivates his subordinates.

In my opinion, management is the way you manage a project/resource/work/task and leadership is the way you lead people. Management style includes terms such as planning, organizing, resource use, time management, problem solving; leadership style is a leader’s style of providing direction, implementing plans, and motivating people; including terms such as vision, motivation, inspiration, listening, coaching, mentoring.

In this post, I will continue to talk the next 3 lessons on creativity and leadership that I’ve learned after reading the book “Creativity, Inc.” by Ed Catmull, Co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation (book published on Apr 8, 2014 with 684 customer reviews on Amazon). In Part 1, I have focused on 3 lessons about creativity, which are: “Story is King” and “Quality is the best business plan”, The power of observation to achieve originality and authenticity, and Creativity is an on-going process. In Part 2, I will emphasize on 3 lessons about leadership that I’ve learned from reading the book.

Lesson #4: “Fail early and fail fast” and “be wrong as fast as you can”

This is the principle of Andrew Stanton, Director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E. Andrew believes that we will be “more productive if you hurry up and fail”. Imagine that you are running and you arrive at the T-junction, you need to decide whether to turn left or turn right. Many people will spend too much time thinking whether turning left or turning right is the correct course of action. Instead, according to Andrew, he will make a fast decision, let’s say to turn left. If he discovers that it’s the wrong direction by looking at the cues along the way, he will quickly make a turn and go back to the other direction. “To be wrong as fast as you can is to sign up for aggressive, rapid learning. The key point here is that even if you decide you’re in the wrong place, there is still time to head toward the right place”. For people who are over-thinker or over-planner, they still can fail. But because they have spent so much time thinking about plan A and they thought that plan A will help them to avoid failure, it will be painful and slower for them to change course. As a leader, your people depend on you to make the decision. Andrew compares the director role at Pixar with the captain role of a ship. The captain is responsible for leading the ship and his crew to land. His crew depends on him to say “Land is that way”, so a leader must be decisive. If he cannot make a decision, the ship will go nowhere. Even land isn’t that way; the captain must have the courage and honesty to accept his error: “Land is actually not that way. It’s this way. I was wrong”.

This is really an invaluable lesson for me. When I have a business idea, I found myself to be shut down when other people said: “You don’t have experience in that field. You haven’t done that before. Many people have already been doing something similar like that. You will fail. You should do something that’s your strength, so that you can avoid failure.” I don’t think that’s a good advice. Avoiding failure isn’t the plan. Even when you are trying very hard to avoid failure, you still can fail. So the best way is to just do it, if you fail, fail early and fail fast, so that there is still enough time to do it again. And the second time, you will learn. By failing you are learning. So that will be my new spirit.

Lesson #5: Ideas come from people so invest in the people

In Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull (Co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation) expressed his belief that people is more important than ideas, because ideas come from people. Ideas are not singular, as if they float in the air. He said: “If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.” “Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.”

In the Venture Capital world, every day the VCs will listen to so many teams pitching their ideas. Ideas are important, but most of the time, they will invest in the team itself. The investors will look at the founders’ profiles, his passion and his ability. Ideas can be fine-tuned along the way with the help of mentors, advisors, but the people who execute that idea would be the one who decide whether it is a success or a failure. If you have a brilliant idea in mind, you should find a partner or a team of partners who could complement you and make it a strong team. If you have a brilliant idea and you can’t execute it, that idea is useless.

At Pixar, the company principle is to put their people at the central focus. They would invest in people through the following initiatives:

  • Trust the people and not the process by giving employees ownership and responsibility. “To ensure quality, any person on any team needed to be able to identify a problem, and in effect, pull the cord to stop the line”
  • Build a culture that encourages a candid feedback mechanism and it must be a top-down approach. “The idea of candid feedback must be championed by those at the highest level of the company for it to work.”
  • Build an environment that fosters creativity and problem solving such as an office space that maximizes human interactions, ergonomically designed workstations, yoga classes, and ping pong area. Pixar’s main building, which was named as The Steve Jobs building in Nov 2012 (a little over a year after Jobs’ death), was designed to encourage people to mingle, meet, communicate, and enhance the ability to work together.

This would definitely result in employee motivation and improved quality, as Ed said: “Your employees are your most important asset.”

Lesson #6: The lesson about Steve Jobs and his role in shaping Pixar’s destiny

In his book, Ed emphasized Steve Jobs’ role as a co-founder, benefactor, and protector in shaping Pixar Animation Studios. “Pixar occupied a special place in Steve’s world. In the early years, he was Pixar’s benefactor, the one who paid the bills to keep the light on. Later, he became Pixar’s protector – a constructive critic internally but their fiercest defender to the outside. Steve changed Pixar even as Pixar changed him.”

Steve Jobs is a fiercest negotiator. In 1986, he bought Pixar, which was the computer division off of Lucasfilm at the time at $5 million, and paid another $5 million to fund the company. He bought the division at his advantage through strong negotiation skills and grabbing control of the meeting.

Steve Jobs is a loyal partner. Though 3 times between 1987 and 1991 he tempted to sell Pixar to Microsoft, Alias, and Silicon Graphics, he actually never gave up Pixar. At the point of signing the contract to buy Pixar from Lucasfilm, Steve told Ed: “Whatever happens, we have to be loyal to each other”.

Steve Jobs is a visionary businessman and an exceptional salesman. After Pixar entered into the contract to write a graphics system for Disney, and in the process of releasing Toy Story, Steve made the right decision at the right time to take Pixar public. Pixar’s initial public offering (IPO) raised $140 million – the biggest IPO of 1995. This brought Pixar to equal footing with Disney in the next round of negotiation.

Finally, Steve Jobs is an inspiring leader. Steve wanted to safeguard Pixar for a long-term success. In 2005, he discussed with Ed Catmull and John Lasseter (the other 2 co-founders) about the decision to sell Pixar to Disney to secure a stable future for Pixar. Steve said: “Right now, Pixar is a yacht. But a merger will put us on giant ocean liner, where big waves and poor weather won’t affect us as much. We’ll be protected.” Steve also made sure that John and Ed would lead both Pixar and Disney Animation as a term of the negotiation, so that the creative culture at Pixar would be protected. And he succeeded in getting his terms. The deal was signed in 2006 with Bob Iger (Disney’s current CEO).

So far I have discussed 6 lessons about creativity and leadership.

  • “Story is King” and “Quality is the best business plan”
  • The power of observation to achieve originality and authenticity
  • Creativity is an on-going process
  • “Fail early and fail fast” and “be wrong as fast as you can”
  • Ideas come from people so invest in the people
  • The lesson about Steve Jobs and his role in shaping Pixar’s destiny

Other perspectives about Steve Jobs, the larger-than-life will be shed light in this book. I would highly recommend this book to those who are intrigued by creativity and leadership role in shaping that creative culture. The book was also recommended by Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of Facebook through this article: 20 books Mark Zuckerberg thinks everyone should read.

“I love reading first-hand accounts about how people build great companies like Pixar and nurture innovation and creativity,” Mark Zuckerberg writes.

Read Creativity, Inc.: Inside Out Pixar Animation Studios – 6 valuable lessons on creativity and leadership – Part 1 here.

Creativity, Inc. - Book image