Velentium hosts a company-wide monthly book club, seeking to learn from the best in business. This time, we discuss The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company, by David A. Price.
Our conversation revolved around two big questions that Pixar had to navigate on their journey: Can we win the waiting game; if so, how? Then, when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, what matters more than higher pay?
We felt it was important to answer these questions for ourselves. We think you'll want to do the same:
First, how do you win the waiting game? Pixar had to wait more than a decade for their “big break.” During those years they operated at major net losses. How did they keep the lights on, let alone recruit needed talent?
A big part of Pixar's answer to that puzzle was making commercials. Commercials gave them a chance not only to practice and develop skills in CG, but also to build a reputation for high-quality animation that stood out because of its attention to subtle details. They put resources into each project, striving for excellence, refusing to do “low-budget” work if “low-budget” was shorthand for “low-quality.” Every gig and short gave animators the chance to learn, stretch themselves, push boundaries, and try something new.
Takeaway: Treat the small things like the big things to learn all you can. Never see a contract as “only” a means to keep the lights on. You can make so much more of it than that.
Second, when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, what matters more than higher pay? (It isn't better benefits, which is just higher pay in a different form).
Pixar got a bunch of stuff right on this one, all having to do with corporate culture / work philosophy:
(1) Hire excellent people... and let them be excellent! Release people to do well what they're already good at, and provide them with the resources and incentives to keep on growing.
(2) Work on important projects. Everybody wants the chance to pioneer something groundbreaking, to make something that will make a difference or create legacy.
(3) See the human in the technical. A big part of the “why” of any project is the “who” you're building for. It's easy to get pulled in to What and How, but maintaining focus on Who and Why lends energy, purpose, and direction to development.
(4) Look for and create opportunities to groom new talent and leadership – in those you work with, those you manage, and in yourself. Seek to create a mutual growth climate in your workplace.
We hope you find working through these questions and practices as profitable as Pixar did! We recommend The Pixar Touch, and hope you'll join us next time for a discussion of Scaling Up by Verne Harnish.