Tuesday, October 13, 2015

De-Railing Your Potential 'Second' Success

Catmull describes how he wanted to avoid a lot of the management and leadership problems he experienced earlier in Silicon Valley when he inherited Pixar. He wanted to approachable and available for anyone in the organization. He wanted problems to be raised so they could be solved.

It worked...and it didn't.

After the success of Toy Story, he learned there was an undercurrent in the organization that could sabotage the next project, A Bug's Life. A culture of animosity and dismissal had been allowed to exist between the creative staff and the project managers (production managers). Some of it had been been created by the project managers believing they were on 'temporary assignment' with the creative teams and not dealing with the disconnect. They also believed that, despite the Open Door policy, complaining would mean they wouldn't be 'invited' to participate in the next project; they kept quiet because they wanted to be a part of the next successful project.

Only by walking around, and asking open-ended questions ("why, how, what...") did Catmull learn about the undercurrent. "The good stuff was hiding the bad stuff...Being on the lookout for problems, I realized, was not the same as seeing problems." He fixed some of the communication issues and peer-to-peer relationships. They had another success and gained additional insight. "The act of thinking about the [creative, technical or budget] problem and responding to it was invigorating and rewarding. We realized that our purpose was...to foster a creative culture that would continually ask questions...like: If we had done some things right to achieve success, how could we ensure that we understood what those things were? Could we replicate them on our next projects?...How many serious, potentially disastrous problems were lurking just out of sight and threatening to undo us?...How much of our success was luck? What would happen to our [collective] egos if we continued to succeed? Would they grow so large they could hurt us, and if so, what could we do to address that overconfidence?"

As one wise person put it, "Just because you're growing rapidly doesn't mean you're doing the right things. Weeds grow rapidly also."

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