Pixar's Ed Catmull On Why Communication Should Know No Boundaries

For the best communication to happen Pixar President Ed Catmull says companies need to break the boundaries of hierarchy.

Pixar has nearly 30 years of imaginative work behind it, but the company struggles with the same frustrations as any organization. At the recent Innovation Uncensored New York event, Pixar President Ed Catmull shared his experiences with keeping a diverse crew on track.

At the wrap of Toy Story, everyone was elated...except for the production managers. They didn't even know if they wanted to keep working at Pixar anymore--that's how pissed they were.

What was behind such dissonance in morale?

The managers were "trying to carefully keep this thing from going off the rails," Catmull says. Reigning in the animators and artists for the entire production, in a high-risk project for the company, they followed the proper protocol to communicate within the company. But they ended up feeling under-appreciated; like "second class citizens...sand in the gears."

Communication, says Catmull, should be separate from the structural hierarchy of an organization--out of order, and among anyone within the company, anytime. That may sounds like chaos to managers, whose job it is to keep the team coloring inside the lines.

"You've got to get over it," he says. "If you want people to be let loose, you can't over-control them."

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  • In writing Innovate the Pixar Way, we were inspired by both Ed and Alvy Ray. We are pleased to work with numerous organizations who strive to emulate Pixar's creative culture.