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Lessons Learned

Pixar's Ed Catmull On How to Cherish Your Defining Moment—And Then Find A New One

In a wide-ranging conversation with Fast Company, Catmull—the president of Pixar, who has led the animation powerhouse to 14 No. 1 hits—shares his management secrets.

"For me, the work we did to turn around Toy Story 2 was the defining moment in Pixar's history"

[Image by Everett Collection]

Walt [Disney] didn't pay attention to succession. But the deep identification a founder can have with his company is like the identification that a director has with the film he's trying to make. It's extraordinarily difficult to pull yourself out of that equation. Now, Steve [Jobs] was smart enough that he could take steps to put the right things in place at Apple. But what happens at Pixar when I go, or when John [Lasseter] goes? It's our obligation to set that up.

It's a lot more than finding a new person. We've got newer, younger people coming in, and they're asking big questions like, What is storytelling going to be in the future? I don't know the answer to that. All I can do is set things up so that this group has a chance to figure it out.

For me, the work we did to turn around Toy Story 2 was the defining moment in Pixar's history. But the bulk of the people working here now didn't live through that. I can explain it to them, but since it wasn't their experience, it can't be their defining moment. And I don't want them trying to live up to some mythological event in the past.

So when we have a problem today, which we did because we just restarted a film [Good Dinosaur, which is getting a new director, a different plot, and a delayed release date], solving that problem is something these newer people are a part of. They will own that solution when they solve it right. It becomes their own touchstone for the next several films.

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