The public perception of Steve Jobs is dominated by tales of his genius punctuated with tales of perfectionism, temper, and general jerkiness. But Disney and Pixar president Ed Catmull came to know another Jobs while working with him at Pixar.
“When he overreached and when he was hard on people, he realized that it wasn’t working,” Catmull said onstage today at Fast Company‘s Innovation Uncensored event. “We saw Steve change and change dramatically. He learned to be a partner, he became very empathetic.”
At Pixar, Jobs learned to listen and relate to people on a deeper level, instead of through the outbursts he became known for at Apple and NeXt. Catmull further explains this development his forthcoming book, Creativity, Inc. He writes: “While he never lost his intensity, we watched him develop the ability to listen. More and more, he could express empathy and caring and patience. He became truly wise. The change in him was real, and it was deep.”
But as much as Pixar helped Jobs develop a more mature approach to managing people, Jobs also helped Pixar create beloved, award-winning movies. During the filmmaking process, twice a month Jobs would come in to view and critique the unfinished films. “My belief is every director gets lost in their own movies,” explained Catmull. “One of the purposes of the [Pixar] braintrust is to provide that objectivity through peers… Every once in awhile you need an outside force. Steve was that outside force.”
According to Catmull, Jobs would articulately and insightfully dissect the film. “It was like a gut punch to the director,” he added. And because Jobs wasn’t coming from inside the braintrust, the director would listen and adapt his work for the better. Jobs not only financially supported Pixar and its creations, but helped shape some of the most impactful and lasting animated features of the last two decades.