Monday, April 07, 2014

Tough Questions

Ed Catmull's book "Creativity, Inc." came out today. Dr. Catmull discusses some of Pixar's issues after the acquisition by Diz Co.:

“How, we all wondered, could we maintain Pixar’s sense of intensity and playfulness, beating back the creeping conservatism that often accompanies success while also getting leaner and more nimble?” Catmull writes.

He quotes Lasseter as saying, “There’s a lightness and a speed at Disney that I want to see more of at Pixar.”

Catmull and others in management assembled more than 1,000 employees in the atrium of its headquarters in Emeryville, California, for an event it called Notes Day in March 2013.

Employees were asked in advance to share suggestions for topics, their complaints and ways for the company to improve. Lasseter received two-and-a-half pages of criticism. Among them were concerns he was so tightly scheduled that people wasted time overpreparing for meetings and that he carried his emotions from one meeting to the next, leaving some thinking he was mad at them when he wasn’t, according to the book.

“Those two-and-a-half pages were really tough to read,” Lasseter told employees that day, according to the book. “But it was so valuable for me to hear, and I’m already working to correct those things.” ...

A few years ago, Disney tech directors were telling me different tales:

"We're noticing in the big meetings for the whole division? The ones with all the top execs up on the stage? We're noticing that anybody who stands up and asks a question is laid off two months later ..."

Call me a cynic, but I tend not to believe studio honchos who say they relish hard questions and criticisms. Reminds me of a short passage from a certain World War II novel:

"I want someone to tell me," Lieutenant Scheisskopf beseeched them all prayerfully. "If any of it is my fault, I want to be told."

"He wants someone to tell him," Clevinger said.

"He wants everyone to keep still, idiot," Yossarian answered.

"Didn't you hear him," Clevinger argued.

"I heard him," Yossarian replied. "I heard him say very loudly and very distinctly that he wants every one of us to keep our mouths shut if we know what's good for us." ...


Unknown said...

In my experience, when the person at the top says s/he wants honest criticism, s/he usually means it. The problem is, that person is insulated by multiple layers of middle managers who will tolerate no dissention in the ranks.

Grant said...

Blah blah the book. It's a bunch of hooey, written by someone who's obviously read too many self help and management books instead of trusting artists, instincts and creativity. Michael Eisner 2.

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