Ed Catmull, founder of Pixar, told a Stanford University audience that Pixar doesnt just skate along on the successes of its hit animated films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. Instead, the company seeks out small crises—little problems that need solving—in preparation for big crises. Organizations are inherently unstable, Catmull observes, and you have to work to keep them going.
Success can mask a companys true problems. For example, Pixar isnt terribly interested in dissecting what did and didnt work in its latest hit film. But its something that the company does after each release in order to unmask small problems, which can help the company avoid big problems in the future.
Catmull calls on two companies that buckled under the pressure of success; Evans & Sutherland was so successful and knowledgeable that they made some key decisions that caused them to lose their lead to Silicon Graphics, Inc. Who then lost the lead to NVidia later on. NVidia is still currently an industry leader.
In this hour-long talk, Catmull explains Pixars process in postmortems and how Pixars healthy creative teams are key to keeping the company profitable and functional. Catmull examines how taking care of employees through limiting working hours, and employing beneficial services like a masseuse and ergonomist, helps create a healthy workplace. Injuries and stress were dramatically reduced, as did insurance premiums.
Catmull argues that not [engaging] in workplace soul searching is to invite potentially catastrophic problems for your business. Ignoring or refusing to unmask issues because of previous success is one of the fastest ways to fail as a company and as an entrepreneur.