An example from Pixar: “Looking for the Hidden”


Leaders, please read through the following paragraphs and consider their relevance for your organization.

Individually, I think we can also glean some gems of wisdom from what is said, as we consider what hidden weaknesses might exist in our life (think blind spots).

Either way, whether for an organization, or individually, the first step on the road to pursuing excellence always starts with our willingness to admit we may have blind spots. Then, right on the heels of being open to facing head-on those areas of weakness, are we willing to follow through with boldness in correcting the problem(s)?

These are some notes I took from Ed Catmull’s (President of Pixar Studios) excellent book, “Creativity, Inc.”:

“These questions take us to the heart of this book, because the answers are essential to sustaining a creative culture. In the preface, I wondered why the leaders of so many rising Silicon Valley companies made bad decisions, decision that-even at the time seemed so obviously wrongheaded. They had management and operational skills, they had grand ambitions ; they didn’t think that they were making bad decisions, nor did they think that were being arrogant. yet delusion set in-and as bright as these leaders were, they missed something essential to their continued success. the implication for me, was that we would inevitably be subject to those same delusions at Pixar unless we came to terms with our own limited ability to see. We had to address what I’ve come to call the HIDDEN.
In 1995, when Steve Jobs was trying to convince us that we should go public, one of his key arguments was that we would eventually make a film that failed at the box office and we needed to be prepared, financially, for that day. Going public would give us the capital to fund our own projects and thus to have more say about where we were headed, but it would also give us buffer that could sustain us through failure. Steve’s feeling was that Pixar’s survival could not depend solely on the performance of each and ever movie.
-the underlying logic of this reasoning shook me: we were going to screw up, it was inevitable. And we didn’t know when or how. We had to prepare, for an unknown problem-a hidden problem From that day on, I resolved to bring as many hidden problems as possible to light, a move that would require what might seem like an uncommon commitment of self assessment.
I  believe the deeper issue is that leaders of these companies  (the ones in SiliconValley that went out of business) were not attuned to the fact that there were problems they could not see. And because they weren’t aware of these blind spots, they assumed that the problems didn’t exist. ….which brings us to one of my core management beliefs: if you don’t try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature,  you will be ill prepared to lead.
If we accept that what we see and know is inevitably flawed, we must strive to find ways to heighten that awareness–to fill in the gaps, if you will.   I, for one, cannot claim a perfectly clear-eyed view, but I do believe that making room in my head for the certainty that, like it or not, some problems will alway be hidden from me has made me a better manager.

Let me encourage you to never give up pursuing to be your best!


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