Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Braintrust at Pixar

In this Fast Company excerpt from his book, Creativity, Inc., Pixar President Ed Catmull describes the company's "Braintrust."   Catmull explains the concept of the Braintrust: 

"The Braintrust meets every few months or so to assess each movie we're making. Its premise is simple: Put smart, passionate people in a room together, charge them with identifying and solving problems, and encourage them to be candid. The Braintrust is not foolproof, but when we get it right, the results are phenomenal."

The Braintrust includes some of the best and brightest folks at Pixar.   The core value at the heart of this feedback process is candor.  As Catmull explains, "Believe me, you don't want to be at a company where there is more candor in the hallways than in the rooms where fundamental ideas or policy are being hashed out."

What's interesting about the Braintrust, however, is that these people do not seek to dictate to a movie director what to do.    They share ideas with the director so as to "bring true causes of problems to the surface."   They do not advocate particular solutions.   Their feedback is designed to stimulate the director's thinking, and perhaps to encourage him or her to think differently about an aspect of the film.   The director must then take that feedback and find a way to address to the issues that have been raised. 

Too often, I think that people who are offering feedback and criticism do not follow this path.  They advocate their preferred solution.   Recipients of the feedback become defensive, and the entire conversation takes on a very negative tone.  The Pixar process tries to avoid that fate.

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