Pixar is one of leading companies in the motion picture industry, the success of which is based on the effectiveness of a creativity strategy applied in the company. The motion picture industry can be discussed as rather complex because to be profitable, a company requires the synthesis of focuses on creativity, on technology, and on innovation (Rigby, Gruver & Allen 2009).
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During the years, Pixar addressed the expectations of the audience while releasing the successful and unique projects like Toy Story, Cars, Monsters, Inc., and WALL-E. However, in 2011, Pixar began to experience first problems associated with promoting sequels to the previous projects and with the lack of new creative ideas for starting more unique projects in addition to sequels. In order to explore the crisis of creativity in Pixar and to propose appropriate recommendations, it is necessary to analyse Pixar’s case from the perspective of creativity strategy theories and models.
Creativity and Innovation in Pixar
In spite of the fact that Pixar was among industry leaders during the years after the successful release of Toy Story in 1995, the first problems with creativity became observed in 2011. Cars 2 was released in 2011. It was one of sequels on producing which Pixar was focused during several years. The absence of unique projects influenced the audience’s interest in the products of the studio.
Furthermore, there were problems associated with the quality of motion pictures; therefore, it was possible to speak about the crisis in Pixar in terms of following principles of creativity and innovation. However, it is also important to note that the problem was not only in producing many sequels but also in the overall quality of idea in released animated movies.
Changes in the creative and producing team also influenced the success of the company’s latest projects. According to Amabile and Khaire, creativity in business is a complex phenomenon that involves not only original ideas but also the effective management and leadership in order to motivate people be creative (Amabile & Khaire 2008, p. 100).
Thus, it is possible to refer to creativity only when simple rules in developing the business strategy and management are followed, as it is noted by Sull and Eisenhardt in their article (Sull & Eisenhardt 2012). Referring to the case of Pixar, problems with creativity can be associated with the problems in leadership and used approaches to manage the creative process in the studio.
Analysis of Pixar’s Strategy according to Amabile’s Factors Promoting Creativity
In her article of 2008, Amabile presents six factors that are important for promoting creativity in companies. These six factors are “challenge, freedom, resources, work-group features, supervisory encouragement, and organisational support” (Amabile 1998, p. 79). According to Amabile, the creativity strategy is working only when the proposed creative idea can be effectively used to motivate employees in order to achieve it and when they are appropriately managed (Amabile 1998, p. 79).
Focusing on the factor of challenge, leaders and managers need to provide teams with motivating and rather challenging tasks in order to stimulate creativity. In Pixar, this criterion is addressed through organising ‘incubation teams’ and providing all team members with the tasks that require the maximum efforts.
Freedom in relation to creativity means the opportunity to express any ideas without being limited by managers (Amabile 1998, p. 79). The criterion of freedom is directly addressed in Pixar because they follow the principle of making the working environment safe for sharing ideas. Resources necessary for fostering creativity often include time, money, and even the physical space.
It was a situation in Pixar when one project was at risk of a failure because two projects, A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2, were implemented at the same time, and teams could not work at both projects effectively. Furthermore, deadlines are a significant problem in Pixar because launching new projects, teams have to work hard during months, and this situation leads to stress and exhaustion in team members. The situation of the constant stress cannot contribute to creativity even if the company is not limited in money.
However, the organisation of the physical space in Pixar can be discussed as an advantage for promoting creativity. Thus, working as a team, specialists in different fields can freely contact each other because of the studio’s structure. According to such criterion as the work of teams, it is necessary to create diverse teams having people with different backgrounds.
In Pixar, there are several types of teams, including ‘incubation teams’ for working with directors and crews working both at creative and technological aspects of the project. The representatives of these teams work as peers and they share opinions daily, constantly monitoring the progress. This approach is effective to detect possible errors in the work immediately.
According to Amabile, supervisory encouragement is one more important factor to promote creativity. Constant motivating and monitoring are important pillars of effective management in creative environments (Amabile 1998, p. 79). In Pixar, this encouragement is promoted by directors who are expected to express their messages and goals clearly for the team to motivate them for the further work.
This successful approach also works in relation to the organisational support in Pixar because the encouragement of directors to share ideas freely and openly is based on the organisational culture, according to which the easy flow of innovative ideas between departments and specialists is a priority for Pixar.
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The Creativity Strategy Implementation according to Hansen and Birkinshaw’s Approach
If Amabile focused on determining six important factors to promote creativity in organisations, Hansen and Birkinshaw developed the unique framework known as “the innovation value chain” (Hansen & Birkinshaw 2007, p. 122). According to this framework, there are several phases and steps that are important for the idea generation and development, and leaders need to pay attention to the challenges that are experienced at the stages of “idea generation, conversion, and diffusion” (Hansen & Birkinshaw 2007, p. 121).
During the idea generation stage, teams are expected to search for new ideas in the organisation’s units. In Pixar, this criterion is successfully addressed because representatives of several departments become the part of the creative team to produce ideas. However, the problem is in the particular generation and selection of ideas.
It is important to note that Pixar managers have focused on creating ‘incubation teams’ in order to support directors in their process of generating and developing new ideas because previously the generated idea could be weak before entering the other steps of the value chain.
The stages of ideas’ conversion and diffusion are also effectively organised by the Pixar managers because the teams discuss each step of changes in the idea during dailies. The risk of wasted efforts to develop weak ideas decreases. Moreover, the process of spreading ideas during the diffusion stage is also effectively organised because there no limits in the spread of information in the company.
Still, current challenges in the activities of Pixar indicate that there are certain problems associated with the idea generation stage. These problems can also be connected with the conversion stage if the initially good ideas and approaches to production are not supported and developed by team members.
Pixar’s Approach Analysed with References to Creativity and Leadership
Amabile and Khaire proposed the framework according to which the leadership is discussed as one of the most influential factors to affect creativity in the organisation. According to the researchers, to promote creativity, good leaders need to involve all employees in the discussion process in spite of their rank (Amabile & Khaire 2008). This criterion is directly followed in Pixar, allowing company use multiple sources for generating ideas.
The next important criterion is the promotion of collaboration. This idea is also developed by in the recent research by Amabile, Fisher, and Pillemer (2014), where the authors note that collaboration is necessary to increase the quality of proposed ideas. Leaders in Pixar work to promote collaboration while organising different teams uniting people with different experiences. As a result, the criterion of diversity is also addressed.
Nevertheless, if leaders are effective in promoting collaboration and sharing ideas in Pixar, they are not successful enough in the process management. The stages of the creative work are planned according to the creative focus on dailies and peer discussions. However, these phases are often ineffectively scheduled causing much stress in team workers.
This weakness in the organisation can be associated with commercialisation issues because any delays in releasing the product can result in financial losses for the studio. Therefore, much attention should be paid to overcoming this weakness in the idea development and production process. From this point, it is also possible to speak about adaptability of the organisation to changes, as it is noted by Reeves and Deimler (2011) in their work.
If Pixar develops the adaptability mechanism, it will be possible to avoid address failures in scheduling or project implementation effectively. According to Amabile and Khaire (2008), those leaders who foster creativity should also encourage employees demonstrate their interests, motivate them intrinsically and extrinsically, and admit the risks of failure.
Leaders in Pixar work to motivate employees while focusing on the commitment to the organisation as the grounds for creativity and high-quality work and while supporting their efforts in the academic field (Brown 2008). Both these approaches contribute to develop the employees’ creative ideas.
Creativity and Logic in Pixar
The role of leadership in Pixar for improving creativity should also be discussed with references to Rigby, Gruver, and Allen’s idea of “both-brain” as an example of balancing the creative approach with the logical approach (Rigby, Gruver & Allen 2009, p. 80). According to the authors, in the area of creative businesses, leaders need to combine creativity and analytical skills and qualities in order to be successful (Rigby, Gruver & Allen 2009, p. 81).
In Pixar, leaders tend to combine these attributes, but there situations when creativity or the analytical overview of the case can dominate. In their article, Szulanski and Amin also focused on the idea of balancing discipline in developing the creativity strategy (Szulanski & Amin 2001, p. 538). Creativity depends on the effective organisation and discipline in companies.
Therefore, managers and leaders in Pixar need to focus more attention on addressing this criterion because at the current stage, the logical or analytical component of the business strategy can influence the success of the creativity (Dyer, Gregersen & Christensen 2009). As a result, the cause of the current problems in Pixar with developing new projects can be associated not with the idea generation, but with the ineffective project and strategic management.
Following Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen’s approach, it is possible to state that Pixar leaders can fail to discuss new directions for the strategy development through associations, questions, observation, and experiments that need to be applied at the new level in order to achieve more unexpected results (Dyer, Gregersen & Christensen 2009, p. 62). Thus, some new approaches can be used in Pixar in order to improve their creativity strategy.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The fact that Pixar remains to be one of the most successful studios in the industry of animated movies supports the idea that the creativity strategy followed by Pixar is rather successful. However, during the recent years, Pixar experienced problems in launching and developing new projects.
The preliminary analysis of the case indicates that the problem is in the fact that there are no effective ideas proposed and developed in the industry in order to start new effective projects and revise the creativity strategy. However, the further analysis of the case according to the creativity strategy theory and models demonstrates that the problem can be in the organisational component of the creativity strategy and in management as well as leadership instead of in the generation of ideas.
Therefore, in order to improve the creativity strategy and promote innovation in Pixar, it is important to propose the following recommendations:
- To improve the organisation of the project work and to foster creativity at all stages of the project development, it is important to change the approach to planning and scheduling the project activities. The main goal is the reduction in the stress experienced by team workers during the project implementation because the high levels of stress and fatigue do not contribute to the productivity and generation of effective ideas.
- The second recommendation is also associated with the project management because even if the creative component of the proposed idea is successful, the company can experience difficulties with the further work at the project. It is necessary to revise the approach to organising the work of creative teams and technological specialist in order to contribute to the maximum cooperation.
- In addition, leadership in Pixar should also be improved because it is an important component of the creativity strategy. The problem is in the fact that in spite of encouraging employees for proposing and sharing new ideas, leaders can limit the adoption of these ideas at the levels of idea selection and then, idea conversion. From this point, leaders need to become more open to new directions in the field of idea generation and focus on the further steps, involving the project management.
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