Business Case Study: Pixar's Organizational Behavior

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  • 0:05 The History of Pixar
  • 0:56 The Pixar Difference
  • 1:46 Pixar University
  • 2:36 Recharging & Using the…
  • 3:51 Results of Pixar's Methods
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dr. Douglas Hawks

Douglas has two master's degrees (MPA & MBA) and a PhD in Higher Education Administration.

If your TV has been on since 1986, especially if there are kids around, you've likely seen an animated movie made by Pixar. Sure the movies are great, but the organization behind the show is a greater example of positive organizational behavior.

The History of Pixar

In 1986, Steve Jobs (yes, that Steve Jobs) decided to make a purchase. For $10 million he purchased a small branch of LucasFilms that focused on animations. He renamed it Pixar and got to work changing its focus and creating a culture that he believed would allow ideas come to life. Like most animation studios, Pixar had three primary units: technical development, creative development, and production.

In many studios, these three units were separated. A film might start in creative development with plot and character development, and then move to technical development, where the animators and computer experts made the characters do and say what they needed to say. Then it would go to production, where the wrinkles were ironed out, the final touches made, and the end product made ready for public consumption.

The Pixar Difference

At Pixar, however, Jobs decided these groups needed to work together. Instead of having different departments for each of the three units, he wanted collaboration, when individuals from different backgrounds work together, to be at the center of the business. Technical and creative teams weren't even allowed to start working on an idea until production had been involved and shared thoughts. Collaboration took place between all groups, meaning ideas for movies and thoughts for changes came from anyone in any position.

Pixar also became very well known for its hands-off management technique. While the managers were there to ensure projects stayed on task and on budget, they were not there to micromanage how creative employees did their jobs. Instead, managers very much empowered employees to use the time and resources they needed to do the best job they could.

Pixar University

One of the ways management encouraged this interdepartmental collaboration and the idea that everyone could be better at their own jobs if they better understood other parts of the process was by encouraging employees to attend Pixar University. Pixar University was founded in 1997 to 'make art a team sport' and offers more than 100 courses about the animation process.

You don't need to work in production to take a production course. And many of the courses aren't even about animation, instead focusing on other creative outlets, such as improvisation, storytelling, and juggling. Pixar University is just as much about getting creative juices flowing as it is about helping people get better at their jobs. Employees at Pixar are able to spend four hours a week at Pixar University, and on average, employees complete about six courses per year.

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