Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney animation studios: How to create a successful multidisciplinary, innovative team

Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney animation studios: How to create a successful multidisciplinary, innovative team

I heard Ed Catmull, innovative president of Pixar and Disney animation studios, speak on Thursday at BYU. He spoke about a topic that I have been thinking a lot about lately – how do you create the best situation for a multidisciplinary team to work on Ed Catmullsomething that has never been done before?

He started with a comment made to him by a producer: “It is not finding good people that is our problem, it is finding great ideas.” Ed Catmull argued why this statement is wrong. He gave examples of great ideas in the animation studio that did not work with a certain team, but another team took them and made them hugely successful. His point was that the most important thing is to create a team that works well together, especially when you are doing something that has never been done before.

Here are some of his ideas:

  • Everyone needs to understand that they are equally valuable and important (e.g. neither the programmers, the artists, or the managers could feel like second-class citizens)
  • Things will go wrong when you are the first people to do something new, don’t be afraid of making mistakes, just find ways to handle them well. “We are in the job of doing something new,” Catmull said, “Our measure is not whether we avoid different things. It’s how we respond to things when they go wrong.”
  • Don’t let everything that is good mask the things that are not good – do a “postmortem” analysis, a review of each project to discuss what went well and what could be better.
  • Managers are simply responsible for helping the team merge well.
  • “I’ve always believed that you shape the management team around the talent rather than try to force people into a certain way of doing things.”

Brent AdamsI also heard Brent Adams speak this semester on the same topic. He has been the driving force behind BYU’s very successful multidisciplinary computer animation program. In the past few years 1,500 animations hPajama Gladiator addave been submitted to the student Emmys, and BYU students have impressively won 5 out of 12 best computer animation awards and 2 of the 6 student academy awards.

He said where education has typically been an “individual sport” (with even group projects not being designed very well) -the advantage in this world will always go to those who can out-innovate and out-collaborate their competitors. Brent gave some very valuable ideas for designing multidisciplinary teams to work well in creative collaborative thinking:

  • Flexibility – approaching the problem from many different directions
  • Fluency – ability to generate LOTS of ideas (if you want to have a good idea, have lots of them)
  • Novelty – originality, uniqueness, “I would have never thought of that”, innovation
  • Definition – being good at defining the context, constraints, etc.
  • Roles – design roles and responsibilities which allow people to play to their strengths.

“Successful innovation is the union of convergence and divergence processes – weaving in and out when coming to an appropriate situation.” (paraphrase)

Aside from how much I like both the Pixar and BYU animation movies, my interest in this all stems from the fact that I think some of the most innovative teams in today’s world will be both multidisciplinary and cross-cultural. I am interested in finding the best technologies and techniques to reduce the miscommunication and increase the innovative potential from having such a rich combination of experiences, expertise and perspectives.


Does anyone have any good ideas about how to create an effective, innovative team?

Has anyone been a part of a team like that? If so – what made it work well?

Flag at half staff for my best friend

Flag at half staff for my best friend

Flag at Half StaffOne of the first times that I met Colonel Eugene Haynes Butler, an 80 year old retired air force fighter pilot, he said to me: “You know one of the biggest problems with your generation?” I waited for a totally different remark than the one which followed. After a short pause he said with a smile, “That I am not a part of it.” (then laughing his unforgettable laugh)

If you have ever met someone who is full of compassion, humor, and seems always able to make any situation they enter better by being in it – then you might have an idea why it was so easy to love and want to be around Colonel Butler, with his unique combination of being confident (e.g. “the best fighter pilot ever”), colorful (e.g. calling bad drivers on the road “thoseYoung Colonel as Pilot perverts!”, always adding either “Mr.” before your name or “baby” at the end of your name – for example, “Speak to me Mr. Joey” or “Hi Jeremy-baby”), and compassionate (in too many ways to name). Over the next few years we ended up forming a friendship that has changed me in ways which words can not do justice – who I am because of him is forever changed for the better.

Just try to imagine for a moment having someone walk into your life who then begins to do everything in his power to make you happy and successful, who introduces you to all of his favorite people, who teaches you things about generosity and true friendship through his everyday example, who makes you laugh every day, who convinces you that he would do anything he could for you, who talks about how great of a person you are to everyone he knows (even when they get sick of hearing it), who wColonel Butler and Meants to get to know everything he can about you, and who (even knowing your weaknesses) still would defend your name to the death – all the while making you feel like it is you who is doing him some great favor! And then to see first hand how he was also able to do this for countless others in various degrees without making you feel any less special!

If you can even begin to imagine what that would be like, then you will know why it was so difficult for me to go to the intensive care unit of the hospital on Thursday to see this friend of mine unconscious in a coma and on life support, then within 25 hours watching him peacefully slip away into the next life.

I have the burden and honor of speaking at his funeral this Wednesday, and then trying the rest of my life to somehow live up to his personal example and his belief in me.

One thing he always joked about was his own death, and I have wondered since his passing why he was so fearless of death? Being Easter yesterday, I thought specifically of how he repeatedly said his favorite song of all time was Amazing Grace – and the few times he would open up and share with me his feelings about God (not in a contrived, self-righteous way at all – but with a tone that was totally void of pride yet still confident, grateful, and secure).

For so many reasons, I am not worried about him now – I believe he is in a much better place and that one time in the future I will be able to see him again. It just is so hard to think of life without him for now.

If you ever come to Provo, look aroundColonel by a River and see if you can find a framed quote posted in several of his favorite places…

“Once in a great while, a certain somebody comes into our lives who mirrors our thoughts, lifts our spirits and brightens our hearts. And all of a sudden, life has new meaning and greater purpose than ever before.” (Marieta Donaldson)

(In honor and memory of Colonel Eugene Haynes Butler, war hero, true friend, and loyal patron of Chuck-a-Rama)


Here is a link to the speech that I gave at his funeral: The poetry of Colonel’s life


Here is the memory video I created in his honor. (If you can’t view it, then click here.)


Here are some pictures from the day of the funeral (click on title to see picture):

Placing Flowers on Casket

Bagpiper Playing Amazing Grace

A Fighter Pilot’s Casket

Headstone of an Everyday Hero

How to get a message to spread: and why most marketers do not understand how the Internet has changed our lives

How to get a message to spread: and why most marketers do not understand how the Internet has changed our lives

Seth GodinSince I heard Seth Godin (a “guru” in online marketing) speak yesterday morning, I have not been able to stop thinking about some of his key messages. I’ll explain why I keep thinking about them at the end of this entry. I’m also very interested in your comments – what do you think are the best ways to get a message to spread?

The Old Way to Spread a Message: The old model of marketing was to try and interrupt as many people as you can with impersonal messages (through TV advertisements, magazine ads, billboards, etc) – and if you spent $1 getting your word out by interrupting people and made $1.10 in return, then you could spend it interrupting more people. Most CEOs and marketing people think that this same approach applies on the Internet and with online communication. Although this same (and frequently annoying) approach might still meet some degree of success online (in buying sponsored key-words, sending emails, putting up banner-ads) – ultimately the old model will fail in this new medium when head-to-head with what actually works.

The reality is that there are so many channels of information sources now that people can often ignore a company, even when it is spending billions of dollars in trying to interrupt you. Unless it is directly relevant or at least mildly entertaining, then they do not have time and they do not care. You can keep polishing your message, but it is simply a little pin in a wicked-huge haystack!

The main point:

Create something worth talking about. If you do not have that step, the next step will not mean much at all. (You can not buy attention, not effectively, not widespread.)

Ideas that spread, win.

In the middle (the majority) people strive to be average (only we live in a world where everything is usually good enough and we don’t have much time so we usually just pick what is either cheaper or closer), but on the edges people wait in line.

Definition of remarkable = worth making a remark about. If people remark about it, then the idea spreads.

Be remarkable (if you do not do this, do not go to step 2) – tell a story to your “sneezers” (the early adopters and innovators) – they spread the word (do what used to be your job) – get permission (the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal, and relevant messages – the kind that if they don’t come then people complain about not getting them).

There are two ways to get married: 1. Go to a singles bar, and the first girl you meet ask her right away to marry you. If she says no, then go to the next girl and ask her. If she says no, then go to the next one until you can find one who says yes (i.e. impersonal widespread invitations). 2. Find a girl, date her and get to know her, when you see there is a match then ask her to marry you (i.e. building a meaningful, welcome relationship). Most of marketing takes the first approach. The better thing to do is to create products, services, messages that people actually care about, and want to talk about and have more of. And of course, web analytics is one tool (of many) that can help people determine who is on the site, what do they care about, and how to customize the experience more on a one-to-one basis.

To read more of the details of Seth’s talk, you can read Kirk’s or Rob’s blogs (as they describe more of his talk) – or look at Seth’s new book: Meatball Sundae

Personal Application: I started to think about an idea that my sister and I have been working on for a couple months now. Originally we were just thinking about it in terms of a really cool children’s book (which I think could be a bit hit). After Seth’s talk, I started to think of other ways to use the technology available to customize, enhance, and easily spread it in a way that would make it something worth talking about. Does anyone who has programming skills want to find out more and see if you want to help me develop the idea?

Questions: Do you agree with Seth that the Internet has changed our lives in the ways mentioned? What do you think are the best ways to get a message to spread?

Lance Armstrong – and the call to “active citizenship”

Lance Armstrong – and the call to “active citizenship”

Lance ArmstrongI heard Lance Armstrong, the famous cyclist and cancer survivor, speak last night at the Omniture 2008 Summit. Through sharing his story of surviving cancer, his multiple Tour de France wins, and his hugely successful LiveStrong movement (already sold nearly 70 million of those yellow bands) – his main point was to encourage everyone in the audience to do more to bridge the gap in society between what we know and where we actually are.

Funniest part: when he described the doctor who was trying to explain how simple his cancer surgery would be. The doctor enlisted the metaphor of Halloween – and had Lance envision taking a pumpkin, cutting the top off, carving out everything that was inside, and then just putting the top back on. Lance had testicular cancer! So it is understandable when he said he has never seen Halloween quite the same since then, and prefers if his kids ask his wife to help with the pumpkin carving.

Main Summary: He invoked the notion of active citizenship – or all of us being more involved in our community. He said that we know we need to because we are falling short, in schools, hospitals, homes, – we need to somehow shrink the gap between what we know and where we are at. “That is the gap between what we know how to do vs what we actually do – and everything in the middle is a moral and ethical failure in America.”

Speaking of the 70 million who have boughtLance Armstrong the yellow LiveStrong wristbands, he said it is nice to have an army of people who believe in change and want to do something about it. He emphasized that it was not just with cancer, but with so many things. He encouraged everyone to find the issue that they were most concerned about and then do something (even if not with money, then with time).

“We need your time, your energy, and most importantly your passion.”

Personal Reflection and Question: I think one of my key “issues” is intercultural (and interfaith) communication, collaboration, and innovation. It fascinates me and I think there is so much good that can be done through it for everyone involved. I think, however, that is part of my larger issue/passion – which is finding anything that helps people to see and reach more of their potential.

Question Mark


What is one of your issues?
For whoever reads this, pause for a moment and post something, anything. I am really interested to know what it is that you care about?
Please post something, the first thing that comes to your mind – I am really very curious.



How Web Analytics Changes Business…the 2008 Omniture Summit

How Web Analytics Changes Business…the 2008 Omniture Summit

The use of web analytics is not just changing online business, but all of business. That is one of the key messages that Josh James, CEO of one of the fastest growing and most innovative companies, Omniture, shared this morning at the opening session of the 2008 Omniture Summit.

Six years ago there was 6 clients (or rather potential clients) Omniture Logoin attendance at the “Omniture Summit” this year there will be nearly 2,000 in Salt Lake (3,000 worldwide), from over 750 companies (more than 1,000 globaly – Sydney, Paris, Copenhagen, London, Munich, Tokyo) and those in one room representing more than 30% of the online marketing spend in the world. For example, this morning alone I have already talked to people from CNN, the NFL, Gateway, Microsoft, Convergys, HP, and on and on.

The reason web analytics is doing so much to change business (online and off-line) is simple. Because of the way in which everything can be tracked online – making ideas more measurable than ever before – this helps instill a data-driven mindset into an organization. Instead of “shooting from the hip” and arguing simply based on opinion, you can channel all that creativity into testing situations and consequently have data-driven results and recommendations for any decision you make.

The Omniture Summit will continue over the next couple days, and students in my ISys 590R Web Analytics class will be blogging about what they learn from:Lance Armstrong

  • the keynote speakers (including people like Peter Kim – Forrester Research, Seth Godin – Marketing Guru, and Lance Armstrong – famous Athlete and speaker),
  • consulting best practice presentations (in industry verticals like eCommerce, Media, High Tech, Financial Services, etc..),
  • new tools and improvements on existing tools (e.g SiteCatalyst v.14, Discover, SearchCenter, Behavioral Targeting, tracking Video, Flash, Ajax, etc.),
  • and success case studies (e.g. Ford, MTV, National Geographic, Blockbuster, Dex Media, BackCountry.com, etc…).

I feel lucky to be teaching one of the only web analytics classes offered at any business school in any university (yet one more reason why BYU is great). To read more about the incredibly valuable things my very cool students are learning and blogging about, see our online class space: http://ebiz2.byu.edu/analytics/

Why would you want to be a Catholic monk?

Why would you want to be a Catholic monk?

That is the question I was able to ask several times as ISt. Louis Abbey lived this last weekend with monks in a monastery at the Abbey of St. Mary and St. Louis. It might seem strange to meet someone on a plane, keep in touch via letter off and on until 10 years later you ask if you could go across the country to visit them for a while – but in this case, that is exactly what I did.

10 years ago I sat next to a most remarkable man on an airplane traveling from the UK to the US – I was 21 years old and returning from 2 years of being away from home as a Mormon Patrick Barry and Clint Rogersmissionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Patrick Barry was 80 year old man who had spent most of his life as a Catholic Priest and monk after the Benedictine order. We had a great conversation (very interesting, open, and edifying), the end of which he we mutually agreed to pray for each other and keep in touch.

Since over the last year I had been thinking, talking, and writing a lot about interfaith communication, collaboration and innovation [feel free to join the FaceBook group on this topic], when I was writing my Christmas letter to Patrick, I wondered why on earth I hadFather Augustine Br Cassian and Clint Rogers not ever gone to the monastery to visit this wonderful man and learn more about what his life and work was all about, and asked him if it would be possible and appropriate for me to come visit. He responded warmly, and when the flights were cheap I bought my ticket.

When thinking about visiting a monastery, I had no idea what an enjoyable trip I would end up having… [to be continued…]