Creativity and storytelling: How Pixar goes from good to great

What is the secret to Pixar's success when it comes to creativity and storytelling?

I’m in complete awe of Pixar’s track record developing thought-provoking, multilayered films. Pixar revels in taking huge risks in its storytelling. It produces animated films that pack a punch with a tender mix of emotion and drama. Pixar movies elevate visual storytelling to a whole new level.

What is the secret to Pixar’s success when it comes to creativity and storytelling? Pixar President Ed Catmull shares a few tenets of the company’s success in a Fast Company article and an excerpt from the book Creativity, Inc. by Catmull and Amy Wallace.

First, candor is critical for creativity. Catmull admits Pixar movies "suck" at first, and he developed and now maintains a brain trust of smart, talented people who share candid feedback with one another to take a story from "suck to not suck."

Catmull believes it’s critical to recognize that creativity and good ideas take nurturing. The way he sees it, creative people "who take on complicated projects become lost" and it’s essential to have trusted advisers guide them with hard questions to help project leaders overcome the blind spots they may have with their ideas.

Next, it’s important to realize the creative process is a journey. Immediate failure is inevitable, and the faster it comes, the faster one can get past it. There may be a situation when a complete restart or reboot of a project is necessary. The Pixar team did this with Toy Story 2 because it didn’t uphold Pixar’s vision for great storytelling.

As PR professionals, do we allow ourselves the time and freedom to take the same approach to reboot ideas, and start from scratch? I believe we do. We’re storytellers at the core of what we do, and we know when a brand narrative has inherent problems. What I find more a bit challenging in our industry, however, are those moments when you are encouraging people to take a risk on an unconventional avenue to engage consumers in a conversation with your brand. The bottleneck often lies in anticipating success metrics. Sometimes riskier ideas are harder to predict in terms of benchmarks of traditional PR success.  

The key learnings I gleaned from Catmull: Fail and fail often. Seek support and be open to candid feedback. Invite others to join your creative journey all in an effort to evolve a good idea into a great one.

Stephanie Fogle is MD of the consumer and lifestyle practice at Kwittken + Company.

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