We have four kids under the age of 11, which means that like families everywhere, we went to see Toy Story 4 last Friday. While the film fell short of Disney's anticipated $140 million, it still opened to a respectable $118 million three-day weekend.
The original Toy Story is arguably one of the ten most important films of the last 25 years. Actually, considering it is literally the film that made feature-length computer animated movies a thing and set off an astonishing run for its parent studio, Pixar, I think I could make a case that it's one of the most important films, period.
The fourth installment won't go down in the history of cinema as quite as important a film as the original, but that doesn't mean it wasn't totally enjoyable. It was. In fact, as a parent, I enjoyed it more than any of the others, except maybe Toy Story 3, which was really the conclusion to the true story arc.
Here's the thing, I had this nagging sense the entire time that I was watching something beautiful come to an end. There was a subtle loneliness to the film that I couldn't quite place. Perhaps it was the fact that the characters were this time literally far from home.
But I think more than that, it had to do with the fact that Toy Story 4 represented an end, in a lot of ways, to the second chapter of the Pixar story (the first being pre-Disney). That doesn't mean I don't think that the studio will continue to produce fantastic stories.
It does mean that things are different.
Creativity comes in waves.
If anyone has harnessed the power of creative people in a room doing incredible work, it's Pixar. That said, I suspect that we've seen the end of the types of films we grew up loving like Toy Story. It's not that Pixar is less creative. I have no doubt it still has some great films yet to create, and as a huge fan, I hope I'm right.
But creativity comes in waves. As a writer, I'm not creative all the time, but when I am, I sit down and write because I know it will soon pass. I write, and I write, and I write some more. Then, I get up and do other things because trying to be creative when the tide has receded is about as productive as trying to body surf in the sand.
Instead, I prepare myself for what comes next.
Finding the next wave.
Your job is to find the creative wave, to harness it, and to ride it as far as it will take you. But when the wave is over, get off. Don't let it pull you under, but rather, get back to shore and start preparing for the next one.
This isn't just true for you, or for Disney, for that matter. Every company experiences these types of waves. The only difference is whether they have created a structure that lets them see it coming and adapt before they drown.
Microsoft isn't the same company it was when it was primarily known for Windows. Sure, that's still a big part of the business, but it wouldn't be the most valuable company in the world by market cap if it hadn't changed its business as the world around it changed.
Apple started out as a desktop computer maker, missed the wave that Microsoft originally rode, but then became the most profitable technology company because it saw the wave that became the iPhone.
Amazon was a niche online bookseller, but saw the opportunity to expand to other areas when it realized there was a wave of people who would buy online if they offered free two-day shipping. Then, they rode the cloud-computing wave with Amazon Web Services, the company's most profitable division.
Whether you're riding your first, or second, or even third wave, it's not too soon to start looking for what comes next for your industry, and more specifically, your business. Unlike movie sequels, creative waves don't repeat themselves, you have to find the next one.