When it comes to reliability, Pixar is pretty much second only to the sun. Just as every morning that fiery ball of light rises in the east, the movie studio behind Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Cars and others just keeps churning out hits year after year. How do they come up with so many great ideas?

Pixar president Ed Catmull has written a whole book to answer this questions, but if you're looking for a quick and dirty answer, founder and CEO Elle Kaplan has a Medium post for you.

"I bet you'd love for your business to mirror the type of consistent creative success achieved by Pixar over the last two decades (I certainly would)," she writes, before outlining five key principles the animation studio uses to keep coming up with great ideas, they include:

1. Build a braintrust.

Two heads are indeed better than one, and three are better than two, and so on... It's a simple but profound truth that Pixar leverages using its famed "braintrusts," super candid groups of diverse but brilliant minds all tackling a project's problems together.

Kaplan explains how business leaders can borrow a bit of this Pixar magic. "Find inspiration from anywhere--the least likely people will often bring the most brilliant stimulation," she instructs. This requires welcoming everyone to the discussion and then continually stressing trust between participants. Without the idea that "everyone can deliver candid and honest feedback while relying on each other," a braintrust won't function, Kaplan points out.

2. Embrace your "ugly babies."

If everyone you're working with understands that it's natural for new and innovative ideas to really stink at first (to be, in the parlance of Pixar, "ugly babies"), it's much easier to give and accept criticism without drama. It's also more likely that a potentially game-changing innovation won't be tossed away because of early bumps and warts.

"Whether you come up with an idea yourself or are approached with one by an employee, don't automatically dismiss it just because it seems ugly at the start," suggests Kaplan. "Embrace every idea and know that it may need several iterations to become something successful; after all, it's called the creative process for a reason."

3. Dare to share.

If you're going to iterate your way to good ideas -- and you're going to do it as a group -- you'll need to make sure everyone has all the information they need to participate in this process. This is a reality Pixar fully embraces. The company "doesn't keep their ideas locked in some secret lair like a cartoon movie villain," Kaplan points out. "Pixar publishes all their findings and research online."

If you want to emulate Pi, you're going to need to get comfortable with a high level of transparency. "It's scary to expose yourself to others creatively. But you can't expect to get exposed to the creative process of others if you don't share your own," Kaplan sensibly points out.

Published on: Mar 15, 2016
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