Here's some news you may find hard to believe: Even Pixar makes mistakes. In fact, the details in a new video recently released by the animated film studio juggernaut would suggest it makes some doozies.

But that isn't how we imagine our heroes, is it? Person or company, most often we picture them fault free. It's tidier, makes for a better story, and feeds our dream of an easy path to innovation and its rewards. But Pixar's Scrapped Ideas video is more than an admission of imperfection. It's a gift--a gift in the form of a reminder that creativity, advancement, and growth of any kind are messy endeavors. Pixar has figured out how to use that knowledge to its advantage and joy. You should too.

Well, that didn't go as planned!

It's easy to think about Pixar as perfect rather than as a company that moves in cycles from faultlessness and flaw. For three decades, every new release not only seems destined for success, but to arrive as a masterpiece and a moon leap in innovation over the last. Toy Story begets Monsters, Inc., followed by Finding Nemo. Onward and upward it seems to go. Nineteen films with worldwide revenue of $11.7 billion would seem to say Pixar's doing everything right. But it isn't. Consider these confessions:

  • Hard to fathom, but little 11-year-old Riley in the 2015 film Inside Out originally had 27 emotions before that was changed to a more digestible five.
  • The Cars movie franchise was built from a single surviving part of a scrapped film project: the small-town setting.
  • And perfect characters we now know and love have regularly been the result of happy accidents, not to mention healthy doses of playing around.

If you've never seen a Pixar film, these specific examples might mean little to you. Let's fix that. First, no matter your age or interests, go see a Pixar film. It is rare to find a company that perpetually out-innovates itself the way it does, and its films offer ample proof. But second, and more important, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Why would any company voluntarily admit its biggest faux pas?
  2. More, how does Pixar get beyond the miscues and mistakes and what can that teach you about failure, creativity, and success over the long haul?

Conveniently, Pixar is openly telling you the answers.

Creativity is messy but vital

Let's dispense with the first question quickly. By revealing its missteps, Pixar is telling you that brilliance, advancement, growth, creativity--in short, all the things you want or need--don't happen by clean, reliable formula. Period. No true advancement ever has. And guess what else Pixar is telling you? It's OK with that. But it's what the company does next that makes it not just able to work with that reality but to thrive.

The surprisingly simple keys to performance and progress

The very first thing that Pixar does--not just the CEO, but everyone--is to perpetually bring itself back to three principles. As a collective, a culture, and a "tribe," Pixar has agreed that above all else these three ingredients are necessary to be an exceptional computer animation film studio and an effective group of creatives. (Note also that the team is keenly aware of who they are and what they exist to do as a company.)

Pixar's three principles are:

  1. Everyone must have the freedom to communicate with everyone.
  2. It must be safe for everyone to offer ideas.
  3. We must stay close to innovations in academia (and in all sectors).

That's it. Everything else--policies, procedures, structures, all the things we typically associate with "best practices" and tightly run ships--is secondary and allowed to change if the principles can be better fulfilled.

Before you dismiss the whole idea, recognize that it's far less about what those principles say than what Pixar does with them every single day. Left inactive, these principles, like so many mission statements, strategic plans, and trainings, would be just aspirations. The difference at Pixar, and indeed at a growing number of organizations, is that more than just nice-to-haves, these simple statements actually represent the entire strategy. Here's why that works:

  • Shared purpose arrived at together. Rather than being mandated by management, Pixar's three principles were arrived at by the entire company, as in each and every individual. It's incredible just how much principles, policies, or anything is actively supported and owned by everyone when they've all had a voice in the creation.
  • Living principles versus happy talk. More critical still, Pixar actually uses the darn things. The principles guide every project, every creative decision, every discussion, by every person, in everything he or she does, each and every day.
  • Tactics that serve purpose (not the other way around). It isn't that Pixar dispenses with traditional operating procedures. It's that the principles always come first. If the systems and structure of the business have to change, then change they do, usually on the spot.

The team at Pixar has chosen to embrace a kind of adaptability that's allowed them to perpetually innovate while remaining ever aware of who they are and why they do what they do. Thirty years ago, that was simply bold. In today's ever-changing, increasingly unpredictable environment, it's a necessity. And, now as then, a keen sense of shared purpose may just be the best place to start.