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Brian Soell

Big or small, you can help solve it!

Good Morning!

Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar, shares a real interesting story in his book, Creativity, Inc. Back in 1998, Pixar was still establishing themselves as a company and working on Toy Story 2. At this point, they had invested about 2 years worth of work into the film, but that winter because of inadvertent file commands, about 90% of the film was erased in a matter of seconds. 


While Pixar's leaders were rightly concerned, they had a backup system in place. Thus, the leaders were confident they'd likely lose about a 1/2 of day worth of work, but would be able to restore everything. However, their backup system was not working correctly so essentially it appeared Toy Story 2 was deleted. Pixar estimated it would take 30 people at least 1 year to reassemble the film. Keep in mind, they were a new film company at that point focused on making only 2 original films per calendar year. This was, potentially, a devastating disruption to their core business!


As you've probably guessed, there is a happy ending to this story. A remote employee, who was working from home, had been copying the entire film database to her computer once a week. Because of her actions, they were able to recover the film. As most of you know, it was a very well received sequel that went on to gross over $485 million at the box office. 


Their management's response to this issue allowed Pixar to clarify their company culture for their employees. Namely, allowing problem solving without permission, enabling employees to have the confidence to fix issues, not vilifying mistakes, and demonstrating that sometimes, unexpected issues require unexpected responses. This approach was influenced heavily by W. Edwards Deming and Toyota Motor Company, which is adamant that all employees, regardless of their job title, involved with the manufacturing process have the responsibility to find and fix problems. As Ed Catmull points out, one does not always know how big a problem is when one first encounters it. Be vigilant, be empowered to speak up, and continue to help solve problems!