Candour With Kindness: What Leaders Can Learn From Pixar (Part 1)

Candour with Kindness - What leaders can learn from Pixar - Part 1

‘I’m often surprised to find problems that have existed right in front of me, in plain sight’. I’ve been searching all my life for better ways of seeing’.

Ed Catmull. Creativity Inc. 2015

This has to be one of my favourite quotes from Ed Catmull‘s book Creativity Inc.

Having read the book twice now I know that there is a great deal leaders can learn from it, and from Pixar’s tremendous journey.  In his book Ed Catmull describes 40 years of searching for better ways of seeing. That alone makes him a great leader in my mind, but that is not all.

Ed Catmull has made his central focus to see what is NOT easily seen within his business.  It is this that is of substance.  Pixar leads the way in creative corporate culture because it doesn’t rest and hide behind a health and wellbeing policy that sits in a filing cabinet.  Pixar lives and breathes, and attends to what is hidden even when everything in their human nature pulls them to do the opposite.

Ed describes this dichotomy beautifully when discussing the difference between our beliefs about honesty and candour.  ‘Honesty being the best policy’ actually engenders fear, is often without thought and perhaps not always with good intention.  Candour is thought filled and with good intention, it is honesty in order to be productive, and supports brilliant minds to generate the best out of each other.

I also work every day with what cannot easily be seen.  I work with very smart people who are breaking down (not wanting to die but don’t know how to live either; unable to do simple tasks, to eat, to sleep, to love, to care, to speak, to feel)

Engaging these incredible minds to think and feel the unspeakable or unseen can create recovery and healing.  The most powerful and lasting way to do this is to engage the intellect to create a companionable relationship with themselves.  In turn this means they can meet themselves and their own inner truths, without being drenched in self loathing for breaking down in the first place.

Once a companionable relationship with oneself is established and committed to, it is life long, and the discovery of the stuff one has tucked away can’t hurt unless we hold how we feel against ourselves.   The giant that Pixar is, and is to stay, is built by people who are savvy to the chaos that someone’s internal relationship can wreak. They look out for it and attend to it as best they can.

It simply isn’t possible to maintain the humility that Pixar has without there being people all over that organisation who are at peace with themselves.  At ease in their imperfection as with all human beings, it is their intention that makes it a world leader.

Encouraging incredibly smart people to see within themselves what is not easily seen, what one may rather ignore, is to bring awareness to one’s leadership.  How you lead your own life, and how you are in relationship with yourself is transferred into your workplace leadership and beautifully filters throughout your organisation and staff.  A kind and companionable relationship within the leader will engender kind, and fertile workplaces.  Unkind, self loathing filled inner relationships create leaders who lead with brutality.

That is why I am inspired by companies who are embracing ‘what it is to be human’, and creating environments where the full human experience is not only gestured towards but is central to the working cogs of the corporation.  It not only facilitates creativity, it is an essential.

When open to our whole selves creativity is not just possible it’s unstoppable and the exact opposite is also true.  An environment of secrecy, fear, and ‘cutting off’ to the human experience creates blockages in one’s abilities, creativity, and innovation.  Why? because we use energy trying to survive a hostile environment, and everything we tuck away is what ends up being in control, but unfortunately not in a good and healthy way.

Self aware managers and companies like Ed Catmull, his colleagues and Pixar are embracing the opportunity to increase humanity and humility in the workplace.   The world needs more of this.  It isn’t enough for us to accept burnout and break down as normal wastage within big corporations.

As well as unethical, corporate recklessness is littering our communities with injured souls.  People can take many months and often years to recover and heal from the rupture in their physical and mental health.  Lost income, lost security, lost homes, lost relationships, broken families, lowself esteem.   It’s not ethical, it’s not sustainable and it’s unkind.

It takes courage to be open to what you can’t see.

Kind, creative, courageous environments require intention and attention in equal measure.

Ed Catmull endeavours to maintain an ethos of candour and transparency as much as possible and to weave within its culture a pervasive humility.  Of course it has not always been easy for them, and there have been terrifically difficult challenges faced during their history, but the tenacity and kindness led by Ed Catmull is what continues to be transferred throughout.   Great leaders are willing to see, and make it their mission to see.   Great leaders know that what is hidden (but is just the other side of our internal blinkers) will insidiously and incrementally create your demise.

‘What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge that we will always have problems, many hidden from our view, that we work hard to uncover these problems even if doing so means it making ourselves feel uncomfortable…..’

Better to feel discomfort every now and again than to experience the complete rupture of your own and your  company’s health.

To buy Ed Catmull’s book, Creativity Inc. :


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