Pixar on Embracing Failure

 In Reading

It goes without saying that Pixar Animation Studios knows a thing or two about success. In the book, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, Pixar cofounder, Ed Catmull explains how Pixar became successful by embracing failure and candor, and how small and frequent failures over the course of a project helped them become the animation and story telling powerhouse that we all know and love. Here are a few of those anecdotes on embracing failure:

Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new (and, as such, should be seen as valuable; without them, we’d have no originality).

But Andrew Stanton isn’t most people. As I’ve mentioned, he’s known around Pixar for repeating the phrases “fail early and fail fast” and “be wrong as fast as you can.” To be wrong as fast as you can is to sign up for aggressive, rapid learning.

If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it. And, for leaders especially, this strategy—trying to avoid failure by out-thinking it—dooms you to fail.

In a fear-based, failure-averse culture, people will consciously or unconsciously avoid risk. They will seek instead to repeat something safe that’s been good enough in the past. Their work will be derivative, not innovative. But if you can foster a positive understanding of failure, the opposite will happen.

I have found that people who pour their energy into thinking about an approach and insisting that it is too early to act are wrong just as often as people who dive in and work quickly. The overplanners just take longer to be wrong (and, when things inevitably go awry, are more crushed by the feeling that they have failed). There’s a corollary to this, as well: The more time you spend mapping out an approach, the more likely you are to get attached to it. The nonworking idea gets worn into your brain, like a rut in the mud. It can be difficult to get free of it and head in a different direction. Which, more often than not, is exactly what you must do.

The uncreated is a vast, empty space. This emptiness is so scary that most hold on to what they know, making minor adjustments to what they understand, unable to move on to something unknown. To enter that place of fear, and to fill that empty space, we need all the help we can get.

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