6 Life-Changing Takeaways for Real Estate From Pixar Studios

From First Nation dancers to robots and technology gurus, True North, a conference educating on the future of technology, had a definite impact on attendees last week.


Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, who not only launched Pixar but lead the company to release the first-ever animated movie, put on an exceptional session at the True North conference.

As a computer scientist, Catmull has contributed to many significant advances in computer graphics, and has won five Academy Awards, including two Oscars for his achievements. He founded the computer division of Lucasfilm Ltd. and Pixar Animation Studios. Pixar, which was eventually acquired by Disney, won countless Emmys and experienced incredible realms of success.

During the session at True North, Catmull spoke about his book, called Creativity, Inc., and explained its importance to the business and technology world.

Does creativity belong in real estate?

Ed Catmull thinks so. In fact, Catmull believes that solving problems is all about creativity. So, as any organization encounters problems, the issues need to be solved, often with creativity.

One may think that there is little need for, or limited, creative abilities within his/her organization, but Catmull claimed that this thought is misplaced.  Rather, he believes problem-solving is a matter of unleashing the creative forces within an organization. Unfortunately, so many companies are blocking creativity in the workplace - missing the true problems that need to be creatively solved - and thus never reaching their full potential.

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As for Real Estate companies, major roadblocks for creativity are, unfortunately: ego, organization structure, and common decision making practices. Catmull has typically found the following to be issues with creativity within companies:

  1. Inability to address problems we turn a blind eye to.
  2. Difficulty with implementing new structure. We don’t want to learn things “in the order that we like.” We need to remove the power structure from communication, as they often influence the group to follow processes that the top decision makers prefer (which may not always be correct!). Ideally, those that have final-say on decisions should not attend meetings that require creativity.
  3. Decision makers need to focus on listening and engaging in honest communication. Rather than dominating, decision-makers must allow others to speak, and themselves aim to have the least amount of impact on the team. Paying careful attention to the dynamics in the room, including  underlying contentions that are impacting the conversation, the boss is in charge of watching the group, ready to eliminate “group thinking,” or any other barriers of creativity.
  4. Ed Catmull’s “Magic Moments”: no egos in the discussion room, but all focus is, as a team, on the problem being discussed. Emotion takes over logic.

Now, how do these points relate to Catmull and his amazing success with Pixar studios? Simply, the Pixar creator noted that, at first, “ALL of his movies sucked!”

Really, this is exactly what he said.  

However, the movies came together through wild and fragile ideas that needed to be cultivated through creativity.

Two additional takeaways presented by Catmull for your organization:

  1. Creativity does not have a schedule, and is full of mistakes, misled ideas, and failures.
  2. Our job is not to prevent errors, but to respond to problems.

You may have great creative talent in your organization, but you need to remove barriers that are stopping the creative juices in your team from flowing. In order to make creativity a priority within your organization, it is important to be aware of, what Ed Catmull would say, this "in the trenches experience" kind of culture change.

So go forth, make mistakes, be creative, speak your mind, and become exceptional at solving problems!