Leadership Lessons from the CO-Founder of Pixar

Outside of my mentors and defining moments, books have accelerated my learning both professionally and personally and I truly believe that reading is the single most important thing you can do to better yourself. In light of this, every Monday I will be reviewing a book that has impacted me.
Today’s book is Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull. If you are a leader of a team or company you should definitely read this book, but anyone can benefit from reading it. In many ways, we are all leaders.

Brief Summary:

Ed Catmull is the Co-Founder of Pixar and in his book, he shares the story and lessons he learned while building Pixar. More specifically, he explains Pixar’s unique leadership practices that made them one of the most innovative and successful companies the world has ever seen (he also got to work side by side with Steve Jobs, so he shares very insightful conversations and things he learned from Steve. I outline one of the things I took away from their time together below).

Things I learned from the book:

  • We are all creative. As an employee (or simply a human) you have the ability to be creative. You just need to be in the right environment with the right mentorship and believe in your abilities.
  • As a leader, you must manage your employees and yourself to the unknown. Loosen the control, take risks, accept the fact that you as a leader can be wrong.
  • Ed states in the book, “The view of our past is hardly clearer than our view of the future.The past should be our teacher, not our master.” Love this quote.
  • Some of the first questions Steve Jobs ever asked Ed Catmull included: “What do you want?” and “What are your long-term goals?” As a leader, you need to find out what is important to those you are leading.
  • You must create a “safe environment” which allows employees to feel comfortable to speak up and talk to anyone regardless of title. This is extremely important for all leaders because most tend to just manage up and forget about managing down. Ed realized quickly that the latter was possibly even more important.
  • Every company has problems and the cost of not finding the problem is much more than the cost of fixing them once they happen.
  • Hire people who you believe you could work for one day and that you believe are smarter than you. So many people do not follow this advice. I truly believe most leaders are intimidated or scared to hire someone who threatens their intelligence or job because they may have a higher ceiling.
  • As Ed learned from George Lucas, you must follow the process, but do not lose sight of the end goal. Employees will come and go, but keep moving forward even if you do not know where you are headed.
  • All teams and employees matter. If one team or one employee fails to achieve their goal, then we all fail. You must have a mentality and culture that lets everyone know that what they do is vital to the company’s success.
  • As a leader, you must learn to see problems before they happen, which is very difficult. Your employees typically know or see the problems before you. It’s simple. Just ask them, because typically they are too afraid to tell you.
  • A culture that is innovative and achieves their end goal is able to meet “unexpected problems with unexpected responses”.

Other things I learned:

Ask the right questions, and focus on what you value as a company

Ed explains how he got advice from Silicon Valley experts about how to price Pixar’s first imaging computer. Their advice was to price high to start, and if necessary you can always lower it. He quickly learned that was a mistake. He took advice without asking questions.
Pixar gained the reputation of being powerful but too expensive. Because of this, their sales got off to a slow start. He realized he failed to ask the right questions, and should have been focused on what he and the company valued. Meeting the expectations of customers and investing in software development so customers could get more value in their product were their priorities.

Focus more on the end result than the actual process

Making the process cheaper and trying to perfect it is OK, but that cannot be the goal. The goal is to get to your end result. Ed explains that he sees so many companies focused on fixing and streamlining the “process” which leads to groups thinking they are doing the right things. But it ultimately limits communications between teams and blinds you from what the real problem is. This leads to teams becoming distracted from the end goal. This is a mindset I believe everyone should possess. A team or company needs to have one specific end goal, and everyone then needs to be aligned with that goal. You must set the end goal prior to setting short-term goals. This is so simple, yet so many companies and teams fail to understand this. The process will look like a roller coaster and that is ok. Hitting the end goal is all that matters.

Change is Good

Successful companies and people tend to view any change as a threat to the company culture or way things work. It is easier for people to hold onto processes and things that work and just stick to what they know. The ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ model to some is the winning model, and shockingly most companies fall into this trap. Most people don’t want to hear that no matter what you do things change. The key to a successful company or even an individual reaching the end goal is by changing and evolving. If we try to tighten our control over what we already know and choose not to change, then we impede our creativeness. And just a side note, Ed discusses the person who changed his mind the most of out of anyone he knew… Steve Jobs.

Trust your employees at all levels to find solutions

Big and small problems should be treated the same, and you should create a response structure that matches the problem structure. In a creative and innovative environment, people are allowed to solve problems with no permissions and we are OK with people making mistakes. The person or team can then solve the problem, and it allows the company to catch a problem early on. Don’t wait to get approval or the problem could destroy your business.

Leadership and life lesson from someone who worked side by side with Steve Jobs

As I mentioned, Ed had the unique experience to work with Steve Jobs. After working so closely with Steve, he shares his definition of the world people believe Steve Jobs lived in which they call the “Reality Distortion Field”. Here is Ed’s definition after his time with Steve:
“It stems from my belief that our decisions and actions have consequences and that those consequences shape our future. Our actions change our reality. Our intentions matter. Most people believe that their actions have consequences but don’t think through the implications of that belief. But Steve did. He believed, as I do, that it is precisely by acting on our intentions and staying true to our values that we change the world.”
To me, it seems as if Steve Jobs was just human, and he lived in the same world we lived in. He just did something really well and he believed in his abilities. He didn’t stop. He kept going and he reached his end result. He changed the world.

How has this book impacted me?

From a leadership standpoint, my number 1 goal is to strive to help my reps become not just better salespeople but better individuals. The idea of focusing on the unknown is exactly how you can do that, and Ed lays out very simple practices that you can follow to help create this environment where people can reach their full potential.
As an Individual, one of my core values is to learn every day and learning from other people on how they achieved their potential is easily the best way to learn. This book specifically was helpful because it solidified some of the leadership ideas and personal values that I am so passionate about. After reading a book like this, it shows me how simple life is at its core and how people like Ed Catmull became successful doing things that you and I can do. As long as I focus on trying to learn every day and have a laser focus on my end goal, nothing can stop me.
Now, Wake Up! It’s Day One. Time to lead your team and yourself into the unknown. And purchase the book here: Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Wake Up! It’s Book Review Monday – Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Outside of my mentors and defining moments, books have accelerated my learning both professionally and personally and I truly believe that reading is the single most important thing you can do to better yourself.  In light of this, on Mondays, I will be reviewing a book that has impacted me.

Today’s book is Linchpin: Are you Indispensable? by Seth Godin.

In my last post, I discussed the idea of how you can reinvent your life and the idea of success. This book has helped me solidify these thoughts and has become one of my top ten favorites. It can help further explain my thought process and help paint a clearer picture of how important it is that you write your own rules.

“My goal is to persuade you that there is an opportunity available to you, a chance to significantly change your life for the better. Not by doing something that is easy or that you have been trained to do, but by understanding how the rules of our world have fundamentally changed and by taking advantage of this moment to become someone the world believes is indispensable.” – Seth Godin

Brief summary of LinchPin: Are you Indispensable?

Seth Godin discusses the idea of how the world has significantly changed, and how in the past it paid to follow the rules. He explains that there have always been two teams: Management and Labor, but now there is a third team: Linchpins. Linchpins are the type of people who make their own map and don’t follow the guidelines of corporate America that have been set in stone for hundreds of years. He shares ideas and stories about how you too can do this and once you do, reaching your potential will never be easier. And Seth makes it clear that it starts with YOU and YOUR CHOICES.

Things I learned from the book:

  • The world has evolved, and it will only continue to evolve. If you keep complying with the system, you will fail to achieve your potential. If you want to reach your goals, you must create your own map.
  • The world is changing because of innovation. The first people to fail are the map-followers, non-risk takers, the fearful and scared to be different. Those type of people gets lost in the fast pace world we live in. It is unfortunate because they were told to “follow the system” and over time it has failed them.
  • Innovative employees are typically the most successful. As a manager, at times I feel like I need to control every situation, and that is unnecessary. Let your employees think for themselves.
  • We have a choice every single day. You can choose to be great, learn, and contribute or you can follow the process and do what others tell you to do. I will take the former.
  • People don’t take a risk because they are afraid. Schools (not all, but most) created a fear like environment. Pass or Fail. We were rarely taught “It’s ok to fail. Get back up. Just give maximum effort.”
  • It’s OK to be unique. You have a purpose. You have your own thoughts and views. Share them with the world. Don’t be scared. If you don’t it will be challenging to reach your goals.
  • Life is about choice: Are you going to choose to be part of the machine or are you going to pave your own way?

Other things I learned from this book:

Seth explains that when you become a linchpin, you strengthen your abilities in these 7 areas:

  1. Provide a unique interface between members of the organization
  2. Deliver unique creativity
  3. Manage a situation or organization of great complexity
  4. Lead customers
  5. Inspire staff
  6. Provide deep domain knowledge
  7. Possess a unique talent

Where does average come from?

  1. You were brainwashed by a school (not all, but a majority) and by the system into believing that your job is to do your job. You have to follow the rules and instructions.
  2. We all have a little voice inside our heads that’s angry and scared. That voice is what Seth refers to as the “resistance” (your lizard brain) and it wants you to play it safe and be average.

The law of linchpin leverage

People who we view as “ultra-successful” or “brilliant” are only truly this way for short bursts. The rest of the time they are doing work that anyone could do. The difference is that for 1 minute or 5 minutes they think differently about how they can contribute and create value in this world. At your job, take a second to think about how you could do it better or create more value because that is what Linchpins do. The ones who do not choose to think this way become replaceable.

We live in a fear driven culture

The “system” prohibits you from being innovative and standing out. We have created a sense of fear in the world that employees cannot share their thoughts and opinions because they must follow the rules. We must break down the walls and barriers to innovation. We all have ideas. Whether they are right or not shouldn’t prohibit someone from speaking up about it. Because we are afraid to take a risk and create our own map, we tend to say things like this:

    • “I don’t have any good ideas”
    • “I don’t know what to do”
    • “I didn’t graduate from (insert brand of some prestigious educational institution here)” –  I LOVE WHEN I HEAR THIS. WHO CARES WHERE YOU WENT TO SCHOOL. IT’S NOT WHERE YOU WENT, IT’S WHAT YOU DO.
    • “My boss won’t let me”
    • “Well, that’s fine for you, but my gender, race, health, religion, nationality, shoe size, handicap, or DNA don’t make it easy”

There is NO map

This is simple. As I mentioned in my last post, everything is invented. We are all human. We all have a purpose. We all have a voice. We are all powerful. If you believe in something, go DO IT. Nobody is in control of you except for yourself.

How has this book impacted me?

As a young kid, I always remember thinking and asking myself “why this”, “why that”. I have always been a curious person, and I have always wanted to be unique and different. This book reassured me that it is OK to want to be that way. It is what makes me a human and not a cog in a machine.

Seth also opened my mind up to the ideas of “choice” and “innovation”. He made it OK and furthermore necessary to challenge the status quo if you are going to reach your potential. He also shares two stories that I actually printed out and laminated for my sales team. I have all my new hires read it, and if you have or still do work for me, you know the story of “Richard and Steve”. I will shortly be sharing a post with those stories. But for now, I can say that we are always given a choice and the people who choose to create their own map end up finding their potential.

Now, Wake Up! It’s Day One. Time to create your own map, and become indispensable. Purchase Seth’s book here: Buy the book here! and I highly recommend you subscribe to his blog: Click here to view his blog and subscribe!

 

We All Have A Purpose

Hi! My name is Jeff Brandwein and this is my first official blog post. Today, I want to share with you two things: who I am and why I created this site.
My official Day One began in Chicago on March 15, 1987. Fast forward 30 years and I am currently a Sales Manager at a software company by day and a suburban dad by night.
So, basically what I am saying is….I am just like you. I mow my lawn, I change my son’s diapers, and I pack my lunch for work. And above all, you and I are human.
We fail. We fear things. We have tough moments. We doubt ourselves. BUT yet, we are powerful. We have a voice. We have dreams. We have hope. For some, it’s hard to believe. To me, it’s just a mindset. Life at its core is actually pretty straightforward. The challenge is trying not to over complicate it.
One of the things that fascinates me the most is that as much as we have in common, we are all unique. And I firmly believe that what makes you unique is your mindset.
Your mindset is where your purpose lives; your purpose is what drives you, it’s what wakes you up every single day. Some find it early in life, some search their whole lives and never find it, and some simply give up. It’s hard, I know. But trust me. We all have a purpose, whether you believe it or not.
For me, it has been quite the journey. There has been a lot of failing and subsequently a lot of learning, but I have never given up. Through all of these life lessons, I can proudly say I finally figured out why I am here.

My Purpose: To help others realize and achieve their potential

How did I find it? Well, it is a long story (more on that later). For now, I will tell you this: think of your purpose as a massive puzzle. It takes time, it’s confusing, it makes you think, you will need others to help, and you will fail more times than you succeed trying to put all the pieces together. BUT you can solve it. When you do, it will lead you to your potential.
With my newly found purpose, I built this site. I want to share with you all the different avenues I used to help me, and I have three simple goals to help you along your journey.

  1. Share content and methods from articles, books, and people who have accomplished their dreams and reached their potential.
  2. Share my own thoughts on life, my learnings from the books I read, and of course, recommend books that have helped me on my journey.
  3. Most importantly, it is my hope that at least one person can reach their potential, find their purpose, or become a better person because of content shared here. That’s it. Just one.

Now, WAKE UP! It’s Day one.