To Pixar and Beyond
I understood that Steve was funding Pixar, but I hadn’t expected it to be in the form of a personal check each month.
Normally an investor puts in enough money to last six months, a year, or even more. Going to an investor every month for money was unusual, and probably not much fun, judging from my knowledge of investors in companies that were running out of cash.
I wanted to move forward, to find a toehold somewhere. But I was having a hard time doing so. It felt like I was meandering around the base of the mountain instead of actually climbing it.
“So when film production is quiet, we basically do more research and development so that our future films are better?” said Steve.
Why hadn’t IBM, which led the computing world for decades, or Xerox, which invented the graphical user interface, not themselves become Microsoft and Apple? Years earlier, why hadn’t the railroads become airlines? More important to my present task, today, why wouldn’t Disney become Pixar? If Pixar succeeded at all, wouldn’t Disney, the king of the animation hill for more than two generations, want to claim computer animation for itself? The answer was that it definitely would. What would stop it? The answer, I believed, had to do with one thing: culture.
Culture is the invisible force on which innovation depends.
How could we make sure that Pixar kept its creative edge? We couldn’t call a meeting, trot out a whiteboard, and write across the top: MAKE A BLOCKBUSTER. It was like trying to clone Mozart.
“The more often we release films, the more risk we take with creative quality. The less often, the more risk we take with Pixar’s financial viability.”
Creative mistakes can be very expensive to fix. If there is a significant change to the story or to one of the main characters deep into the production process, the change ripples through every aspect of the film.
Leverage is an assessment of bargaining strength; negotiation is how you put that bargaining strength to work for you.
Steve liked to cite the adage “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
When you added it up, there were many aspects of Pixar that had a big influence on Steve: becoming a billionaire, experiencing a stellar comeback in the eyes of the public, learning the ins and outs of the entertainment industry, enjoying a transformed relationship with Pixar, and bringing both business and creative imperatives into harmony.
The laws of physics suggest we cannot go in one direction forever. Sooner or later, something will slow us down. Whether it be stocks, housing prices, economies, or entire civilizations, even the biggest booms stall.
It is easy to lose ourselves in corporate imperatives, to feel we are beholden to forces that might not be aligned with our personal aspirations and priorities, or with how we wish to give expression to our lives.