I love Pixar. Let’s be honest, we all love Pixar. They made a movie about a trash compactor robot that invokes more feeling and empathy than most humans I’ve watched on screen. I’m not even going to talk about the first ten minutes of “Up”. Every time a new Pixar movie comes out I wonder how they can do it again. And every time they deliver. They don’t just recreate the magic, they create it anew.
Now you could assume that their seemingly unending success has been born of sheer talent. And they certainly don’t lack in that. Helmed by the genius of John Lasseter and Ed Catmull, Pixar employs a horde of the best in the animation business. But their brilliance lies not just in their ability to tell stories or their vision in regards to the technological future of their industry but in the creation of an environment that deems excellence as the ultimate goal.
I say that it is the ultimate goal because excellence is not a happening, but a process. The people of Pixar are the first to admit that their movies do not start out as masterpieces. They start as an idea, rough and partially formed, that little by little is transformed into the works that we love. This road to excellence requires the willingness to fall on your face and the resilience to get back up and correct the mistake. It requires a constant vigilance in shaking off complacency in the face of success. And when you’ve done everything right, it means going back and figuring out how to do it even better.
When I read about what Pixar has done I find a lot of parallels between their company and our USA program. We’re both trying to be the best in the world at something. But it’s not just about being better than the opponents or winning each game; we want to play the game better than it’s ever been played. To do that, we have to commit to that process of excellence. We know that there is no greatness without failure so we embrace it. We know that the comfort zone is a dangerous place to be so we consciously leave it. And that commitment is program- (or company) wide. It only works when each member buys in and takes ownership of the idea that we are about something bigger than any one of us.
Whatever I end up doing in my life, these are the kind of environments I want to be a part of. These are the kinds of people I want to surround myself with—people who are striving for excellence in whatever they do. Because it’s with that energy and passion and intent that we actively shape our world. Even if it’s in the form of an animated trash compactor just looking for love…
(I’d recommend both the documentary The Pixar Story and Catmull’s book Creativity, Inc for a behind the scenes look into the magic of Pixar. And if you haven’t seen Inside Out, go now)