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Pixar’s 3 Steps to Fostering a Creative Workplace

May 18, 2021

Over the past two decades, Pixar has established itself as a titan of animation and creativity. They consistently release revolutionary animated films like Toy Story, Cars, Ratatouille, and Wall-E. Their incredible innovation was no coincidence. Edwin Catmull, co-founder and president of Pixar systematically built their environment to not only be creative but to be consistently creative.

In this article, you will learn 3 key steps that helped Pixar cultivate its culture of creativity, and how you can incorporate them.

 1. Form a great team

“Even the smartest people can form an ineffective team if they are mismatched”- (Ed Catmull, Creativity Inc.)

Building a great team is not as simple as finding a group of talented individuals. The real key is the way they interact with each other. A great leader will hire a team whose strengths complement each others’ weaknesses. Diversity is also essential for any team, not only diversity of ethnicity and gender, but the diversity of experiences, culture, and thinking styles. Having a diverse team presents more perspectives and opportunities for new ideas. As a leader, it is sometimes tempting to hire people who think, and act similarly to yourself, but it is essential to have people who think differently from yourself as they will provide alternative viewpoints that are essential to creativity. Although it is crucial to have a varied team it is also important to share aligned team values and visions to ensure you are all working towards the same overarching goals.

 “Strength lies in our differences, not in our similarities.” (Stephen R. Covey, 7 habits of highly effective people)

How you can apply this when forming your team:

  • Consider how each individual’s strengths will complement your team
  • Recruit people with alternative viewpoints
  • Have defined and aligned visions and goals

 2. Create a peer culture

Traditional hierarchical structures prevent honest employee feedback, especially if it is directed at superiors. To create a peer culture everyone must have the freedom to communicate with anyone. This means that anyone and everyone’s ideas should be not only heard but encouraged. It must be safe for everyone to offer ideas without worry of judgement. Ed encouraged this at Pixar by personally visiting every employee individually, establishing trust and ensuring that they feel confident to speak to him with their opinions.

Having trust as a fundamental value was what allowed Ed and his company to be so creative.  He trusted his employees and gave them the freedom to think unconventionally. This creative freedom allowed the employees to develop personal accountability and attachment to their work and the feeling like they were contributing to the company’s drive for excellence. To truly receive the full potential of creativity from employees, you need to give them the freedom and opportunity to take accountability for their work.

How you can apply this to develop a peer culture:

  • Remove the separation between executives, leaders, and other employees
  • Form opportunities for frequent and casual conversations between your employees at all levels of seniority
  • Entrust your team with true responsibility and accountability

 3. Create the right physical space

Traditionally companies have separated their executives and managers from the rest of the employees. They have cubicles that encourage employees to do isolated, solo work. Not Pixar however. Catmull realized how crucial the right environment was to their creative performance and how outdated these hierarchical structures were. Catmull moved all his executive offices into the centre of each building and left the blinds up to encourage transparency. He removed nearly all of the cubicles and even tore out walls near the executive offices to put in snack and coffee bars encouraging interaction among the staff.

Catmull’s theory of the importance of the environment was correct. Not only was it demonstrated by the 16 academy award-winning films they’ve created, but it was also shown in a 1996 study from Harvard Business School highlighting that the vast difference between the work environments of the most creative projects and the least creative.  High-creativity projects tended to have “environments that were more intellectually challenging and offered sufficient resources, greater degrees of freedom, and much encouragement of innovative thinking “.

How you can apply this to your physical workplace:

  • Design a layout that provides collaborative spaces that are stimulating and dynamic
  • Plan opportunities for chance encounters between all types of employees to open communication lines
  • Make simple changes like removing assigned seating, and purchasing unique furniture and art


The creativity of your team consists of the overall environment that you develop. The people they work with, the culture that surrounds them, and the physical layout and design of the offices they work in are all factors that you can control as a leader to boost your team’s creativity and innovation. Click here for other great tips for leaders on how to help foster a culture of postivity.

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