Pixar’s Ed Catmull: It was the changed Steve Jobs that made Apple great

Michal Lev-Ram reports for Fortune, “For our recent cover story on Disney, I sat down with Ed Catmull at Pixar headquarters. Here is an edited excerpt from our conversation in October, which ranged from Pixar’s rocky beginnings to Disney’s use of technology to the late Jobs.”

A snippet:

The thing that the general public has missed is that there is a perception of ‘bad boy Steve’ when he was younger and that that behavior led to this giant success at Apple. But while Pixar was going through its rocky beginnings, the reality is that Steve was learning and changing dramatically. About 15 years ago he figured out things and we saw the change in the person. He became very empathetic and changed the way he worked with people. And after that point everybody that was with Steve stayed with him for the rest of his life. It was the changed Steve that made Apple great, not that guy. It’s like the classic hero’s journey, except people didn’t know that.

Read more in the full article here.

8 Comments

  1. In Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull’s book about Pixar, successful collaboration turned out to depend on invisible things, like getting rid of the long tables in meetings, linear seating arrangements that imposed a subtle ranking system that tended to discourage the more distant from speaking up. Going to round tables defeated that unconscious bias, and a similar awareness of spatial access and communication underpinned Steve Jobs’ thinking in helping design the circular Apple Campus 2.

    1. Thank you for sharing that insight. I only recently discovered the “magic” of round tables. It completely changes the dynamic in office meetings. And it also works at home where the dining room table is more communal, and everyone can see and talk easily to everyone else. Nothing makes a guest more comfortable than being part of a circle, rather than being seated in a rectangle table.

  2. And that is exactly what made Jobs’ Biography (and biographer) so horrible. He never actually learned anything about Steve, he just read and revised stuff from blogs and news releases. Not one iota of perception or insight into this change – or the hows and whys of it – even with Steve’s permission to talk to anyone he wanted.

  3. ‘Ed, more than anyone else, was able to really create a culture that views the best of both of those, and where each one was on the same level, where there weren’t second-class citizens. John, of course, is a force of nature that a lot of people know about. Ed is one of the real killers at Pixar that fewer people know about, but he’s awesome.’

    ‘Steve Jobs Bio: The Unauthorized Autobiography.’

  4. I forget which Pixar book I read, but it was a bit shocking early on what they had to do at Pixar to deal with Jobs’ management style. First, they basically hid the movie projects and called it marketing videos, since Jobs wanted Pixar to be a hardware company. Then, since he would always shoot down the first idea they brought to him, they would throw out a lame idea first, and keep the good requests for the second round. Third, it was so risky putting his own money into the failing hardware Pixar that he was selling it to literally anyone for almost any price, with no on willing to buy it.

    It was only when he saw the first version of toy story that it clicked for him, created the IPO and made a billion. Well worth it for the insane risk he took, but it seemed like a crazy company early on.

    Later accounts of the company were much kinder about the history, but wow.

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