Business Columns & Blogs

Why “necessary honesty” and daily showings matter to people in organizations

Nancy Napier considers two techniques that Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation Studios, says his company uses to do its best work. A scene from “Inside Out” showing, from left, Anger(voiced by Lewis Black), Joy (Amy Poehler) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling).
Nancy Napier considers two techniques that Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation Studios, says his company uses to do its best work. A scene from “Inside Out” showing, from left, Anger(voiced by Lewis Black), Joy (Amy Poehler) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Provided by Pixar

I recently saw a clip of a speech given by Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation Studios, about why the firm has been so successful. He mentioned mixing artists and techies and removing any sense of status or compensation differential. He also mentioned “necessary honesty” and “showing material” every day.

Necessary honesty

When team members have a problem with the way a project is going, or if disagreement starts to bubble, the members involved agree to talk about it in ways that are completely honest.

They are not brutal or mean-spirited. They try to be direct and wrestle with the problem in an open way.

As Catmull calls it, this “necessary” honesty allows members to raise questions and discuss obstacles before they become big or are tucked away, with some people hoping they will go away.

It strikes me that necessary honesty works — or should work — not only on a team of peers, but also within an organization’s day-to-day hierarchy. People positioned vertically within an organization need to hear frank discussion, truthful feedback and sincere opinions. People in the informal power pockets also need to know what candid thoughts, ideas, and disagreements might be simmering. To miss or ignore the necessary honesty makes for likely missteps, unintended consequences or worse.

Showing material daily

Likewise, Pixar’s teams “show material every day.” This means that whatever a designer or writer is working on comes before the whole group each day, no matter how unfinished.

Such a move requires people to drop the need to be perfect, because no one can create their best product in a day (usually). That allows others to give feedback and for all to feel that a work is in progress and can be changed or improved.

As the team moves along together, reviewing what its members have done (and improved upon) every day, the product becomes more refined and finished by the time the team reaches a deadline.

How about your organization? How could you incorporate “necessary honesty” and “showing new material every day?”

Nancy Napier is distinguished professor, Boise State University, nnapier@boisestate.edu.

  Comments