A New Twist on an Old Story


For years Disney had the market cornered on cartoon films based on traditional fairy tales. And they were very good at it. But after a time, this turned into a model that they overly subscribed to and it became a little tired. It got a bit too comfy, and out of date.

Then once upon a time came Pixar. Led by Jobs, this motley crew of a company focused on computer-generated 3D films and they took the animated genre onto another level. Their commitment to originality, their innovation, and their storytelling ability literally shone through and connected and related to people in new ways. The content was fresh and compelling and they commanded huge audiences enjoying massive success starting with Toy Story. They thought of their audience and found new ways to connect and inspire.

It is fair to say that stories do follow a pattern. And so too did Pixar’s, but they still were able to create original work by looking at things differently. And it started with their team. Their leader, Brad Bird himself was ex-Disney. In fact, he himself was sacked from the company due to a failure.

But Jobs and the Pixar team saw something in him. He looked at things differently, and he was prepared to try new things. While at Pixar, he built a team of what he called ‘misfits’. The disgruntled ones. Discontented with the status quo. Who, like him, saw things differently and felt that they could do better. He assembled this team, and the inspiring work that followed is now famous as we clearly recognise the familiar cast of characters they’ve created.

A host of technical innovation ensued as well, enabled by his leadership. Bird tried new things such as bringing together the artists with the techies - previously siloed in different parts of the business, together, they solved the previously considered impossible CG feat of being able to create 3D flowing hair, a key element of one of the Incredibles characters, Violet. This refusal to compromise really allowed their work to stand out and break new boundaries.

What Bird also found with the Misfits is they become super motivated when they’re belittled. Or judged. When they felt like the underdogs. Even more motivating is when their success is considered impossible by people they would regard as of least qualified to make any judgment at all. The fact they were considered by mainstream curmudgeons as ‘most likely to fail’ supercharged their determination to stick the proverbial finger up at the naysayers!

This, he found, created unity of purpose and energy to prove all the naysayers wrong. And it worked.

Pixar now is a household name, and this is not least in part to a different way of thinking. It proves a new spin can be incredibly effective even when applied to the oldest method of communication. Storytelling.

To be honest, this blog is inspired by Adam Grant who is a great writer and presenter. If you’re interested then do check this out in his Work/Life TED Podcast.