On the Need for Honest Feedback

Pixar has rolled out box office hit after box office hit, including Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, and Brave—to name a few. What is their secret to success? Pixar’s CEO Ed Catmull focuses on one trait—a willingness to be brutally honest about mistakes and to constantly rework their projects. Catmull writes:

Candor could not be more crucial to our creative process. Why? Because early on, all of our movies suck. That’s a blunt assessment, I know, but I choose that phrasing because saying it in a softer way fails to convey how bad the first versions really are. I’m not trying to be modest or self-effacing. Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so—to go, as I say, “from suck to not-suck.”

Think about how easy it would be for a movie about talking toys to feel derivative, sappy, or overtly merchandise driven. Think about how off-putting a movie about rats preparing food could be, or how risky it must’ve seemed to start WALL-E with 39 dialogue-free minutes. We dare to attempt these stories, but we don’t get them right on the first pass. This is as it should be. Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback and the iterative process—reworking, reworking, and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its through line or a hollow character finds its soul.

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