“Hold lightly to goals and firmly to intentions.” – Pixar co-founder, Ed Cattail
“Pixar magic,” is a phrase film critics frequently employ to describe the studio’s impressive track record of box office success–all 14 of its movies have debuted in the top spot at the box office.
The keys to Pixar’s Succcess:
- Pixar’s success is the product of a deliberate attitude toward creativity and failure.
- How do you make it safe for people to say what they think or that it’s safe for them to make mistakes/fail?
- The answer: “Reframe the concept of failure. When you start something new, you will make mistakes, and if you don’t make mistakes you’re either copying yourself or copying someone else.”
- Each failed concept brings the ultimate creation closer!
- Each idea led them a bit closer to finding the better option.
- This is key: when experimentation is seen as necessary and productive, not as a frustrating waste of time, people will enjoy their work, even when it is confounding them.”
Key Lessons from Pixar for School Leaders
- Whether implementing new college- and career-ready standards, introducing new technology, integrating literacy into content areas, implementing new teacher evaluation systems, or employing new performance assessments, all require significant learning and experimentation.
- Problem: The fear of taking risks and failing and the ensuing reprisals which may follow keeps many of our staff members from trying new things and taking risks.
- School leaders must create a school culture in which it is okay to make a mistake. I was quoted in one publication “Treat your school as a laboratory. Don’t be afraid of doing something different. If it doesn’t work, go to something else.”
The following is an excerpt from my colleague, Stuart Singer’s book The Algebra Miracle, on the kind of school culture we created:
“I have two daughters who go to this school and I am thrilled that they do. This faculty approaches education like a laboratory experiment. They try out a hypothesis and then collect the data. If it works, they study it more and try to find ways to make it work better. If it doesn‘t, they try to find out why it failed and either remove it or repair it. It is a never-ending process of evaluation and reevaluation, just as you would if you were trying to perfect any product in a lab.”
- But how do we do that? Follow Pixar’s lead and “reframe” the concept of failure.
- “Reframing” (a “shift in a person’s mental perspective”) is an important skill for school leaders engaging their staffs in both short- and long-term change initiatives. For example, if teachers believe that literacy is not their responsibility, that they do not have time to teach literacy skills, and that literacy is the job of reading teachers, simply teaching teachers how to use a “close reading” strategy, is doomed to failure unless we can reframe or change our teachers’ mental perspective (mindset) about the need to integrate literacy into their content area. As Simon Sinek advises Start With Why.
- Compliance Does Not Equal Cooperation – Experience has taught me that without that “shift in perspective” or change in mindset teachers will temporarily comply, but, in the long-run, they will abandon the practice. In other words, a big part of implementing any initiative is aligning existing mindsets to fit the new initiative.
- Failure is a concept that must be “reframed” if we want to change mindsets and expectations of teachers in relation to assessment and grading as well as the larger issue of student success and failure. Here are some examples of “reframing” failure:
o There is no failure, only feedback!
o If you are not failing (making mistakes) you are not learning.
o As long as you are learning, you are succeeding!
o The only way to fail in this school is to stop trying, to quit.
o Failure is permanent. Mistakes are temporary.
o We learn from mistakes.
o Each failure only brings us closer to a solution.
o “If you don’t make mistakes you’re either copying yourself or copying someone else.”
o People who learn from mistakes learn faster.
o Feedback is the breakfast of champions!
o Our school is like a laboratory!
Create a Culture That Protects the New
At Pixar, Catmull emphasizes “we are willing to adjust our goals as we learn, striving to get it right, not necessarily to get it right the first time. Because that, to my mind, is the only way to establish something else that is essential to creativity: a culture that protects the new.”
In our school, students would say, “in this school it is hard to fail, because the teachers never give up on you. They won’t let you fail!” I would not hesitate to choose a school whose staff had a growth mindset over a school with a highly-qualified teaching staff.