Pixar’s analytical approach to creativity

Pixar's analytical approach to creativity
5. General

Pixar’s analytical approach to creativity

Welcome to the twenty-seventh edition of ‘3-2-1 by Story Rules‘.

A newsletter recommending good examples of storytelling across:

  • 3 tweets
  • 2 articles, and
  • 1 long-form content piece

Let’s dive in.

🐦 3 Tweets of the week

Such a cool way of showing where the world’s population is growing.

Old but fascinating conversation where Jerry Seinfeld openly admits that he looks for “material” every second of his life – even when at home with family.

While the reason for the fall in other languages is fascinating, what struck me was the lone holdout: Korean. Perhaps due to the impact of K-Pop, K-Film and K-Dramas?

📄 2 Articles of the week

a. How did Flipkart convince Indians to buy online? by Adyasha Padhy And Dharmesh BA

In an in-depth conversation with Arindam Mukherjee (the former head of products at Flipkart), the interviewers delve into some of the product innovations that Flipkart pioneered during the 2010s. (It’s a good followup to the earlier podcast conversation I had reviewed between Binny Bansal and Balaji Srinivasan).

The sharp-as-ever Sajith Pai spotted this stunning statistic in the conversation (emphasis mine):

Flipkart also had an outbound process where they would call customers.​

Back then, I hadn’t seen many companies doing this at scale. Nowadays, many AdTech and similar companies rely on this model. On the Flipkart site, customers could enter their phone number and select the “call me back” option while browsing the product details page. Flipkart had an outbound customer support team that would call these customers and verify their inquiries. They would say something like, “Madam, did you see this green clutch? How can I assist you?” This personal interaction helped build trust because customers were being called back and speaking with a human rather than just interacting with the website. This approach was a significant trust-building factor, especially when expanding beyond books to higher-priced items.​

At one point, this entire customer support unit contributed about 1/5th of Flipkart’s overall Gross Merchandise Value (GMV). Eventually, we had to shut down that team due to scaling challenges, but I believe it was a crucial aspect.

The conversation is a good source of ideas for how to build trust in a nascent marketplace.

b. Why China’s economy won’t be fixed by The Economist

The Economist is notorious for getting its alarmist predictions wrong, but this article makes for compelling reading.

Mounting policy failures therefore look less like a new, self-sacrificing focus on national security, than plain bad decision-making. They have coincided with Mr Xi’s centralisation of power and his replacement of technocrats with loyalists in top jobs. China used to tolerate debate about its economy, but today it cajoles analysts into fake optimism. Recently it has stopped publishing unflattering data on youth unemployment and consumer confidence. The top ranks of government still contain plenty of talent, but it is naive to expect a bureaucracy to produce rational analysis or inventive ideas when the message from the top is that loyalty matters above all. Instead, decisions are increasingly governed by an ideology that fuses a left-wing suspicion of rich entrepreneurs with a right-wing reluctance to hand money to the idle poor.

🎤 1 long-form listen of the week

a. How Pixar’s Ed Catmull and Pete Docter make magic on and off screen

Pete Docter has made two of my favourite animation movies – ‘Inside Out’ and ‘Up’.

In this fascinating conversation, he and Pixar founder Ed Catmull speak with Adam Grant on what makes the world’s most successful animation studio tick.

You might think it would be all about creativity and imagination. But I was struck by how often Pete talks about analytically solving story problems!

Pete: Well, I like (that) you were talking from a scientific standpoint, the idea of solving problems one step at a time. It’s exactly the same in the creative end of things. I think people generally have this idea that, you know, there’s a genius like Walt Disney and he is just lying in bed, Dumbo! And he has the whole thing in his head and really it’s one step at a time. I have an idea about a Dumbo who maybe could fly with big ears. Well, where would he live? Well, maybe let’s try the circus. And having met the guy who came up with that story, it’s the same thing they did then as we’re doing now. It’s uh, it’s problem-solving, one step at a time.

Here’s one more:

Pete: There was another time that I think this may have been ‘Cars 2’ which came out, didn’t do so well. At any rate whether it was that or something, all of us felt like we have a major problem. And for a lot of us it was very dark, gloomy, like a sense of oppression and for Ed, he was almost buoyant. Like oh boy, a problem to solve. And I always thought okay, it must be that you sort of lead with a sense of curiosity for those kind of things. You’ve had a career as a creative scientist observing and affecting this whole experimental project but looking at it very analytically, getting in and stepping back and going how do we affect change in this?

Another interesting point: Feedback givers should just identify problems, not suggest solutions (emphasis mine):

Adam Grant: …oftentimes when people bring in dissenting voices or they invite a challenge, they think then that if they don’t listen to the feedback, they’re being defensive.
And what I always wanna remind people of is, listen, the reason it’s helpful to have that kind of sounding board is they have psychological distance. They can see problems that you can’t. But because of that distance, they often don’t know what the right solutions are to those problems. And so, the ‘brain trust’ is often more helpful at diagnosing a problem than at fixing it.

Pete Docter: That was certainly true of Disney early on. We always felt like we have the benefit of making a movie with Disney. So we’d fly down, we’d get great notes, and often they would offer up suggestions, and we’d be like, “Oh boy, that stinks.”, you know? But we would fly back and we could be like, “All right, how do we want to solve this?”.

If you like these highlights, you can access more such ‘snips’ from my note-taking of the episode.

That’s all from this week’s edition.

Photo by Max Cortez on Unsplash

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