The Secret Weapon Behind Pixar's Success

The Pixar Phenomenon: How the "Brain Trust" system changed how creative teams worked together across the entire industry

Welcome to the Elite Team Talks newsletter, where we reveal the strategies and blueprints of the world's most successful teams 🏆

"The most important words a leader can say are: I screwed up."

Dave Cooper, Navy Seal Team 6 Commander Master Chief

In this edition of Elite Team Talks:

  • One quick win: how 30 seconds of reflection will save hours of conversation

  • One proven system: The system Pixar use to create blockbuster after blockbuster

  • One to watch: How this NBA star uses the power of the mind to snap back into form

  • One for you: The “Power Down Ritual” that is essential to “be present” at home

  • One million-dollar question: Who is one person you admire?

  • Ones we recommend: The paradox that defines the best companies to work for in 2024

1. THE ONE CHANGE THAT WILL TRANSFORM YOUR TEAM COMMUNICATION 🗣️

As human beings, we all see the world differently.

Everyone has their own opinions, biases, assumptions, views, and ideas about life and the world around them.

This makes it very easy for virtual messages to be misinterpreted.

Most work situations can be filled with incomplete or unclear information (e.g. what another person or client might be thinking or feeling), so we tend to fill in the gaps with our own interpretations.

Try this one hack from Tiago Forte to improve your team communication 👇

Add this to your leadership toolbox to get faster, better, clearer responses back from your team.

Here are 3x tools to take this to the next level:

  1. ChatGPT can be a great tool to help you brainstorm what the other person might be thinking

  2. 16 Personalities Test (free) can analyse your team and their preferences and help you understand how best to communicate to each type

  3. The DISC Assessment can provide a common language that your team can use to understand themselves and others

2. THE SECRET SYSTEM BEHIND PIXAR’S SUCCESS

Pixar's Brain Trust was one of the pioneering creations by then-CEO Ed Catmull.

It unlocked innovation by breaking down silos and creating an environment of cross-department support.

The approach is also very useful for garnering candid feedback on projects rather than the natural groupthink that occurs within close teams.

Here's a practical guide on how to create your own Brain Trust:

1) Define The Purpose

What goals do you hope to achieve with their input?

This could range from strategic business decisions, creative projects, personal development, or solving specific challenges.

A clear purpose will help you identify the right members for your Brain Trust.

2) Identify Potential Members

Look for individuals who:

  • Bring diverse perspectives and expertise relevant to your purpose.

  • Have a track record of constructive feedback and open, honest communication.

  • Are interested in mutual growth and learning, not just in giving advice.

  • Can commit to participating actively and respectful.

Members could be from your professional network, industry peers, various departments within your company, mentors, or even individuals from completely different fields to ensure a diversity of thought.

3) Set Ground Rules

Establish clear expectations and ground rules for how your Brain Trust will operate. This might include:

  • How often you will meet (bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly)

  • The format of meetings (in-person, virtual)

  • Confidentiality agreements to ensure a safe space for sharing.

  • An agreement on constructive, candid feedback focused on ideas, not individuals.

This team should have the freedom to offer honest, constructive feedback on projects without the authority to mandate changes.

The success of a Brain Trust relies on trust and the willingness to be vulnerable.

Encourage members to share not just their successes but also their failures and uncertainties.

4) Go Live

The goal is to facilitate open discussions that drive innovative, outside-the-box solutions. Follow these steps for successful implementation:

  • Introduce the purpose and expectations of the Brain Trust in the first meeting.

  • Allow members to introduce themselves and their backgrounds.

  • Present a specific issue or project for discussion.

  • Follow up on how the advice was implemented and its outcomes.

Acting on the feedback not only shows respect for the members' contributions but also encourages ongoing engagement and investment in the group's success.

3. THE ATHLETE MINDSET: HOW TO BOUNCE BACK BETTER

We’ve all experienced big losses or things not going our way.

It is easy to get into a funk.

This clip from Steph Curry was a brilliant reminder of how powerful your mind can be when you enter into those negative situations.

He missed more free throws than he had ever done before in a game.

But then he stepped up to take the next one and had the biggest smile on his face.

When questioned on this post-game, his answer was brilliant:

“Don’t overthink it, enjoy the moment, smile with intention and make sure you stay in the present.”

Your attitude alone can manifest your outcome.

Here are the 4x methods to quickly short-circuit a funk like Curry:

  1. Physical: Scientific research has proven the notion that we are happy because we smile... not that we smile because we are happy. Smiling causes biofeedback that affects emotions and behaviour. Force that smile and let the body work its magic!

  2. Emotional: Listen to inspiring or upbeat music, write down what’s on your mind to declutter your thoughts or review your goals/dreams (never your to-do-list)

  3. Social: Go to a location where people are having fun (salsa dancing, festivals etc) or call an old friend that you wouldn’t normally speak to in your week.

  4. Mental: Riddles, crosswords, Sodoku or even writing books/music are all great methods to short-circuit funks because they keep us occupied long enough that the funk subsides.

4. THIS “POWER DOWN RITUAL” WILL HELP YOU BE MORE PRESENT AT HOME

This scenario may seem all too familiar…

You’ve finished a long day at work, eaten dinner and you check your email to make sure there’s nothing urgent. An email from an unhappy client is there waiting for you which triggers a stress response and you find yourself working for the remainder of the evening.

It’s more than likely that you will have messaged several teammates to alert them of the issue and put a plan in place for the next day.

So it is no surprise that 79% of us struggle to switch off at bedtime and be present for our families.

The “Power Down Ritual” from Cal Newport is a game-changer for this 👇

This ritual is particularly useful for leaders and professionals who often find it hard to switch off from work mode and relax.

It is a nighttime routine with a fixed set of actions and behaviours designed to help you transition from the high-energy demands of your day into a restful, rejuvenating sleep.

While there are many versions of this ritual, a common framework involves these key steps:

  1. Work Wind Down: Check email, slack, and any open projects to confirm nothing is remaining for you to complete.

  2. Plan For Tomorrow: Spend a few minutes reflecting on the day’s achievements and challenges, then make a brief plan for tomorrow. This can include setting priorities and to-dos. (Little hack: implement the “eat-the-frog” method to plan out your diary)

  3. Detox Digitally: Begin by disconnecting from all electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime. Set the example for your team by establishing clear boundaries around your availability after hours as it will encourage a culture of respect for personal time among your team members by not sending emails or messages during late hours, unless it’s an emergency.

  4. Initiate Shutdown: Close down all applications and shut down your computer (no sleep mode allowed) This is so you don’t get an urge to quickly flick the laptop screen open one more time.

  5. Create a Relaxation Habit: Instead of looking at a screen, read a book, start a gratitude journal or engage in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or gentle stretching. Whichever option you choose, it will shift your focus away from stressors and towards positivity, improving your overall well-being.

Naturally, when you first implement this routine, you will worry that you are missing something after you initiate the power down.

Start small. One evening per week. Reflect on if you actually missed anything.

When we implemented this, it made us realise there is very little in life that is truly urgent.

If you are a leader with significant influence and a busy schedule, you might find these practices not only beneficial for your health and productivity but also as powerful tools for shaping a healthy, balanced work culture.

Try it tonight and let us know how it goes 🤝

5. WHO IS ONE PERSON YOU ADMIRE? 🤔

We often admire people who display the attributes we would like to see in ourselves.

Study this person.

Pinpoint exactly what you admire about them.

Is it their creative process, their leadership style, their problem-solving approach, or their personal ethics?

Then break down the underlying principles or techniques behind their success. For example, if you admire a writer, look at their storytelling structure, character development, or thematic explorations.

Personalise their techniques, principles, or strategies to your context.

This clip from Kobe Bryant talking about what he added to his game from Michael Jordan speaks volumes:

“My generation grew up watching Michael play and saw a lot of the fancy highlights… but what I focused on was his footwork, his spacing, his timing, his fundamentals of the game.”

It's not about copying but translating their essence into something that works for you.

Remember, the goal is not to become a second version of someone else but to use the insights gained from your idols as a catalyst for your personal and professional development.

The most authentic and successful ideas come from blending inspiration with your own unique perspective and strengths.

6. LINKS OF THE WEEK 🔗

🤝 3x keys of persuasion, according to Nobel Prize-Winning Psychologist Daniel Kahnman (LINK)

🏆 5x tenets of leadership to drive business success from Uconn coach Geno Auriemma (LINK)

💡 “Gen Z doesn’t live to work. They work to live”: The paradox that defines the best companies to work for in 2024 (LINK)

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