Keep Your Crises Small
I mentioned Ed Catmull the other day in this post. Yesterday, in this post, I talked about Andrew Lo’s thoughts about planning for failure and containing it. So here’s Ed at Stanford Business School talking about the same thing. He’s talking about the history of Pixar and how they kept failures from becoming major disasters.
It’s an interesting talk. He emphasizes the importance of transparency. It was important that everyone in the company showed what they were working on early. That way mistakes were handled before they got too large.
He also uses the phrase “success hides problems”. That has some resonance with the recent financial crisis, doesn’t it? The problems were there during the boom, but nobody had any incentive to fix them because everything was going great.
He also has some great ideas on doing post mortems successfully. That’s something that we’ve been getting pretty good at at work. We actually learned the whole RCA process from Toyota. I bet they’re pretty busy doing post mortems right now.
I also like his points about not being able to repeat success. Every successful product is unique. If you boil what you did right down into a recipe and try to it again, you won’t get another success. On the other hand, there are successful teams, which can create successful products over and over again. I ran into this talk from Jeff Atwood’s recent blog post about how a great idea isn’t enough to create a startup. Startups are a great example of teams being more important than ideas, although most outsiders think that the idea is the key to a successful startup.
Be sure to watch the Q&A at the end. He makes some good points there about how to actually make his ideas work in practice. He also has some comments about why politics doesn’t work lately. He phrases it in terms of trust. In a successful team, the team members trust each other, even if they don’t agree. Our politicians definitely don’t trust each other. It’s hard to see how to make progress without solving that problem.