deal last week to acquire Pixar
is about big money — how Steven P. Jobs
turned a fledgling outfit that he had bought for $10 million into a juggernaut valued at $7.4 billion. And, yes, it is about a big strategic shift at the Walt Disney Company, as Robert A. Iger, the chief executive, exorcises the ghost of his predecessor, Michael D. Eisner
. But it is also about the potential for big changes in how the entertainment business operates — specifically, in how major studios organize talented people to do their best work.
Since 1995, with the release of "Toy Story," Pixar's films have reinvented the art of animation, won 19 Academy Awards and grossed more than $3 billion at the box office. But the secret to the success of Pixar Animation Studios is its utterly distinctive approach to the workplace. The company doesn't just make films that perform better than standard fare. It also makes its films differently — and, in the process, defies many familiar, and dysfunctional, industry conventions. Pixar has become the envy of Hollywood because it never went Hollywood.
More than a few business pundits have drawn parallels between the flat, decentralized "corporation of the future" and the ad-hoc collection of actors, producers and technicians that come together around a film and disband once it is finished. In the Hollywood model, the energy and investment revolves around the big idea — the script — and the fine print of the deal. Highly talented people agree to terms, do their jobs, and move on to the next project. The model allows for maximum flexibility, to be sure, but it inspires minimum loyalty and endless jockeying for advantage.
Turn that model on its head and you get the Pixar version: a tightknit company of long-term collaborators who stick together, learn from one another and strive to improve with every production. Consider the case of Brad Bird, writer and director of "The Incredibles," who spent the first decades of his career shuttling around the business as an ever-promising, never-quite-recognized animator. (He worked on "The Simpsons" and directed one feature, the critically acclaimed but commercial dud, "Iron Giant.") When Pixar recruited him, Mr. Bird went to work immediately on "The Incredibles," which went on to win two Academy Awards and a nomination for best original screenplay.