The reward of error


Without any doubt, leadership plays a key role in innovation. The leadership style and type of culture these leaders create, nonetheless, depends on the business and on each person’s style. Ed Catmull, the digital movie pioneer and cofounder of Pixar Entertainment, creator of movies such as "Toy Story" and "Insects Inc.", among others, enriched the creative process in his company by joining two very different kinds of culture: the technical and the artistic. He led the efforts to get both of them to work as peers. How did he do it? By stimulating an appreciation for each others’ talents, since he thought that "when technology is strong, it inspires the artists" and "when artists are strong, they challenge technology." At Pixar, both artists and technical people, appreciate each others’ talents. Salaries, bonuses and shares are offered to each of them in the same terms. In addition to this, they are cross trained at Pixar University, during ten weeks. Technical people take art classes such as sculpture, painting, drawing, movie making, etc., together with the artists. And artists take technology classes with technical people. The effect on Pixar’s culture is that technical people learn to appreciate the work of artists and vice versa.

Michael Dell, founder of Dell, the successful computer company, says that "innovation is about taking risks and learning from failure. Today we are known for our inventory management, logistics and supply chain management, as such, but that was not always the case." He explains that in 1989 a disaster occurred, because a new memory chip came to the market and Dell had too much stock of the old ones. Although it took them a year to recover, they learned a great deal through this experience. His recommendation is that we create a culture where people are not afraid of failure and one where innovation is fostered when the company is doing well. The last thing a leading company wants is to become complacent, since that is the way to lose leadership.

To innovate, it is important to have leaders who know how to lead their organizations to reinvent themselves, constantly. And if this is so, then the question is: Do we have such leaders? Are we doing something to allow them to flourish? Or are we becoming complacent?