Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Innovation takes patience and courage

This week I got a mojo recharge from an unlikely source--Pixar/Disney animation genius John Lasseter's interview with Terry Gross on the June 8 episode of Fresh Air. Lasseter's career embodies several great examples of my motto, "use everything" to fuel your creative drive and life experience. He talked about his long-ago summer job working at Disneyland as a ride operator for The Jungle Cruise. You might think that giving the same corny spiel every 8 minutes all day long would be a nightmare job, but Lasseter found that telling the same jokes to a new audience was a great way to hone his comic timing.

Even more interestingly, Lasseter actually worked as an animator at Disney "back in the day" (I am guessing late 70's/early 80's) when he was fresh out of Cal Arts. At that time Disney animation was headed by those artists who had been second-tier in Walt's day, and who had risen with seniority but weren't necessarily amazing. Lasseter was full of new ideas, influenced by the changing film landscape, everything from Star Wars to Martin Scorcese, and the Disney bosses wanted none of that. He was actually fired for refusing to just sit down and draw what they told him to draw. He then went to work for Lucas Arts and Pixar, and became the man behind Pixar's revolutionary films from Toy Story to Cars. Disney finally bought Pixar this year and now John Lasseter is the Creative Chief for all of Disney. His new role includes designing new rides as well as producing films. Lasseter said his experience as a young animator has influenced his management style--he vowed he would never quash the enthusiastic ideas of young artists.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the trend of Gen X employees enthusiastically embracing alternative work arrangements, such as telecommuniting and job sharing. It seems to be an uphill battle to get employers on board. Sure, you'll hear about exceptional companies who realize the benefits of utilizing new work models, but they are still reported on as novel trailblazers. It can be lonely and frustrating to wait for the world to catch up to embrace new ideas. That's why John Lasseter's example of persistence, of not settling for a second-rate job, his willingness to pursue his vision, came at a great time for me. I hope the rest of us will take heart that innovation takes patience and courage. Whatever our cause, if we truly believe it it, we have to keep moving forward even if we are forging alone ahead of the rest of the herd--for now.

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