The Decision-Making Secret Shared by Pixar and a World Chess Champion
A bad outcome doesn’t mean you made a bad decision
An excerpt from Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas that Win Wars, Cure Dieseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcall. One of the three best business books of 2019.
Ed Catmull, a founding employee and the former president of Pixar, refers to early-stage ideas for films as “Ugly Babies.” The language is new, but the idea goes back centuries. In 1597, the philosopher Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “As the births of living creatures are at first ill-shapen, so are all innovations, which are the births of time.” Here is Catmull describing the need to maintain the balance between the “Ugly Babies,” or what I call “loonshots ”— fragile, unlikely ideas that are met with skepticism and often dismissed as crazy — and more reliable franchises — what he calls “the Beast” — in film:
Originality is fragile. And, in its first moments, it’s often far from pretty. This is why I call early mock-ups of our films “Ugly Babies.” They are not beautiful, miniature versions of the adults they will grow up to be. They are truly ugly: awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete. They need nurturing — in the form of time and patience — in order to grow. What this means is that they have a hard time coexisting with the Beast.
When I talk about the Beast and the Baby, it can seem very black and white — that the Beast is all bad and the Baby is all good. The truth is, reality lies somewhere in between. The Beast is a glutton but also a valuable motivator. The Baby is so pure and unsullied, so full of potential, but it’s also needy and unpredictable and can keep you up at night. The key is for your Beast and your Babies to coexist peacefully, and that requires that you keep various forces in balance.
Keeping the forces in balance is so difficult because loonshots and franchises follow such different paths. Surviving those journeys requires passionate, intensely committed people — with very different skills and values. Artists and soldiers.
You can analyze why an investment went south. But you will gain…