Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The one meaningful failure: failure to work well with others

Digging deeper into the reading we began discussing in our last entry, Ed Catmull's account of building an environment to foster creativity at Pixar, we were inspired to ask some questions not taken on in the very useful essay. To start with: in a workplace where bad ideas and missteps are brushed aside, rather than a cause for punishment, what is the defintition of failure? And when would someone be terminated?

Reading between the lines, it seems clear that the one unforgiveable failure at Pixar is the inability to work with others. Whether it is because someone is slow to learn the workplace's culture, or she lacks the necessary social intelligence to participate in the give and take that characterizes a collaborative workplace, someone who continues to throw blame, or ridicule others' ideas, or seeks to claim credit for a co-worker's effort will upset a workplace that depends on trust, respect and reciprocity. Careful recruiting and attentive mentoring should limit the number of ill-fitting employees. But if someone gets through the net, and takes up residence within the firm, and fails to learn the culture and live up to expected norms, it seems clear an employee who lacks the talent to work with others, even if she is remarkably talented in many other respects, will be let go.

But Pixar, like other organizations, also needs its people to produce. So, for those who consistently fail to meet production deadlines, for example, the firm needs to take appropriate steps to limit damage to the company's work processes, reputation, and bottom line. So for those readers who are wondering if the type of workplace Catmull is describing is utopian, be comforted - a collaborative, trust-rich workplace is more forgiving, but it isn't blind to persistent failure.

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