Meaningful Play

IdeaConnection interview with Bill Capodagli, co-author of Innovate the Pixar Way
By Vern Burkhardt
"Have you ever watched the interplay of children in a sandbox? The younger ones watch with curiosity how the older children build their sandcastles… Kids don't need to take "Sandcastle Building 101" to learn how to build a sandcastle. They learn from intense...

VB: How do your clients first respond when they hear you recommend a more "childlike" approach to running their business?

photo of Bill CapodagliBill Capodagli: Fun and play are hard concepts for many companies to embrace. Too many think you have to suffer in order to succeed and that's just not true.

Using the child metaphor has helped employees gravitate toward remembering what it was like when they were children. When we were five, we thought we could do anything, and have fun doing it.

Giving our clients examples like Disney, Pixar and others who value fun has also helped.

VB: When the CEO adopts that attitude, does it noticeably change the climate in the business?

Bill Capodagli: Yes it does. It's so important that the people who are affecting the day-to-day activities of the organization buy-in to the values of the culture.

Sometimes there are high-level executives who simply cannot buy into a new set of values. Many times, after much counseling and coaching, the only thing to do is move that person out of his or her current level of responsibility. We've had clients who actually terminated individuals because they were unable or unwilling to change from a 'kick butt' and 'take names' mentality to a collaborative Pixar-style way of doing business. In some cases, rather than terminating command and control-style individuals, they are moved from positions with responsibility for thousands of people to one of working on special projects, thereby corralling their years of experience with the company in a different way.

VB: Are most of your clients able to make use of your 7 methods for firing up their workplace, or do some personalities take to them more easily than others?

Bill Capodagli: Initially, looking at their work spaces as a playground is a hard concept for many people to grasp. Once we start talking about it and describing a culture of fun that's appropriate for their organization, they're more able to grasp these methods.

VB: Would you talk a bit about being a role model for mutual respect and trust?

Bill Capodagli: If asked to name one principle that needs to be in place in order to have a successful, innovative, and customer-centric culture, I would say mutual respect and trust.

In order to be a role model for trust and respect, you need to explain to your employees what the company "dream" is, what their jobs are about, and the general outcome of their efforts. Then you need to trust them to get their jobs done by owning their jobs and using their common sense, initiative, and innovation in the best ways they can.

We've found that when people are trusted to do their jobs, they often rise to levels that surprise even themselves.

VB: It is often hard to laugh at oneself.

Bill Capodagli: Yes, it is. The hardest part is for a 'boss' to step back and say, "Boy, I really screwed that up," and not go out and blame other people for it. This is so important.

VB: It's more than just laughing at yourself; it's also learning from it?

Bill Capodagli: Exactly. When trying something, one of the keys is being able to step back and see the humor in making mistakes, but more importantly, focusing on what we can learn from the experience. Rather than passing blame, making excuses, or slipping something under the rug it's better to ask, "What can we learn from this?"

Pixar says that every one of their films – and now they have 11 blockbuster hits with Toy Story 3 – was a failure at some point in time. On any given film, they almost have to scrap everything they had done so far and say, "We're really up against a brick wall here so we have to change things."

VB: It's interesting – moving from failure to blockbuster success.

Bill Capodagli: Too many companies are caught up with the maxim, 'Do it right the first time'.

I don't know about you but anything I've tried I haven't done right the first time, whether it was golf, riding a bicycle, or studying a new language. We need to learn like we did when we were children, by exploration and discovery.

VB: One of our first important lessons was learning to walk.

Bill Capodagli: If we taught our children how to walk like most companies teach their people how to do something, there would be a lot of black and blue children. And they would never learn to walk.

VB: They'd give up trying.

Bill Capodagli: That's right. They'd say, "There's no future in this!"

VB: When you are working with a company, do you include employees in your consulting sessions, or do you work mainly with managers and executives?

Bill Capodagli: Most definitely. When doing a long-term implementation, including the employees in the sessions is very important.

I've had a 30-some year career consulting to some very large organizations. I joke with executives about how, years ago, we would help organizations solve problems. We'd spend a day with the top executives, then two weeks talking to the front line managers and employees. When we came back with our report to the top executives, almost without exception, they would say, "Wow, you guys really have a pulse on what we do. How did you learn so much about our organization in such a short time? You guys are geniuses!"

A good message for today's executives continues to be that the people on the front line, who are living with the problems day-to-day, have a lot of great ideas – they know what's going wrong and how to fix it.

It's amazing when you consider that an employee who has to get approval to give a $1.95 refund to a customer may sit on the board of their church or bowling league approving large budgets and writing large cheques.

VB: Who do you find generally responds with the most speed and enthusiasm? The executives or the employees?

Bill Capodagli: The employees. Employees want to be part of the organization. When given the opportunity to provide input and when they know they can use all their means to help make a difference either for the company, the community, or their customers, they respond in a positive way.

We tell executives, "If you are not serious about change, don't go through the motions; don't get people excited." What's worse than the status quo is promising change that never happens.

VB: Innovating the Pixar way is not the way most companies now go about their business. Do you foresee a time when the reverse will be true, and not just in North America, but worldwide?

Bill Capodagli: I hope so. Companies today have two choices. One is to compete on price alone, viewing their products or services as commodities that any of their competitors could provide, while hoping and praying they can keep their cost structure in line so they can make a profit, or at least break even.

Alternatively, companies can view their products or services as unique, memorable experiences that only they can provide. In order to do this, they need to create a culture of rapid innovation so they can react to customer needs and change quickly to meet them.

VB: Do you believe there is room for Pixar style innovation and creativity in every type of business, or is it more suitable to some than others?

Bill Capodagli: Yes, I believe these Pixar principles are applicable to any organization. An example I use with a lot of clients is a company we featured in the book, The Disney Way. It's a Cleveland, Ohio-based hair salon that has continued to grow its business for nearly two decades. You can't find a more commodity-type product. Go into any community and within six blocks, there are probably 6 or 7 hair salons. This salon provides innovative customer service and it has blown away the competition. They gain something like a thousand new customers every single month, and retain about 70% of them. It's all been accomplished through an innovative approach to customer service.

VB: Is that because their customers are made to feel special?

Bill Capodagli: Yes. They try to find all the possible ways to make each customer feel special. For example, they have a call centre rather than just making appointments on calendars. They have a greeter when you come in who knows who you are and brings you coffee. They have a different colored apron for first time patrons, and all staff go out of their way to talk to them and welcome them. They make follow-up calls to make sure everything was fine after your appointment, and they even call you ahead to remind you about the need to make your next appointment. Their service is fantastic.

VB: You say it is important to "avoid overexposure" of a good thing, which must be hard for many, if not most, companies, especially if the good thing is profitable. How can we gauge when to ease up on a good thing, and how can we make ourselves actually do it, especially in trying economic times?

Bill Capodagli: Well, it's really hard. I believe one of the little viruses that has infected our economy today is short-term mentality, living for today at the expense of tomorrow. When criticized for making movies like Up and Wall-E that didn't have the billion dollar after-market character promotion that the Toy Story and Cars movies had, Disney's CEO Bob Iger said, "Our goal is to make good movies first and if that means that there is a franchise that follows, we'll be the first to capitalize on it." If you lose sight of your long-term goal and adhere to a short-term mentality, it will definitely catch up with you.

VB: Make good movies and you'll make money but don't set out to make money.

Bill Capodagli: Exactly. Walt Disney said if you take care of your customer experience and your front-line providers, the bottom line will follow.

VB: You quote Randy Nelson, Dean of Pixar University, "You have to honor failure, because failure is just the negative space around success." Is the concept of celebrating failure a particularly hard one for your clients to absorb? Or do they feel relieved and excited by this possibility?

Bill Capodagli: At first, it's a hard concept to accept. Usually people want to find out who is responsible for a failure and pass the blame, but when we offer them that childhood example of learning by exploration and discovery, it sets off a light bulb in a lot of clients and they say, "Yeah that's right. We can't always do it right the first time."

Obviously when you ultimately deliver a product or service to a client, you want it to be right and last forever, but while you're making it you're going to have a lot of failures along the way. You may have to try some test markets, or find a customer as "wacky" as your team who will try things out and work with you to get it right.

I love the quote we uncovered from Australian businessman Phil Daniels who said that he "celebrates colossal failures and punishes mediocre successes."

VB: You say, "Four common proficiencies – depth, breadth, communication, and collaboration – are vital to making "art a team sport" at Pixar. Are these four proficiencies transferable to all other types of enterprise?

Bill Capodagli: Most definitely. By 'depth', what Pixar and I think other organizations should look for is mastery. And not just mastering what you're doing, because you can train someone to be a bookkeeper, accountant, clerk or whatever. Rather, mastering something in life. It could be a single mom or a single dad going to night school and finishing a degree, maybe even getting an associate's degree – some demonstration that they have the perseverance to follow and accomplish a dream. It could be a dream to become a master bridge player, a master tennis player, or whatever.

'Breadth' is having an interest in a wide variety of things and an interest in what other people do. This is so important in a collaborative environment, which is a team environment.

'Communication' not only in the sense of written and verbal communication abilities but also in the sense of what Pixar does – they look for people who are great listeners. They realize that communication doesn't happen just when I am telling you certain things; communication happens when you say, "Oh yeah, I get that Bill. I understand that." That's so important in any organization.

VB: And of course 'collaboration'.

Bill Capodagli: Yes.

VB: How does one conduct collaboration in Innovate the Pixar Way?

cover of Innovate the Pixar WayBill Capodagli: For one thing, everyone has ownership in the project. It might be one small piece of the project – maybe the scenery in a small scene – but they feel they own that piece of the project.

The other thing they do is have constant and open communication, and open decision-making. Every morning, they look over what they call the 'dailies' – the work from the previous day. It might be only two or three minutes of film, but they all have the opportunity to comment on it. It is open communication – open and constructive criticism – with everyone feeling they are being treated equally and with decisions regarding their feedback being made right in front of them. The director still makes the ultimate decision, but everybody has input into it. Basically decisions are made together and openly, rather than behind closed doors by a bunch of suits who say what stays and what goes.

VB: Is that what you refer to as the "Brain Trust?"

Bill Capodagli: The Brain Trust is something different. They typically convene several times during a four year film project. A director will get together with other directors and anyone else he or she feels is necessary or who might offer useful input. They view the film in its current developmental stage and then are asked to comment.

The neat thing about the Brain Trust is that it's such a safe way to get input. There are no mandatory notes or directives. For example, no is told they need to change a scene and have it done by next Thursday. Everybody just provides input and leaves it up to the director and his or her team to decide what will be done as a result.

VB: You don't use the word "ego" in your book, but you do talk about how important it is to make your colleagues look good. Our culture is rife with ego and helping others look good is not at the top of any egotist's list. How do you help your clients deal with ego resistance, either their own or an employee's?

Bill Capodagli: It requires ensuring there is mutual trust and respect in the organization by teaching managers to resist the urge to tell employees exactly how to do a job. This is especially difficult if they've done that job before. They want to explain the output to their workers. They want to train them in the correct use of their tools and such. But what they need to do is let employees use their own experience and ingenuity to do their jobs the best way they can. It's tough for a lot of managers to let go of control.

VB: Randy Nelson also says that being "interested" is a much more valuable employee asset than being "interesting". What is your best advice for someone who wants to become more "interested" in a meaningful way?

Bill Capodagli: The best way is to begin with an open mind, ask a lot of questions and learn about the other departments. If you're in production, learn something about engineering. Find out what they're doing and learn about their problems. Learning about anything is a good idea.

One of the great things Pixar did after the success of Toy Story was establish educational opportunities for all employees. They wanted to offer the topics of filmmaking, storytelling and other areas that just interested people – self-defense, for instance. They offered these opportunities to everyone in the organization, from the person cleaning the parking lot to President Ed Catmull, and they encouraged staff to spend four hours every week in class on company time. That's 10% of the normal work week. They offer something like 110 different classes.

VB: That's 10% of the measured work week. Not 10% of what most people probably work, I'm sure.

Bill Capodagli: That's true.

VB: Your book is all about how the positive attributes of childhood can be cultivated by adults to enhance their work experience and success. The book also touches on the similarity of how many businesses have been, and still are being, run to another childhood experience – bullying. "In many organizations, bullying comes in the form of kick butt and take names or command and control management. And the result for employees can be virtually the same as for kids back in the schoolyard – depression, poor performance, and just plain going through the motions of a thankless job." Why do you think this has been the case and why do you think it is changing now?

Bill Capodagli: In the past, that was how we were treated by bosses, so when we were hired into management, that was how we also behaved. In short term environments, intimidation has had some success – "I need this by tomorrow and if you don't get it done I'll get somebody else to do it." But in the long term, it is just like bullying on the playground, it has adverse effects.

It's like pledging to a fraternity. When you're being hazed during your pledging to be a fraternity brother, you feel really bad about it. But when you get older you say, "I went through this so they can go through it." Someone needs to step back and say, "Hey, this isn't right. We need to stop acting this way."

Until we start getting top management to role play and to stop rewarding that type of behavior, it is going to continue.

VB: "Not having a budget is an excuse, not a barrier!" Would you elaborate on this?

Bill Capodagli: We see a lot of teams that sit back and say, "I would like to do something but we don't have the budget for it" or "We don't have the time" and such.

Consider the great example of Post-it notes from 3M. How could we live today without Post-it notes? Yet they were initially a failure. An employee was making them in his basement using obsolete equipment 3M had given him permission to take, but he couldn't sell the company on his idea. He decided to give the Post-it notes to the executive secretaries. When they ran out of this really cool new thing, the secretaries discovered they couldn't live without them!

That's an extreme example of how a product that now represents a substantial percentage of 3M's revenue was something that didn't come out of R&D. It was a result of one person's idea, a way of innovating that is encouraged at 3M.

So, we say you need to encourage innovative thinking and not say, "Well I need a budget for this." You need to beg, borrow, and steal resources and time to try things you think are going to be innovative. Being given permission to do that in an organization is very important.

VB: Perhaps you will be more creative when you have to scrounge and figure out how to get around things.

Bill Capodagli: Exactly.

VB: You quote Ed Catmull, one of Pixar's leaders, "When something goes wrong, we respond to the thing that goes wrong but we don't try to prevent it from going wrong by not doing something risky in the first place. So we start off scared, and we stay scared until we're done." How can the average business learn to be comfortable with this kind of fear?

Bill Capodagli: As I mentioned earlier, at some point in time every Pixar film was a disaster. They had to scrap what they'd done and try something new. Once people start realizing that the learning cycle involves trying, failing, learning, and trying again, they become less fearful of that kind of environment.

Ed also said something to the effect that we let people fail but it's management's job to be there to recover when a failure really occurs – when we need to help them. The Brain Trust is an example of one mechanism in place at Pixar to help people along when they think they're failing.

VB: Of your "Forty-one Neat Things to Unleash Your Imagination" number 22, "Do something audacious every day" is particularly appealing. What are some of the audacious things you have done and with what results?

Bill Capodagli: In my Pixar keynotes, I come riding in on a kid's scooter and I raffle it off. A business consultant coming in on a kid's scooter may seem a bit wacky, but it has worked out well. Since the book was published, I've given away a dozen or so scooters and I ask recipients to send me pictures of themselves riding their scooters at work. They have to ride the scooters at work and announce that they're unleashing their childhood potential…then they can give it to their children. Of course, not everyone wants to give a favorite toy away!

I've done some audacious things with our team as well. It works best when you're in the middle of – I don't want to say a crisis – but in the middle of a lot of work. One afternoon I'll say, "Okay, lets all go out for lunch and then maybe we'll go see a Disney film or play miniature golf, laser tag, or do some other fun thing."

When working with a team that has barriers between departments, one thing we've done with great success is announce a mandatory team dinner during which we break the team into small groups and give each a list of songs. We ask them to select the song that best represents their team or company and explain why. We include songs like, "Take this job and shove it", "Impossible Dream", fun things like that. After dinner, we uncover karaoke equipment and have the teams perform the songs they've chosen.

We had one team in which the members didn't like one another. They had come from different parts of the organization, and different locales. And, they didn't like the management, nor did they like us. The first day of a two-day strategy meeting with this team was awful. But, then we did a karaoke evening. The next day, these people were joking, laughing, working together and coming up with good plans. During a break, one of the guys asked me what was in the drinks the night before – it was now a different organization. It's amazing how, when people break down their barriers and let themselves be a little foolish in front of a group, the barriers break down in business as well.

VB: You talk about the need for, and benefit of, acknowledging and taking into account "the unknowable" and "intangible" aspects of our businesses. How can we get a feel for these things and how do we act on them?

Bill Capodagli: Often you can define the intangibles – attitudes and values – but they need to be internalized. Then, when they are internalized, you should be able to observe them, see behaviors change. What is disturbing is that many businesses pay little attention to intangibles, and they only measure the wrong tangible things.

I spent a year working with Dr. W. Edwards Deming back in the 80's and we conducted numerous Red Bead Experiments on quality that made him so famous. That experiment had people scooping red beads out of a basket that contained many white beads and a few red beads. The white beads were the desired beads and the red beads were the defective beads. If a person drew a red bead, they were ridiculed and told they were not supposed to do that. They were supposed to do it right the first time, but they were given no control over the process. We do that so often in management.

We need to look at what things we should be measuring and get to know the intangibles we need to be aware of and make sure they are internalized by our employees as well.

VB: You spent a whole year with Deming.

Bill Capodagli: Yes, we sponsored the Deming Institute for a year. Dr. Deming gave a series of lectures for us and trained all of us when I was at Ernst and Whinney, now Ernst and Young. It was a fascinating year of learning from this man and his group of educators at the University of Florida.

VB: What was he like as a person?

Bill Capodagli: He was kind of a curmudgeon. Rough around the edges. When we sponsored one of his seminars, especially during the 80's auto industry fiasco, scores of clients would come to any presentation he gave because he was so well-known, but he was not a dynamic speaker.

One of the things I enjoyed was that he billed all his clients in January. He was so well booked that he knew who his clients were going to be for the next year. So, in January, he would send out his bills. I asked him how he went about that and he replied, "Well, Ford's listening to me so I'm only going to bill them $20,000 but GM's not doing a damn thing I say, so I'm going to bill them $80,000." It was purely subjective.

He would tell a story about being on a company plane with the company's CEO on their way to a plant. He asked the CEO for information on the plant's operations – information that a CEO should know. This CEO didn't have the answers. Dr. Deming told the pilot to turn the plane around. The CEO asked him what he was doing and he answered, "If you don't know these things, what good is it for me to go there? Until you know these things, you won't listen to anything I'd say."

VB: He was insistent that you lived his message.

Bill Capodagli: Yes. Another time, while he was giving a talk to a group, I believe it was a group of GM employees, the CEO walked out to take a phone call. Dr. Deming stopped in the middle of a sentence and sat down. All the other executives just sat there with him for 15 minutes, afraid to say anything until the executive came back in and Deming carried on.

VB: True to himself.

Bill Capodagli: Yes, he really was. He's also a great example of how one person can make a difference. I credit his persistence. He changed the way we look at quality.

VB: He certainly had an impact on Japanese industry.

Bill Capodagli: He sure did.

VB: Of the companies you work with, what proportion are motivated by profit and what proportion by love for what they do? Does their success correlate with their motives?

Bill Capodagli: Most of them are driven by profit, but we've encountered a few examples lately that really have a love for their businesses. Walt Disney just wanted to make great movies. And now Pixar is doing that. They aim to make great movies and know the rewards and profits will come if they do that. Of course, you have to be aware of costs and profits, and ways of maximizing the latter, but it is so important to consider long-term potential.

I just read that the new CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman, said, in essence, that there are a hundred things he could do to maximize profits in the short-term. He went on, "But I don't work for the stockholders. I work for the customers. Taking care of customers is in the best interests of Unilever, long-term." That's the way we need to think in today's economy.

VB: A lot of CEOs are looking at stock value, aren't they?

Bill Capodagli: Oh yes. A decade ago, the average tenure of a CEO in the Fortune 500 was a dozen years. Today it's less than five. Wall Street expects CEOs to have a new strategy in place in the first 100 days on the job.

VB: What does that tell you about today's business world?

Bill Capodagli: As I said earlier, that short-term mentality is a virus that's affecting our economy. A lot of the current economic problems result from that.

VB: From the extreme pressure to deliver in the short term.

Bill Capodagli: Yes.

VB: You quote John Lasseter, coleader of Pixar, "Quality is the best business plan" and go on to say, "There is no right way to do the wrong thing." How deeply does this ethic penetrate today's business world?

Bill Capodagli: Not deeply enough. We've unearthed some really great examples of the long-term approach. George Zimmer, of "I guarantee it" fame, founder of the Men's Wearhouse, is a great gentleman who really thinks of his people first. He's known for giving second and third opportunities to people – even people who steal from him. Rather than 'firing their butts', he considers the reasons behind the theft. Do they have a drug problem? Are they having personal problems? Are we not paying them enough?

VB: That's true dedication and commitment to the company, isn't it?

Bill Capodagli: Yes.

VB: And to your employees.

Bill Capodagli: Yes. Isadore Sharp, the founder of the Four Seasons Hotels, is another great example. He runs his company by the "golden rule." It has become his business philosophy and they're not merely words to him. He actually lives the words. When the tsunami hit India at Christmas time a few years back, his resort on Maldives, a little island about 200 miles off the coast of India, was completely demolished. Fortunately no one was seriously injured or killed, but it took almost two years to rebuild the resort. Most companies would have laid people off and said, "Gee we're sorry", and maybe some even nicer companies would have given them 3 or 4 months severance pay and said, "We'll call you back, if you're still available, when the place is rebuilt." Isadore Sharp transferred every one of his 150 hotel workers to resorts all around the world in order to keep them employed, and then brought them back when the resort was completed. Every one of those 150 came back. Don't you think those people would walk through fire for that man?

VB: They would be very loyal to him that's for sure.

Bill Capodagli: Yes. Exactly.

VB: You talk about the importance of using story when running and innovating your business. "First develop your story, then innovate around it". It's easy to see how Pixar, being in the movie industry, benefits from this approach. How could storytelling help a more mundane undertaking like a food company or an accounting firm?

Bill Capodagli: Everyone rallying around a story is really great for a company, but it is hard for an organization like an accounting firm to develop a story. One of the ways we've worked with these organizations is to ask them what they would like their companies to look like five years from now. What would be the Disney or Pixar version of an accounting firm five years from now? Then we ask them to write a Wall Street Journal article about their company assuming they've reached that goal. That's one way companies that don't consider themselves as creative can start putting their story together.

VB: What about from the customer's point of view? Can people write their stories based on what their customers would say about them?

Bill Capodagli: Most definitely.

VB: You say, "There is no such thing as a boring project, only boring project teams." Boredom is epidemic in the working world. How can individuals combat workplace boredom?

Bill Capodagli: Leading by example and enabling people, giving them the tools necessary for innovation and success, is so important. Then it comes down to the individual employee. Do they come in thinking, "I've got a lot of work problems; customers are going to be on my butt today; engineering is going to want their drawings done and I don't have them; and there are going to be complaints about this that and the next thing." Or do they come into work thinking, "It's a good day; I've got a lot of things to do' I'm going to meet a lot of interesting people; and I'm going to try to solve some problems and look at that as an invigorating experience."

VB: Are you on a mission to spread the Pixar approach to businesses around the world?

Bill Capodagli: I sure am. I'm going to be down in South America three or four times in August, September and October.

VB: You're obviously encouraged to continue.

Bill Capodagli: Yes, I am.

VB: And that's based on successes?

Bill Capodagli: Yes. Our business has changed since we wrote The Disney Way. We used to spend from 6 months up to 3 years with an organization, working with their teams and helping them change. It was very gratifying. With the success of The Disney Way and now with Innovate the Pixar Way and our other books, we do a lot of keynote presentations and many planning sessions with organizations and spending 2 – 4 days at a time. I miss the days of being in the trenches and seeing the day-to-day results, but this has been rewarding as well.

VB: Do you have a sense of what will be the next major sea change in the world of business innovation and creativity?

Bill Capodagli: I'm currently looking at two things I'd like to see happen, though I've seen a little bit of it happening already. One is what I call the 'skunk works mentality'. For example, take Kelly Johnson working for Lockheed back in WWII, making airplanes and blowing the socks off everyone with the way he cut through bureaucracy and was given the opportunity to beg, borrow and steal the resources he needed to make things happen. I think more organizations are now trying that, doing proto-typing, using that skunk-work mentality.

Pixar opened a secondary studio in Vancouver as a training ground where young animators and directors can work on animated short films. Short films don't require the $100 million budget of a Toy Story movie. On a short animated film, new talent can learn and kind of be on their own to try new things and not get stuck in the "Oh this is the way we have to do it because this is the way it was done in Toy Story" mentality.

I see skunk-work operations as learning arenas that allow a wave of smaller, quicker reactions to rapid innovation.

The other change I would like to see, and I hope is occurring, is what might be called educational alliances. Again Pixar is leading the way here. They have an alliance with Carnegie Mellon University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. This opens all departments at Pixar and Disney to partner with these institutions to offer educational opportunities that are related to real business environments as opposed to an academic vision of what they think the business environment should be. I'm hoping to see more of this type of alliance, not only at the post-secondary level but also at the high school and local primary levels. I hope it will change the educational atmosphere, at least here in the U.S.

VB: Are you thinking in terms of the development of case studies, and opportunities for students to work in real companies?

Bill Capodagli: I see students and professors working as co-ops so they can learn from real companies, and I envision people from organizations like Pixar and Disney conducting classes, perhaps even serving as visiting professors for a semester or two.

VB: Making education real.

Bill Capodagli: Exactly.

VB: What do you think is the best piece of advice one could give someone graduating from high school this spring?

Bill Capodagli: Find your passion. If you don't know what that passion is, don't just go to college saying, "Gee, my folks want me to go to college and make something out of my life." I would encourage anyone who doesn't know what they want to do to go out and try a few things before they decide what they want to study. If they're curious about engineering, they should find a job in an engineering firm, work for minimum wage, and learn enough to find out if they are passionate about it. They shouldn't just jump into engineering, then find out in their senior year that they hate it. They've got the rest of their lives to think about.

VB: Would you advise them to also become involved in a cause?

Bill Capodagli: Sure! The Peace Corps, or something like that. Go out and see the world. I would hate to recommend the armed forces right out of school, but I do like the Israeli's way of training their high school graduates. Everyone, even if they have a physical disability, serves for two years in the military. They learn, serve their country, and then go on to post-secondary education. It's a great learning experience.

VB: Do you have as much fun in your work as the people at Pixar?

Bill Capodagli: We try to. Like any organization, even Pixar, we need to step back and remember that if we take ourselves too seriously life will cease to be fun.

VB: So you don't take yourself too seriously?

Bill Capodagli: I try not to.

VB: What are you working on now?

Bill Capodagli: We're busy with events based on Innovate the Pixar Way. I'm researching other possible books but we've been pretty busy. July is ok but August is getting booked up. We're looking at two other books, both of which would be fun to pursue, but I don't want to announce either one of them quite yet.

VB: Will one of the two be within a year?

Bill Capodagli: Possibly. One of them would be within a year if we decide to go that route.

VB: Do you have any other advice or comments about innovating the Pixar Way?

Bill Capodagli: Walt Disney was once asked what his secret to success was. He said he would dream of ways business that had never been done before; test those dreams against his values and beliefs; dare to take the risk to make them happen; and put plans in place to make those dreams that passed his test come true.

Pixar's secret is looking at the world through the eyes of a child. That's how they continue to catch lightning in a bottle. We think Walt's secret to success is alive and well at Pixar.

We've paraphrased Walt's secret this way: "dream like a child, believe in your playmates, dare to jump in the water and make waves, and do unleash that childlike potential and magic."

VB: And the rest will follow.

Bill Capodagli: Yes.

VB: You had great success with The Disney Way. Was that an interesting book to write as well?

Bill Capodagli: Yes it was.

VB: Did you have the opportunity to meet Walt Disney or spend much time with him?

Bill Capodagli: No I didn't. He died in 1966, the year I graduated from high school, so I didn't get a chance to meet him but I talked to some people who worked very closely to him.

"So, don't just copy your old and boring product or service – destroy, demolish, eradicate, nuke, vaporize, and zap it! Once you have totally wiped out the old, you can apply the first lesson from our musical history examples – to think like a director. Think of your team or business as if you were the director of a Broadway play. Sit in the director's chair and visualize the major pieces of the production and direction of the play – the story, setting, roles and backstage processes.''

Innovate the Pixar Way: Business Lessons From the World's Most Creative Corporate Playground is a book about unlearning our staid adult ways and making work life exciting again. Our work should be play, not drudgery. It can be part of an ever changing, stimulating dance of discovery. Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson's book will help you see the sense in this and provide ways to start you on your way to allowing the child in you to breath and guide you in your profession.

Bill Capodagli is cofounder, with Lynn Jackson, of Capodagli Jackson Consulting in West Olive, Michigan. They help companies revamp their customer services, and approaches to innovation and production. They particularly promote Walt Disney's "Dream, Believe, Dare, Do" philosophy for business success. Prior to cofounding Capodagli Jackson Consulting, Bill worked as a manager at the consulting firms AT Kearney and Ernst & Whinney. He is coauthor of The Disney Way: Harnessing the Management Secrets of Disney in Your Company, one of Fortune magazine's "Best Business Books of 1999." He is in much demand as a keynote speaker on using the principles of Disney and Pixar to revitalize businesses.

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