In an interview with the Pixar Director, Brad Bird by Hayagreeva Rao, Robert Sutton, and Allen P. Webb for McKinsey Quarterly, Bird issues some sound advice on the intersection between creativity and business.
When I entered Disney, it was like a classic Cadillac Phaeton that had been left out in the rain. It was this amazing machine that was beautiful but old and getting a little decrepit. Still, they had the best system on earth at that time. They had the best talent. The movies were still well executed, if uninspired.
But Disney at this time was pared down. They were making one film every three years rather than a film every year or year and a half, as they had at Disney’s height. Walt had been gone for more than a decade, and the old guys were leaving. The company’s thought process was not, “We have all this amazing machinery—how do we use it to make exciting things? We could go to Mars in this rocket ship!” It was, “We don’t understand Walt Disney at all. We don’t understand what he did. Let’s not screw it up. Let’s just preserve this rocket ship; going somewhere new in it might damage it.”
Walt Disney’s mantra was, “I don’t make movies to make money—I make money to make movies.” That’s a good way to sum up the difference between Disney at its height and Disney when it was lost. It’s also true of Pixar and a lot of other companies. It seems counterintuitive, but for imagination-based companies to succeed in the long run, making money can’t be the focus.Speaking personally, I want my films to make money, but money is just fuel for the rocket. What I really want to do is to go somewhere. I don’t want to just collect more fuel.