What do Pixar and creativity have to do with healthcare?

Creative Healthcare
Ed Catmull (Photograph by Deborah Coleman, Pixar)

In the entertainment industry, creativity and innovation are the building blocks of character development, storylines, and computer technology. For Ed Catmull, a co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, imagination and reinvention extend to his management philosophy, the boardroom, and, some might say, to infinity and beyond. Given his phenomenal career success, these concepts have worked pretty well for him in his role as president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios.

We expect creative entertainment, but can the same be said for creative healthcare? Is there even a seat at the boardroom or executive table for creativity? Should there be? “Toon” in for answers to these questions from Dr. Catmull when he shares his practices and insights with us as the closing keynote speaker for the Healthcare Analytics Summit 2015.

It’s easy to think of healthcare as a rigid system of protocols and standards derived from data and scientific evidence. While there is a distinct need for this, creativity—or innovation—is a prerequisite for organizations leading into the future.

Catmull brings a treasure trove of experience with extracting true creativity from his teams. But the principles he has learned and taught apply to developing innovation in any role and any organization. The timing for Catmull’s presentation couldn’t be more appropriate, because healthcare organizations need to unleash creativity in their ranks in order to stay ahead of the reform curve. Catmull navigated a similar transformation in the motion picture industry as it moved into the era of computer animation, so he’s been down this road in a really remarkable way.

What I also find remarkable are his leadership principles of showing candor, sharing best practices, and learning how to use failure. Catmull is absolutely passionate about candor and transparency in the organization. In a March 2014 article for Fast Company titled “Inside the Pixar Brain Trust,” he wrote, “Our decision making is better when we draw on the collective knowledge and unvarnished opinions of the group. Candor is the key to collaborating effectively. Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional environments.” He goes on to say that managers can ensure candor “by putting mechanisms in place that explicitly say it is valuable.”

As for his position on failure, he sees it as a prized component of progress as long as it’s realized quickly and used as a learning tool. He even goes so far as to say it should become part of the company culture, a claim that he lives by every day. This isn’t easily embraced by healthcare leaders who traditionally measure failure in terms of medical errors and patient harm. Unfortunately, as we all know, there are unavoidable obstacles on the journey to quality and process improvement, and Catmull will help us understand how to work these to our advantage while keeping medical errors to a minimum and patients safe.

Catmull’s accomplishments are impressive. He invented several groundbreaking computer graphics technologies and produced the first computer animated film while still a graduate student at the University of Utah in 1972. He headed the Computer Graphics Lab at the New York Institute of Technology before signing on with George Lucas at Industrial Light and Magic in 1979. This spun off into the Steve Jobs-owned Pixar, where Catmull became the Chief Technical Offer. After Disney acquired Pixar in 2006, Catmull was put in charge of reinvigorating Disney Animation Studios.

Catmull also has some impressive hardware to go along with his software: five Academy Awards, which include a Technical Achievement Award, two Scientific and Engineering Awards, and one Academy Award of Merit; and the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for lifetime achievement in the field of computer graphics.

We couldn’t ask for a more dynamic individual to be our closing keynote speaker at the 2015 Healthcare Analytics Summit this September 8th to the10th. Ed Catmull will fit right in with all the incredible speakers we have lined up. We’re pretty sure he’ll keep you in your seat until the credits roll.

Loading next article...