John Lasseter, best known for producing the films Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., and The Incredibles, is chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios.
But it wasn’t always so.
He began his career at Walt Disney Studios as a garbage collector, working his way through the ranks to the animation department, Ben Casnocha, co-author of The Startup of You (Crown Business; 2012), told attendees at the 2013 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Strategy Conference on Oct. 1, 2013.
One day, “Lasseter had this bold, creative, super-charged idea for revolutionizing animation,” said Casnocha. Rather than drawing characters, Lasseter wanted to explore using computer software instead.
The management team’s reaction was unexpected.
“They fired him for thinking differently. They told him, ‘We hired you to do your job…not to explore this crazy technology,” Casnocha said. “So he took his idea to George Lucas, Steve Jobs, and Pixar.”
Pixar said yes.
The result? Toy Story went on to win an Oscar for special achievement and put Lasseter and Pixar on the map. “A few years ago,” Casnocha said, “Disney acquired Pixar for $7 billion. That’s how they got him to return to Disney,” he said, calling Lassester’s firing a “$7 billion mistake.”
Now, “there are several lessons you can take from the Lasseter story—one being if you get fired it’s not the end of the world,” he said. And companies need to realize that “it’s not enough to have a singular entrepreneurial person at the company. One guy alone trying to be innovative won’t be effective.”
But tapping the collective intelligence of others is a trend that’s not going anywhere as more companies are beginning to encourage their staffs to turn to their connections to help them innovate and find solutions in and outside of the enterprise. They are also entering into a new employee compact with their workers.
“The world of work has changed,” Casnocha told conference attendees. “Last year I partnered with [LinkedIn Co-Founder] Reid Hoffman and we wrote a book called The Startup of You …[which] encourages people to “become the entrepreneur of your own life.”
The New Employer Compact
But how do you manage and incent employees with an entrepreneurial spirit?
“How do you take advantage and channel it into the corporate good?” Casnocha asked.
There once was a time when companies treated their employees like family, he said. But that doesn’t work—after all, you cannot fire family, and companies have to let people go all the time. Historically all companies have had a compact regarding employment, he said, but lifetime employment is no more.
“That’s no longer viable in today’s economy. Tours of Duty (TOD) has replaced it. In the TOD framework,” employers and employees have a mutual goal where they each make the other look good—up until the time they decide to separate, he said.
The employee has an idea of how they see their careers, so they articulate their goals. Then the manager describes what they want done for the company. Then the employee and the manager seek alliance on how to develop that alignment, so both “can flourish” and become more innovative and creative, Casnocha said.
“When you do that you establish trust,” he said. When you are explicit about the relationship, he said, “People stay longer.
Tour of Duty can increase retention at the company among entrepreneurial employees who want to seek opportunities,” he said. The compact becomes “we will make you more valuable—and the employee says in exchange, ‘I will make your company more adaptable—that’s the compact.’”
Casnocha also said innovative companies are beginning to realize that the old way of management is dead. “No matter how many smart people are at your companies, there are more smart people outside the company than inside the company.”
Organizations are encouraging their employees to tap those external brains outside the company “and the way you do that is through social media and the individual networks of your employees—not just senior management,” he said.
As an example, he pointed to the company Hubspot.
“They needed a speaker at their annual conference and they wanted to find a high-profile speaker, so they asked every employee to comb through their professional networks to find one,” he said. One woman discovered Arianna Huffington, whom she had never met, was following her on Twitter. When she asked Huffington if she was interested in speaking Huffington said yes—much to everyone’s surprise.
Casnocha encouraged executives to get their employees to “build rich, collective networks” on social media and to “celebrate those who are well connected and encourage those who are not. All of us need valuable network intelligence.”
Aliah D. Wright, author of the best-selling A Necessary Evil: Managing Employee Activity on Facebook, LinkedIn…and the Hundreds of Other Social Media Sites, (SHRM, 2013), manages the business leadership and technology pages for SHRM Online.
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