Leadership the Toy Story Way #24
By Graham Bell
I said goodbye to some close friends last week.
Yes, I confess, the Toy Story films are top of my all-time movie greats. The recent release of Toy Story 4, the last of the series, revived a lot of happy memories. It is a triumph of great story-telling, amazing graphics and production, all underpinned by a business model that demonstrates the value of investment, perseverance and flexibility. But that isn’t what makes it special to me. There is part of it that is etched in my heart, not just my head.
I suppose I should start with a spoiler alert – I may disclose some of the final story here. But given the publicity surrounding this final release, you can guess it will be tinged with some sadness.
I came late to the full impact of the original Toy Story. In fact, Toy Story 2 was on release before I really ‘got’ the first one. To briefly summarise: as a late Dad with an ‘instant family’ of 3 young daughters, early family viewing firmly established this as a favourite. During one viewing the oldest turned and said, ‘Look Dad, that’s us’. As adoptive parents adjustments are hard work for everyone but the sub-plot of the three wee aliens being incorporated into the Toy Story gang seemed to strike a chord with us all.
But the more immersed I became in Toy Story the more my admiration grew for Buzz and Woody, the leading characters. They seemed to epitomise the dynamic duo of leadership and management. And this was happening around the time that I was beginning to understand that I needed to be considerably more ambitious in my business leadership. Enter Buzz – to infinity and beyond.
Now if you know the story you will understand that Buzz was highly ambitious, but often lacked common sense – and here it was that the organising and planning skills of Woody came to the fore. At first I thought he was the perfect manager, needing the visionary leadership of Buzz to go anywhere. But over the different movies it is the loyalty, perseverance and grounded reality that makes Woody something special. Buzz is always just a bit too far ‘out there’.
Over the years the commercial background to Toy Story has shifted dramatically. The production company Pixar grew from a visionary but impractical group of creatives making commercials, to a company bought and nurtured by Steve Jobs and eventually sold to Disney.
The business story is told in this great book ‘To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History’. Lawrence Levy was the financial controller who steered it through the early years and to the Disney sale. A great business book and the ideal companion to the Ed Catmull book ‘Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration'. Catmull was the co-founder of Pixar and latterly President of the company.
However, the other co-founder John Lasseter had a more dubious career, with his many achievements overshadowed by his sexual misconduct towards employees.
Interestingly one of the main characters in the current film, Bo Peep, is transformed into a strong and empowering female leader.
But time marches on and the Toy Story show is coming to an end. I don't want to spoil the story, so a closing picture of Woody will need to suffice. At many levels Toy Story is genius. It transformed the film industry, has brought delight and joy to all ages and carries powerful messages.
But it is at the human level it is most potent – and why it will be remembered as a classic.
"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right thing."
Peter F. Drucker
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