I’ve always admired the creative work done by Pixar Animation Studios, going back to the short films they were making long before the first Toy Story movie was released.

Recently I ran across* a short talk (iTunesU link) by Randy Nelson, Dean of Pixar University (can I enroll?? :-) at the Apple Education Leadership Summit in 2008 in which he discusses four interrelated aptitudes they look for in hiring people to work at Pixar and which he believes are necessary for success in a creative world.

Mastery of subject (depth)

However, at Pixar they don’t necessarily look for mastery in the area in which a candidate will be working.  Nelson notes that anyone who is a true master at something will be “the kind of person with characteristics that you can use in your organization”.

Breadth of knowledge, experience, and interests

At Pixar, “We want people who are more interested than interesting” because an “interested” person amplifies other people.


“Communication also involves translation.” That is, having the ability to “translate” your idea into messages that others outside your field (or perspective and experiences, etc.) can understand.


This, Nelson says, is the most important of the four.  But collaboration is not the same as cooperation, which is more about staying out of each others way.  Instead, ”collaboration for Pixar means amplification, the amplification you get by hooking up a bunch of human beings” who bring their mastery, breath, and communication skills to get more than the sum of the parts.

Let’s face it, very few of our kids will be working for Pixar after they graduate, as creative and fun as that might be.

But the kinds of skills Nelson outlines as being important in candidates applying to work at his company are those many other businesses in totally unrelated fields are also looking for.

Nelson says it much better than I have in this space, so go watch the whole 10 minutes or so.  This video might also make an good opening of school presentation to show your colleagues.

In closing his talk, Nelson adds this interesting, although seemingly unrelated, observation about our students.

One of the most amazing things about school is that we have this untapped resource in a sense: our students are the solution. They’re also the problem… but there is an opportunity there if we can find ways of invigorating that leadership on our campuses.

When it comes to improving our education system, students are usually the last group that reformers include in the process.

Considering they are the people most directly affected by what we do, maybe we should tap into their creativity and make them a fundamental part of those efforts instead.

*Thanks to Presentation Zen for the link and to Edutopia which produced the video.