Bits of Pixar Philosophy

I’ve always loved the movies and shorts produced by the people at Pixar1, but there’s also a lot to admire in the philosophy and work ethic of the people who make them happen.

In Building the Next Pixar, Fast Company magazine profiles some of the few people who have left the company and how they are applying the values learned at Pixar in new ventures.

The whole thing is worth your time, but here are a couple of quotes that have stuck in my head for some reason.

A computer will make something perfectly square, perfectly spherical, and that’s just ugly and boring. All of your time is spent kind of messing it up, which is the opposite of most people’s jobs…the real world is a big old mess and most people’s time is spent tidying it up. – Suzanne Slatcher, animator now working in food marketing

Maybe we shouldn’t work so hard to tidy up the world, and spend more time embracing and understanding the chaos instead.

They [Pixar management] threw you into a lot of different things to try and eliminate fear from the creative process. This meant improv classes, drawing classes, learning from people who were the best in their field–all in the interest of attaining confidence in your own artistic ideas. Fear is the biggest killer of creativity. In order to cultivate a strong creative environment, you need to make people comfortable in expressing their ideas. – Gabriel Schumberger, layout artist and technical director, now director of digital creative for Disney Publishing Worldwide.

Do we work to eliminate fear from the creative process in schools? Or even address the process at all? We certainly talk a lot about kids and creativity.2

What’s the Point of School?

In an opinion piece for the BBC, the Home Editor asks that question, one that we really need to discuss here in the US.

Even though our education system is designed and assessed upon its ability to get lots of children through state exams, very few people seriously argue that the fundamental point of schools is ensuring pupils pass tests.

Not sure he’s right about the “very few people” part.

We ascribe to schools a loftier ambition than academic success alone. We want them to prepare our children for adulthood and provide them with the skills to have the most fruitful and fulfilling life possible. Don’t we?

We would like to think so. A report from an “all-party parliamentary group” seems to reinforce the idea of students learning more than just “history and maths”.

There is, actually, a surprising amount of agreement on these ideas. Progressive educationalists tend to call it “emotional intelligence” or “emotional health”, while conservatives prefer words like “character” and “backbone”, but it amounts to pretty much the same thing.

Here in the US, you could probably get the same agreement, although only in terms of language and phrasing. When it comes to execution, we still have far too many “leaders” who advocate for schools that emphasize pupils passing tests ahead of those “loftier” ambitions.

Of course, that seemingly high-minded report was written by politicians, which means there’s going to be a point where it heads way off the rails.

The APPG report recognises the weakness in the UK evidence base but points to successful initiatives in Singapore and the United States. The American “Knowledge is Power Program’ (KIPP) is cited as a model of what is possible.

And, as far as I’m concerned, anyone who uses the terms “grit” and/or “rigor” in support of their ideas about what education should be, immediately loses all credibility.

Ok, so maybe this story is not a good starting point for a discussion of the purpose of public education.3 But that question is one we very much need to answer as a society.

Philosophical Reporting

Here’s yet another conference I’m missing.

The World Congress of Philosophy, held only once every five years, is now underway in Seoul, South Korea.

The theme of the meeting is Rethinking Philosophy Today, which, if you really think about it, is pretty much what philosophers do all the time anyway.

Ok, so this may or may not be an important meeting – I have no clue.

However, I find it very interesting that a mainstream British newspaper would allocate resources to report on and explain it to their audience.

In the US we call that being elitist and intellectual. Two very serious terms of derision.