Every business is show business . . . a Disney & Pixar expert tells why

Pixar Animation Studios’ ode to childhood did it to me again, though my mind was made up that it wouldn’t happen this time.

I was determined not to tear up as I curled up with my three-year-old grandson to watch “Toy Story 3.” I felt “safe” not having a box of tissue nearby since I’d seen the movie twice before and knew what was coming. Yet, as the credits rolled, it was a tear-streaked cheek that Gabriel kissed.

Toy Story 3. Andy gives away his toys.

I’m not overly sentimental, yet I always cry when watching Pixar’s  “Up” as well. Pixar strums my heartstrings.

Pixar’s computer-animated films are a visual delight, but I discovered that’s not what makes them great. Their power is in having a good story and being able to tell it well.  That’s their lightning in a bottle!

Bill Capodagli

Bill Capodagli

In an effort to understand how Pixar does it, and share some secrets with school communicators, I met with Bill Capodagli, co-author of the 2010 book “Innovate the Pixar Way.”

If anyone could reveal the Pixar formula for telling an enduring story in a way that appeals to people of all ages, I figured Capodagli was the guy. Know what? I  was right.

“Every business is show business,” Capodagli said with an engaging grin. “And it all begins with a story and beloved characters.”

The international business consultant also pointed out things Pixar does to foster teamwork, creativity, and innovation within the company.

Capodagli said his research for the book revealed two unique characteristics of Pixar’s corporate culture:

• Everyone is considered first and foremost a storyteller.

• Everyone is encouraged to innovate.

“Collective creativity within a corporate culture never happens by accident,” Capodagli said. “It begins with creative leadership that is trustworthy and, in turn, trusts others to accomplish big dreams.”

Capodagli’s interest in Pixar is rooted in his Baby Boomer fascination with Walt Disney, inventor of feature film animation. Capodagli and co-author Lynn Jackson also wrote the best-selling business book “The Disney Way.”

Pixar, which has been part of Disney since 2006, invented the new generation of animated films using the same guiding principles Walt Disney practiced, but with new technologies that Disney himself would have embraced, Capodagli said.


Those guiding principles are:

  • Dream like a child.
  • Believe in your playmates.
  • Dare to jump in the water and make waves.
  • Unleash your childlike potential.


According to Capodagli, a key for school communicators is to maintain a child-centric point of view, even if their primary audience will be parents or other adults.

 “Pixar movies have mass appeal, but the story always unfolds from a child’s point of view. Why? Because that’s where the energy and magic come from,” he said.

Capodagli points out that while data is important at Pixar, it’s not the driving force. Pixar chooses to not be managed by the numbers. That would be unimaginative.

I told him a story about my experience as a daily newspaper reporter covering a capital campaign in the very school district where he lives. The district asked voters to approve the sale of bonds to build a second high school, and provided copious bar graphs and pie charts outlining dwindling classroom capacity and in contrast to the area’s robust housing starts.

The school bond proposal went down in flames on election day, something that had never before happened in the district. (And here, I ask if any disaster movies come to mind…)

It was a shock to the school community and the superintendent took the loss to heart.  I told Capodagli how school district leaders and parents were able to regroup behind a more personal, student-centric story for a second bond election campaign.

The school district folks embraced their new strategy – communicating now how new schools inspired pride, creativity and achievement. They spread the message neighbor to neighbor and touched on shared hopes and dreams, not color-coordinated pie charts and financial spreadsheets.

The school superintendent spoke to audiences about the future and how schools impact a community’s growth and vitality.

She never told people to get out there and vote yes — but they did in overwhelming numbers on Election Day #2 – the Sequel.

Capodagli liked that story.

That’s probably how Pixar would’ve approached the task the first time around.

Has there been a time when your ability to tell a story well made a big difference in how something turned out? Tell us on the message board.

Added Resource for you!  Pixar Infographic