When Toy Story broke box office records and Pixar was the biggest IPO of 1995, it seemed that company co-founder and president, Ed Catmull, had finally made it. He not only met his twenty-year-long goal of making the first computer graphics movie, he also created a successful company. “As a manager, I felt a troubling lack of purpose. Now what?” he wondered. Would he “merely” run a company? What was special about that?
His outlook changed upon learning he’d been completely oblivious to something that had put Pixar at risk, throwing his beliefs about success into a new light. Managing in a successful company is in fact a demanding, evolving, and rewarding job. The special challenge is to cultivate and maintain conditions, context, and company culture that you can’t always see.
Just because you think you can see how the sausage is made doesn’t mean you really know what’s going on in your team and company. In fact, success and great qualities can even obscure problems, creating a peculiar blindness for diligent managers on their toes. Even when you have what seems like a winning combination of talented leaders, rising fortunes, and good intentions, you can still miss something vital.