Building your career Braintrust

March 9, 2020

The book 'Creativity Inc.' by Ed Catmull
image: PixarPost

One of our favorite books here at Fondo HQ is ‘Creativity, Inc’, written by Ed Catmull, co-founder of the world-renowned animation studio Pixar.

It’s the story of one of the greatest storytelling companies of all time, and a team who built their careers on working with creativity, humor, and enthusiasm to deliver products and ideas that delighted people around the world. Not a bad way to approach things.

There are a few key principles Ed outlines in the book, and one of these is fostering creativity through candor. Ed believes candor - people being able to share their opinions, including criticisms, in a forthright manner - is crucial to creativity.

There are several ways the Pixar team encouraged candor amongst their teams.

One of these is known as the Braintrust.

At Pixar, the Braintrust is a group of peers who get together every so often to discuss and review progress on a particular project. As most Pixar projects are animated movies, they’ll talk through everything from major factors like characters and story, or design and technology; through to more specific challenges such as lighting a particular shot in the right way, or adjusting the pacing of a scene.

Whatever the project at hand, the goal of the Braintrust is, according to Ed, to“push towards excellence, and root out mediocrity.”

It’s also worth noting the Braintrust isn’t like a typical review meeting or focus group. As the name suggests, it’s a group built on trust - and on candor. Everyone is focused on trying to solve problems and get the best possible outcome, but they’re not trying to impress their boss, get a promotion, or fulfil any other hidden agendas they may have.

One of the biggest benefits of the Braintrust is helping the person calling the group together to get out of their own way. And all of us - even Oscar-winning movie directors - get in our own way.

As Ed puts it;

“...the Braintrust is valuable because it broadens your perspective, allowing you to peer — at least briefly — through others’ eyes.”

Ed Catmull
Ed Catmull

The book goes into the work of the Braintrust in more detail, but we noticed a few key themes that enabled the Braintrust to be effective:

  • Bring together others with relevant but varied experience and expertise
  • Everyone practices being open to hearing sharing, and incorporating constructive, clear feedback
  • Good feedback doesn’t prescribe an answer; instead it offers a potential route or solution
  • Not every piece of feedback needs to be actioned or implemented by the person receiving it - but it should always be acknowledged

Of course, ‘Creativity Inc.’ was written about movies. Many of the book’s principles have been applied by people in other creative industries, but how is it relevant to career exploration and the future of work? After all, that’s what we do here at Fondo.

A lot of Fondo users have been telling us one of their biggest career frustrations is not having access to the right people, especially when they’re looking to do something new:

“How do you get access when you don’t have access?”
“I want to know if making a move like this is going to fit with my personality and my values”
“I want to change career into a new industry, but there’s no one in my direct network who has experience working in it”
“How do I know if a mentor is the right fit for me?”

Those were just a few of the things we’ve kept hearing.

So, we thought, why not take a leaf from Ed and the Braintrust?

What if you had access to a group of empathetic people who would give you candid and constructive feedback on what you’re working on: a career change, a new skill, a project you want to build?

And what if this Braintrust was made up of people who were aligned to your personality, your interests, your skills, your background and experience?

The Braintrust could be experts with decades of experience, or someone just a step or two ahead of you. They may not look like the person you’re expecting - but they’re matched with you because, just like Ed’s Braintrust, they’re a diverse group focused on helping make things better, and to broaden your perspective.

We’ve been building a prototype of the Fondo Braintrust over the last couple of months, and we’re very excited about it.

Ahead of a public launch, we’re looking for a small number of users to start trying it out and tell us what they think.

If you want to be among the very first people to get access to your very own Braintrust to help you clarify your thinking and get guidance on your career journey, drop us a line.

And if you’d like to become a member of a Braintrust, fill out this form and we’ll get right back to you. You’ll earn Fondo credits, and most importantly, help broaden the horizons of all kinds of career explorers.