The Pixar Technique

Pixar has an Oscar winning way of drawing in audiences of all ages and making them feel the full spectrum of intense human emotions during their 90 minute films. The movies make us feel hope, and excitement, and love but those emotions are heightened by moments of intense tragedy.

In UP we learn that Ellie and Carl have a beautiful love story. Although they cannot have children they plan a wonderful adventure together but life keeps getting in the way, and the day that Carl buys a ticket for their trip Ellie ends up in the hospital and passes away. Throughout the rest of the movie we find hope and adventure in Carl’s relationship with Russell the boy scout. As they progress in their journey around the world we are frequently reminded of Ellie and the pain Carl feels in losing her. In Inside Out we learn about the inner workings of a little girl’s mind and all the fun, beautiful memories her personality characters take care of for her. But then she hits puberty and starts to feel more complex emotions and Joy’s journey to bring Riley back to stability is fraught with ups and downs in a literal emotional roller coaster at times. 

For these and so many other Pixar movies the feelings we the audience experience of joy and happiness and relief and adventure are more intense because of the juxtaposition of fear and anger and sadness the movie makes us go through to get to the happy ending.

Can we learn something from this “Pixar Technique” in enterprise sales?

In an enterprise sales cycle I think we do a good job of capturing the “pain” in the early stages of the evaluation. We need to understand the struggles our customer experiences to build a solution with our products and to justify the expense of a new application. Capturing the “pain” stories are a necessary part of the sales cycle and help us to empathize with the customer, build a customized solution to solve those problems, and architect a case study for a return on investment with the new vendor product.

But do we remind the customer of their current painful processes enough as we showcase the new solution? Would their emotions of joy, excitement, and relief be more heightened in the demo process if we also took a moment to periodically remind them that Nemo’s mom died to save him or that Buzz Lightyear is just a toy and not a real space ranger? 

Analogies aside, in my business at NetSuite for example, I think it’s important that when we show a revenue recognition waterfall report with the click of a button, we take a moment to appreciate that this will eliminate a manual spreadsheet with thousands of entries riddled with the opportunity for errors and at risk for someone to delete or override. The excitement and wonder of demoing this report can be intensified by bringing everyone back for a moment to the painful process that must happen today to get an inferior result after many stressful hours.

I’m not suggesting we do this exercise in a mean spirited way at all. Pixar isn’t maliciously teasing us in Monsters Inc when they show Boo run to her closet hoping to see Sully after a heartfelt good bye and the audience realizes they’ll never get to see each other because Sully must destroy the door now to protect her. Pixar takes us through that emotional despair so that when Sully figures out that laughter is more powerful than crying and they can play together again, the audience is rejoiced. The joy we feel at the end of the movie is more intense because we felt so much sadness just 20 minutes earlier.

I don’t know if there is a psychological theory for my termed “Pixar Technique” and it’s in no way endorsed or acknowledged by Pixar. Maybe I just wanted to write a post about the injustice I felt at the cricket exploitation of the ant class in A Bug’s Life and my feelings of sovereignty at their uprising. Or maybe I think this will help us sell more software.

Kelli Lampkin

Kelli Lampkin is a writer, traveler, comedienne, and entrepreneur.

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