Catmull describes a turning point that occurred during the making Toy Story 2. People at Pixar worked long hours, seven days a week over a grueling nine-month period to complete the movie. By the end of the nine months, one-third of the staff had repetitive stress injuries. On one occasion, an exhausted artist forgot to drop his infant son off at day care and left him in his car parked in the broiling Pixar parking lot for three hours. When the child was discovered, he was unconscious (fortunately he was revived). The incident traumatized Catmull and others at Pixar. It forced them to ask the question: What have we become?
Pixar had drifted into dangerous territory by putting the movie ahead of the well-being of its people. The harm done to employees, and what could have happened to the child, was a wake-up call that solidified Catmull’s core belief that people must always come first. He identifies three reasons. First, it’s a leader’s responsibility to protect the people he or she leads from pursuing excellence at all costs and it’s irresponsible to do otherwise. Second, no organization is sustainable that allows harm to come to its people. The best people will not be attracted to nor remain in a culture that ignores their welfare. Third, ideas come from people so people need to be the priority.