Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Harvard Business School Studied Pixar and I Paid Attention

Written by: on December 6, 2017

Pixar Logo [1]

Innovation is one of the last words used to describe most churches. So, when I read chapter 21 of The Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice about LEADING FOR INNOVATION, I was hooked. I wanted to know what this Harvard Business School collaboration with Pixar Animation Studios could teach me. I was not disappointed. I believe we could more effectively reach our communities for Christ if churches would consider a fraction of what was proposed by the sub-title, “Unlocking the Slices of Genius In Your Organization.”

Genius? Also not a word used often to describe most Pastors (probably because it would be considered sinful due to a lack of humbleness).

Two of the five characteristics identified as traits one thousand CEO’s listed that would lead to outstanding performance were “innovative beyond customer imagination” and “disruptive by nature”. [2]  Greg Bandeau, Senior Vice President at Pixar, states, “to be fit for the future, organizations have to innovate fast and boldly”.

Are you kidding me–Churches moving fast? Ha, churches usually move like a sloth. And I don’t offer that as a compliment!

“Flash” from Disney Pixar’s Zootopia [3]

First, let’s get academic: Our lead author, Dr. Linda Hill, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and TED Speaker, is obviously no couch potato. According to the Washington Post, she was named by Thinkers50 as one of the top ten management thinkers in the world in 2013 for authoring her 12th book, and Hill is also the co-author of Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives of Becoming a Great Leader, noted by the Wall Street Journal as one of the “Five Business Books to Read for Your Career.”[4] I find no review throwing any shade towards Dr. Hill.

Her assistant, Maurizio Travaglini, hailing from Milan, Italy, is the CEO of Architects of Group Genius. He gained his stripes by advising such companies as Nokia and J.P Morgan through explosive growth. Just so happens he now works for the Harvard Graduate School of Design. A very talented man!

For added flavor, include the collective giant name of Pixar Animation Studios, recently acquired by the Walt Disney Company, and you have a power team that is difficult to deny. Pixar has revolutionized technology in the cutting edge field of entertainment for no fewer than 18 films with blockbusters like Finding Nemo, Cars and Monsters, Inc.

This team has my admiration and respect.

Now, about churches. Specifically, innovative churches. They are few and far between in my denomination, even rare. In fact, if someone would talk about innovations like kiosk giving machines and coffee bistros, or missional small groups and worship though dance, many in our pews would cry blasphemy (or as our authors state, these “unnatural acts”). [5]

NOTE: I am not at all discounting the work of prayer or the Holy Spirit in our churches, but honestly, our younger generations are not paying attention while sitting in archaic pews, with plug in overhead projectors, whilst listening to overaged Pastors drone on endlessly about the sins of cell phone overuse. I am not advocating fog machines and laser light shows replace God’s Holy Word, but some innovation is warranted, for goodness sake!

Even my dissertation emphasis on STEWARDSHIP has benefitted from innovations like on-line giving, web-based budget worksheets, and generosity incubators.

A mind stretching conclusion from this chapter included “unleashing and harnessing the diverse slides of genius in an organization”. [6] Genius? In the church world we could possibly call this “fruitful” or even better yet, “anointed”. Unleashing the fruitfully anointed among our Pastors to innovate as they present the Gospel in creative ways. Instead, I think the experienced Pastors among our group, cry foul because “this isn’t the way this has always been done.”

Even more thought provoking, was the statement that innovators are experts at “creating a world to which people want to belong”.[7]  Sounds like heaven to me! As a new Superintendent in our denomination, this makes me want to go out and hire differently than we’ve ever hired before. I want to look for young Pastors who effectively paint the picture of a relationship with God that will completely transform the world most people currently struggle in.

Unfortunately, the authors state that most organizations lead from “above” instead of co-leading with the masses, as in collaboration. For instance, the case was made that a modern movie contains “literally tens of thousands of ideas” [8] which no one person could possibly come up with on his own–like just a head pastor. He needs his congregants to rise up with their voices and God given talents to contribute to our Worthy cause instead of simply relying on one professional clergy person.

Collaboration accomplished the movie TOY STORY because the scope of the project went beyond “the capabilities of one individual”.[9] Isn’t this why God gives different spiritual gifts to our attenders so that they may form one complete body. We need contributions from the many to be successful disciples and disciplers of Jesus Christ.

I will be honest, I cringed when I heard the authors state, “Conflict is an essential ingredient for innovation, we need to foster confrontation”[10] because disruptive people usually aren’t welcome for very long in our churches. We strive for unity, which I support, but sometimes the pendulum swings to0 far so as to squash new ideas or any different perspective. This cohort has stretched me with new ideas. I don’t always like them, but in seeking understanding (God is Queer…Jesus is a Feminist…) I find myself “growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” [11]

I close with this final idea from the chapter, that will actually bridge our time in Cape Town last September. The authors encouraged “leading from behind”and quoted Nelson Mandela, “A leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” [12]

Wow, I have never looked at leadership like that before!



[1] Pixar Logo HD.png. April 30, 2013. Fandom, Logopedia, Palo Alto. Compiled by Fun Bot. Accessed December 4, 2017. logos.wikia.com.

[2] Nohria, N. Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice an HBS Centennial Colloquium on Advancing Leadership. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2010. Loc. 7498.

[3] Flash Slothmore Reaction. November 23, 2015. Know Your Meme, Zootopia. Compiled by Don Caldwell. Accessed December 4, 2017. knowyourmeme.com.

[4] HBS, Copyright. “MBA.” Harvard Business School. September 9, 2014. Accessed December 05, 2017. https://www.hbs.edu/Pages/default.aspx.

[5] Nohria, N. Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice an HBS Centennial Colloquium on Advancing Leadership. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2010. Loc. 7500.

[6] Ibid., Loc. 7527.

[7] Ibid., Loc. 7528.

[8] Ibid., Loc. 7555.

[9] Ibid., Loc. 7561.

[10] Ibid., Loc. 7705.

[11] II Peter 3:18. Barker, Kenneth L., ed. The Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.

[12] Nohria, N. Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice an HBS Centennial Colloquium on Advancing Leadership. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2010. Loc. 7801.

About the Author

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

18 responses to “Harvard Business School Studied Pixar and I Paid Attention”

  1. M Webb says:


    Nice job narrowing your focus from this huge resource book on leadership into Chapter 21 on innovation. You have my vote for modernization in the church. I would not get in too much of a hurry to hire “young” pastors. This book does a good job talking about some of the qualities and characteristics that leaders need. In my experience, young leaders need practice and mentoring to become good leaders. I am witnessing a couple of young pastors dismantle my home church because the senior pastor is failing to lead, and the young pastors are wanting to make changes without obtaining any input, survey, or ideas from the congregation they serve. So, as a superintendent of many churches I urge caution and balance with your young pastors. Please ensure they know when to act and when to wait, they know how to read situations, and they know when to adapt their leadership styles to meet the needs of the church.

    I don’t see you supporting God is….and Jesus is… I do not believe this is stretching, but just another scheme of the devil to try and divide, confuse, and disrupt God’s creation. I see you found the Mandela parable too. Good job!

    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  2. Jay Forseth says:

    I hope you have a tremendous Christmas and I also hope you get time in Boise with your sweet Bride. We will talk to you again in January…

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