At Stripe we believe the best products are created by teams that have a first-hand, shared understanding of the world they are producing for. When understanding is based solely on second hand reports, then execution is likely to be off the mark. No matter how many ‘actionable insights’ are suggested.

Nowhere demonstrates the benefit of first hand understanding better than Pixar. 

Here is an abridged extract from a recent Wired article.

The next step in making any Pixar film, before the real story work or any art can begin, is research. John Lasseter is obsessed with it. “I drive every team to do exhaustive amounts about whatever story. I will send them to every corner of the globe,” he says.

For The Good Dinosaur, that meant going out into the wild. 

“We kept saying, ‘Let’s go get lost’,” says producer Denise Ream. “We wanted to know what it would be like to experience what happens to our character.” Sohn, Ream and the crew spent days in Grand Teton National Park, including rafting down the Snake River to research the film’s river sequence. They also visited a cattle ranch; the experience, a first time for many of the crew, inspired the addition of a family of Tyrannosaurus rexes to the script.

Out in the wilderness, Sohn was struck by the beauty and danger of nature. “The river guides were very knowledgeable about survival. They would go, ‘Look at that, a landslide happened down here.’ We were looking at something so beautiful, but there was something really dangerous going on. We started to see that nature itself was more than just the background. It became a character in the story.”

We call this kind of innate knowledge ‘embodied’. It is only grasped through experience, because it is not fully explicable to people who have not experienced it. To Pixar the idea of commissioning an external agency to conduct research on ‘the wild’ independently and then report back to the filmmaking team would seem ridiculous. But in most large organisations this is precisely what would happen. The assumption that understanding is entirely translatable through powerpoint remains largely unchallenged.

1. Read more about Pixar’s approach to film making 

2. Geoff Mulgan on how first hand practice is outstripping abstract theory in social innovation 

3. How Facebook has instated ‘2G Tuesdays’ to help their developers understand the user experience in developing markets 

4. We believe it’s embodied knowledge helps to create the meaning that drives Google’s effective team

5. Airbnb founder Brian Chesky has continuously used his own service since 2010