The View from Somewhere

Point of view

When we ask for someone's point of view on a topic or subject, what we mean is the opinion or feelings they have from their experience or situation. Point of view is the angle of considering things. 

The philosophical aspect of point of view is perspective. In their work, Heraclitus and Parmenides discussed the relation between “appearance” and reality —as in what is appearance, what is reality, and the relationships between the two.

In literature, point of view is the mode of narration that an author employs to let the readers “hear” and “see” what takes place in a story, poem, or essay. For example, Ernest Hemingway used the first person:

“I could picture it. I have a habit of imagining the conversations between my friends. We went out to the Cafe Napolitain to have an aperitif and watch the evening crowd on the Boulevard.”

While Jane Austen used the third person. Nathaniel Hawthorne expressed the point of view of his characters physically —as in someone watching someone else doing something. Writers use a point of view to express what they want to convey to their readers.

In business, the point of view is indicative of a way of seeing the world. Which means that we first need to have a clear, unique, and compelling idea of how we see things —a view from somewhere. Some examples of what it takes to develop it include:

  • research and deep insight into the operational and/or organizational reality of a specific challenge customers face
  • a novel approach or method to address the challenge, including making the case to address potential objections on shortcomings
  • examples of coherent applications of the proposed method to high-stakes situations corroborated by facts and solid logic

The most demanding part of the work in developing a point of view as an organization is that it cannot make up the deficiencies in collecting facts, doing the analysis, and using logic by papering over them with buzzwords.

At a personal level, a point of view is the expression of a person's most basic beliefs, values, and biases. It includes our frames of reference that we use to understand the world, our perspective on things, and our orientation —along the continuum between where we have been, where we are, and where we're headed.

Because it is a reflection of who we are, our personal point of view involves our emotional sphere and does not change easily. Which is why it's important to gain an appreciation of our biases and assumptions. It's helpful to have a view from somewhere when we need to make the final decision after considering the facts. 


In Creativity, Inc. Ed Catmull provides two great examples of point of view for the making of Pixar's biggest success —Toy Story. The first one was during the conception of the first movie. In 1991, when the company was just give years old, Pixar struck a deal with Disney to provide three computer animated movies.

None of them had ever made a movie longer than five minutes before, and there was no help on hand for computer animation. That is when John Lassiter had an idea for the script —Toy Story would be about a group of toys and a boy who loves them. However, the story would be told using the point of view of the toys.

The team included Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter, and later Joe Raft who had worked on Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. While all were strong storytellers, they considered themselves inexperienced. Lassiter sought advice from Disney's Jeffrey Katzenberg, who started pushing for more of an edge for the main character, Woody. Top executives Peter Schneider and Tom Schumacher also provided their feedback on the script.

This went on for a while, until a year later, the new Woody transformed from affable and easy going to darker and meaner caused a shutdown of production. The character didn't work. While this was terrifying to Pixar, it also held a lesson for the team —trust their storytelling abilities. 

The company went public after the successful release of Toy Story.

Catmull's second example involved something he as a leader had missed during the making of the movie. He says, “I'd missed it even though I thought I'd been paying attention.” He had seen his job as that of minding internal and external dynamics that could divert the company from its goal.

But in looking at treating everyone with respect and making sure everyone had a voice, he had “missed a serious and ongoing rift between” the creative and production groups. The latter reported how working on Toy Story had been a nightmare. Thus they were reluctant to repeat the experience on another movie.

Production managers' role is to manage people and safeguard the creation process. The reason why Catmull had not seen the problem was that for their first full feature movie production Pixar had brought in experienced production managers from LA. In typical Hollywood fashion, the crew felt its job was temporary, so they did not raise any red flags during the project as word gets around in the business.

A secondary reason for them to push through a less than ideal team dynamic where the creative group saw them as second-class and sometimes as impeding the process, was their feeling that the project was history in the making. “The good stuff was hiding the bad stuff,” says Catmull:

When downsides coexist with upsides, as they often do, people are reluctant to explore what's bugging them, for fear of being labeled complainers. I also realized that thins kind of thing, if left unaddressed, could fester and destroy Pixar.

For me this discovery was bracing. Being on the lookout for problems, I realized, was not the same as seeing problems. This would be the idea —the challenge— around which I would build my new sense of purpose.

What Catmull found is that the high-stakes situation had inadvertently created a “everything-goes-through-me mentality,” which most people found frustrating. Most of us empathize with what it feels like to be micromanaged or think we are.

Addressing the real problem was a good stepping stone to becoming better at doing the work. With the obvious benefits came an unexpected insight:

We realized our purpose was not merely to build a studio that made hit films, but to foster a creative culture that would continually ask questions.

Questions like: if we had done some things right to achieve success, how could we ensure that we understood what those things were? Could we replicate them on our next projects? Perhaps as important, was replication of success even the right thing to do?

How many serious, potentially disastrous problems were lurking just out of sight and threatening to undo us? What, if anything, could we do to bring them to light? How much of our success was luck? What would happen to our egos if we continued to succeed? Would they grow so large they could hurt us, and if so, what could we do to address that overconfidence? What dynamics would arise now that we were bringing new people into a successful enterprise as opposed to a struggling startup?

Human interaction is by far more complex than rocket science, says physicist, engineer and mathematician Duncan Watts, who ventured into sociology, and eventually computer science. Catmull felt the same. With a Ph.D. in computer science, he would learn that some of his beliefs about how Pixar had been successful were wrong.

The process that went into building Pixar's identity span several years, involved many relationships, and took a keen desire to pay attention and notice when things were not going well. It was during the creation of Toy Story 2 that Pixar's true identity was forged.

To make the script for the second movie work and fix the story, the team had to analyze the emotional beats of the story without anyone getting defensive. For this purpose, Pixar formed a team of problem solvers they called Braintrust. This team was tasked with dissecting scenes that were falling flat.

The most demanding part of the work in developing a point of view in business is having the rigor to collect the facts, do the analysis, and use logic to propose a solution to a high-stake problem. In Pixar's case do the work to find the emotional story arc one were viewers would believe Woody, the main character, was facing a real dilemma.

Solving that challenge created the story's view from somewhere that made the sequel and even bigger success than the original. The difference between before and after the Braintrust went to work on Woody's dilemma was that the team's work on the evolution of the story had carved a path to make people care.


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