What's most interesting to me about this L.A. Times article about the marble citadel in Emeryville is how much it sounds like the structure I saw ... and the stories I heard ... at Disney three decades ago. First, consider these article snippets:
For all the success ... there's very little room atop Pixar's food chain ... Pixar director slots are few and far between ...
[Jan] Pinkava [original director of Ratatouille] speaks highly of Pixar. "It's a tremendous environment, a company based on everybody wanting to do great animation." But after "Ratatouille" he decided it was time to go. "I was never quite on the inside of Pixar -- I was on the edge of the inner circle. But I have no complaints, really. None."
Pinkava doesn't think Pixar has a glass ceiling: "I'm not sure it's a ceiling as much as it's a runway congestion problem."
For decades at Disney, it took the equivalent of an act of Congress to break into the Mouse House's version of the Golden Circle. Grizzled veterans told me: "Until they started retiring, nobody around here got to be a directing animator except the Nine Old Men.". The Disney story department had their long-time stalwarts and that was pretty much the ball game.
It's a truism with many successful organizations that old-timers defend their turf ferociously, and take few prisoners. (Niven Busch, a successful Hollywood screenwriter, told me how fellow writer Gene Fowler tried to sabotage him in story conferences with Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck.)
I've observed this kind of thing for so long in so many workplaces that I finally came up with my own internal rule:
The more valuable the perceived reward, the more strenuous the infighting.
So, if that's the case, how does anyone break in or get ahead?
1) Your work is too gloriously fabulous to be ignored.
2) You have an "in" with the Guy/Gal Who Counts.
3) The organization has had a series of failures and as a result the pecking order has been shaken up. So it's now (out of desperation) receptive to your new ideas.
4) The organization is wildly successful, growing by leaps and bounds, and needs fresh blood (and ideas.)
5) The old-timers are retiring (or moving on) and a bunch of new slots have opened up.
You can probably think of scenarios that I haven't mentioned here, but you catch my drift: When a workplace has a well-established caste system, it's often hard to break in.