Work Your Story | How Pixar’s Rules for Storytelling Can Help You at Work

Work Your Story | How Pixar’s Rules for Storytelling Can Help You at Work was originally published on Idealist Careers.

In 2012, former Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats tweeted 22 rules of storytelling she learned from working at the hit-making studio. These rules are meant to help a storyteller think deeply about human behavior—how our experiences affect us, what we feel, why we feel that way, and how we react.

Pixar’s storytelling rules place a premium on curiosity, self-awareness, the ability to listen and observe, and follow-through ability. These so-called soft skills are not just essential for great storytellers, but for anyone at any workplace.

So what wisdom do the makers of Toy Story have to share? We’ve selected a few of our favorite rules from the list to help you write your own career story.

Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle

In storytelling, there’s the temptation to let a story unfold without preconceived notions of how it will end. However, the challenge with this approach is that there is no clear direction—where is the story going? Similarly, when you start a new project, before you map out steps and details, always be clear on your goal and desired results. This gives you something to work toward and helps you make relevant decisions along the way.

Finish your story—let go even if it’s not perfect

Every storyteller wants to complete a story perfectly, but that may not always be possible. Deadlines and unrealistic standards are just two reasons why. Your project is much the same. It is more important that you finish your work, even if it’s not a perfect result, and deliver what you promised. Learn what you can from the experience so that you hone your skillset and perform better next time.

If it’s not working, let go and move on

Not everything the storyteller produces is gold and that’s true for you too. Your project may be halted or the scope may change when work is well under way. Don’t look at all your effort as a waste of time. You can be frustrated and disappointed, but your efforts may very well help you later, if not with this project, then a future one.

Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it

Whenever you have an idea at work, don’t just let it live in your head indefinitely, especially if you’re unable to let it go. Start brainstorming on paper and talk it through with a trusted coworker, manager, or mentor. By giving your idea a voice, you are pressure-testing and gauging its potential.

Why must you tell THIS story?

A storyteller needs to understand her motivation to tell her story—she needs to know her why. The same is true for you. When you have a new idea, you need to know why it’s important to your organization and yourself. By knowing your idea’s place and potential, you can more clearly articulate goals and results if you decide to pursue next steps.

If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel?

A storyteller constantly needs to try on the shoes of her characters to gain greater insight and access authenticity. The same goes for you at the office: it will always be helpful to imagine walking in the shoes of the people you work with. Doing so will help you have a deeper understanding of the work your organization does and your role within that paradigm. This will also help you to have a greater appreciation for the work demands placed on others and problem solve, if needed.

What’s the essence of your story?

Whether you’re preparing for a conversation with your manager or a job interview, you need to think about how you want to articulate yourself. Think about what you want to share and, within that, what’s most important for others to know. What do you want people to come away with after speaking with you?


How do these storytelling rules apply to your experience in the workplace? Share your thoughts with us!