On this day in 1887, Groundhog Day, featuring a rodent meteorologist, is celebrated for the first time at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. According to tradition, if a groundhog comes out of its hole on this day and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather; no shadow means an early spring.
Historical background of Groundhog Day includes:
Rooted in the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas Day, where clergy blessed and distributed candles for winter; the candles represented how long and could winter would be
Germans expanded on the idea by selecting the hedgehog as a means of predicting weather
German settlers to America in Pennsylvania continued the tradition, switching to the groundhogs as hedgehogs weren’t available
Groundhogs do emerge from hibernation in February, but only to look for a mate before going underground again
They come out of hibernation for good in March
In 1887 an enterprising newspaper editor declared that Phil, the Punxsutawney groundhog, was America’s only true weather-forecasting groundhog.
Phil and his descendants might be the most famous, but many towns across North America now have their own meteorology Marmota monax.
The 1993 movie “Groundhog Day” popularized the usage of “groundhog day” to mean something that is repeated over and over.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of scary parallels in the church world:
Do you have ongoing traditions from the past that had original meaning but have now lost that meaning?
Have you adapted your traditions to fit the culture of your community?
Are your traditions based on something that no longer is relevant?
Do you market your traditions on their own merits, or are you exploiting them?
Are your traditions the same as a half-dozen other churches in your town?
Do your traditions have a life of their own, long-ago outliving their original useful purpose?
While you may view this post as “anti-tradition”, neither it nor I am! I love history and tradition – I have minors in history at the graduate and post-graduate levels, study history all the time, and know that it can be a powerful teacher.
Churches should be students of their past – but also their present, in order to help write their future.
Can you as a church leader understand and appreciate the history of your church and its traditions? At the same time, are you a cultural anthropologist of your community, understanding what’s going on today? Combining the two will give you and your leadership team a solid foundation for future opportunities!
The books in my Disney library are a valuable resource for my ongoing quest in learning the story of Walt Disney and the “kingdoms” he created; kingdoms that continue to expand in the 56 years since his passing.
But even books have limitations…
You can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world…but it requires people to make the dream a reality.
Over the years I have been fortunate to make friends among Disney Cast Members, both current and past. A handful of those friends have been Imagineers, and as you may imagine, they are amazing storytellers, creative geniuses, and innovative to the core.
So…learning more about Imagineering? Sign me up – literally!
When the news that a new steaming service called Disney+ was coming in the fall of 2019, I was delighted – so much, that I signed up for a 3-year subscription as soon as they became available.
When the initial programming schedule was released, and included the 6-part series “The Imagineering Story,” I was ecstatic – it was among the first programs I watched on the new service.
When the book The Imagineering Story was announced, I was literally stopped what I was doing and pre-ordered the book.
There’s really no secret about our approach. We keep moving forward – opening new doors and doing new things – because we’re curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. We’re always exploring and experimenting…we call it Imagineering – the blending of creative imaginational and technical know-how.
The book goes deep into the personalities, stories, and adventures of the men and women who brought create magic around the world.
More than just the theme parks (though that would have been awesome enough), every resort hotel, shop and business setting, cruise ship, and entertainment setting exists largely through the men and women of Disney Imagineering.
The Imagineering Story greatly expands the award-winning filmmaker Leslie Iwerks’ narrative of the fascinating history of Walt Disney Imagineering.
The entire legacy of Walt Disney Imagineering is covered from day one through future projects with never-before-seen access and insights from people both on the inside and on the outside. So many stories and details were left on the cutting room floor for the series – this book allows an expanded exploration of the magic of Imagineering.
Every one of the 731 pages was filled with stories that brought the Disney Experience alive.
The experience of Disney – primarily in the theme parks, but now expanded to other resorts, retail shops, and cruise ships – can be traced back to Walt Disney. His untimely death in 1966 could have left a void in the creativity of the Disney empire.
But I believe his greatest act of genius had its origins in 1952, as he began to pull together veterans of film and animation work for a special project that came to be known as Disneyland.
That group of versatile animators and art directors was the foundation of a group that came to be called the Imagineers.
Out of this group, Disney historian Tim Hauser reflects, “came the theories, aesthetics, design, and engineering of Disneyland; the advancement of three-dimensional storytelling; the development of robotic techniques in Audio-Animatronics; and the perpetuation of an ‘architecture of reassurance’ as inspired by Walt Disney’s personal sense of optimistic futurism.”
Today Walt Disney Imagineering remains the design, development, and master-planning branch of company, with over 140 disciplines working toward the common goal of great stories and creating great places.
Walt Disney wanted Disneyland to be essentially a movie that allows you to walk in and join in the fun. Imagineers – many whom had worked with Walt Disney since the 1930s – literally brought those movies to life with their multiple disciplines. He knew from his filmmaking experience that story was everything to the audience. Disney knew he must immerse the theme park guest in living storytelling scenarios.
Designing the Guest’s experience is what Walt Disney’s Imagineers came to call “the art of the show,” a term that applies to what the Imagineers did at every level, from the broadest conceptual outlines to the smallest details, encompassing visual storytelling, characters, and the use of color.
Walt Disney realized that a visit to an amusement park could be like a theatrical experience – in a word, a show. Walt saw that the Guests’ sense of progressing through a narrative, of living out a story told visually, could link together the great variety of attractions he envisioned for his new kind of park. While traveling through their stories, Guests would encounter, and even interact with, their favorite Disney characters, and who would be transformed, as if by magic, from their two-dimensional film existence into this special three-dimensional story world.
As designers, the Imagineers create spaces – guided experiences that take place in carefully structured environments, allowing the Guests to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste in new ways. In effect, Imagineers transform a space into a story place.
Ultimately, the Imagineers gave Guests a place to play, something Walt believed that adults needed as much as children. The design of the Imagineers gives power to the Guests’ imagination, to transcend their everyday routine. Walt Disney insisted that Guests should “feel better because of” their experiences in Disney theme parks, thus establishing the art of the show.
For the Imagineers, that meant considering everything within and relating to the parks as design elements. To build effective story environments and assure Guest comfort, the designers realize that they always had to assume the Guests’ position and point of view, and just as Walt did, to take the Guests’ interests to heart and defend them when others didn’t think it mattered.
It is up to the designers to provide Guests with the appropriate sensory information that makes each story environment convincing. This means that design considerations go beyond the attractions themselves to the service and operations staff, transportation, restaurants, shops, rest rooms – even the trash cans.
The secret to Disney magic that the Imagineers bring to life is in the details!
Recently celebrating their 70th anniversary, the Imagineers have delivered – time and time again. To date, the Imagineers have built twelve theme parks; dozens of resort hotels; 5 cruise ships with two more under construction; 2 water parks; and ongoing development in existing parks and Disney properties around the world.
The Imagineers bring the Disney magic alive.
The Imagineering Story brings the Imagineers to life.
I have a hard time ranking the books in my Disney library – but The Imagineering Story is going to be in my all-time Top Ten from now on, and a highly-recommended book for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the creative genius (and occasionally weirdness) of that special and unique blend of artists and engineers who took the dreams of one man, Walt Disney, and brought them to life.
Part of a regular series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader
During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.
It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.
If you read about the origins and development of Disneyland in the early 1950s leading up to its opening in July 1955, the well-know names start with Walt and Roy Disney, followed by a small-but-influential group of Disney studio team members who used their imaginative talents to transfer ideas from the screen to reality.
Of course, that is an important part of the history of Disney – we wouldn’t have the parks without their creative brilliance.
But it’s one thing to create a place like Disneyland, and a whole other thing to run a place like Disneyland.
During the final, frenzied weeks of construction leading to opening day on July 17, 1955, the name Dick Nunis appears in the history of Disneyland – a new college graduate, hired to be a “gofer” for Van Arsdale France, who created the first orientation and training program for employees.
Nunis had met Walt Disney several years before (Walt’s daughter Diane was a classmate of Nunis, and was dating her husband-to-be Ron Miller, a teammate of Nunis’ at USC). That memorable first encounter included a ride on “The Carolwood Pacific Railroad” – a miniature train with over 1/2 mile of track circling Walt Disney’s home (one of the four foundational origin stories of Disneyland, but that’s for another day).
That train ride with Walt Disney foreshadowed the future of Dick Nunis, as he progressed from a gofer to chairman of Walt Disney Attractions, a forty-four year career at Disney on the operations side of the parks.
Walt’s Apprentice: Keeping the Disney Dream Alive is the memoir of Disney Legend Dick Nunis. It is a warm personal reminiscence of learning directly from Walt Disney for 12 years, followed by more than 30 years devoted to championing his vision and standards as the Disney empire grew.
The story covers Disney’s highlights, including the 1960 Winter Olympics, 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, and the development and opening of Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Epcot, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris.
Unlike other Disney books, this story is told from the perspective of operations rather than Imagineering. It touches on decisions that defined the guest experience and Disney’s reputation for quality in areas ranging from capacity and people-moving, training, delivering a consistent “good show,” food service, and more.
This first-person narrative is presented as a series of wide-ranging vignettes. Some vignettes focus on personal, character-shaping events, such as the injury that ended his collegiate football career. Other stories touch on national events, such as Nikita Khrushchev’s derailed visit to Disneyland, the decision to close the park following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan’s assistance in expediting the visa process for cast members staffing the Epcot World Showcase. Few people have enjoyed a life so immersed in Disney magic.
These stories share that magic through the memories of one of the original doers and dreamers.
In my personal research and study of the history of the Disney company, I had long noticed the name of Dick Nunis and the many contributions he made at each stage of his Disney career.
When I learned that the long-rumored book from Nunis was being published, it went to the top of my list.
It did not disappoint!
As one of a very few individuals still alive who worked closely with Walt Disney, Walt’s Apprentice chronicles how Nunis learned directly from Walt Disney for a dozen years, then spent the next thirty years devoted to championing Walt’s vision and standards as Disney grow into a worldwide enterprise, “creating happiness” for young and old alike.
If you want to read a first-person narrative on Disney with a focus on the operational side, Walt’s Apprentice is a must.
Part of a regular series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader
During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.
It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.
Note: On the 56th anniversary of Walt Disney’s death, a continuing series of posts on the difficulties – and opportunities – former, now new again, Disney CEO Bob Iger is facing.
Upon Walt Disney’s untimely death in 1966 at age 65, his behind-the-scenes brother, Roy Disney, reluctantly came out of retirement to oversee the building and financing of Walt Disney World. Roy Disney died in late 1971, just a few months after the opening of Walt Disney World, and for the next decade the Disney Company was led by a team including Card Walker, Donn Tatum, and Ron Miller—all originally trained by the Disney brothers.
The genius of Roy Disney is often overlooked – a sad and unfortunate fact because Walt, the creative genius, only succeeded because of Roy, the organizational and business genius.
Their partnership, which began in 1923, was certainly filled with ups and downs. The lowest, of course, was when Walt died. In an act of pure brotherly love, Roy stepped out of retirement and stepped up to complete a version of Walt’s dream – renaming the project WALT Disney World, in tribute to his brother.
Roy, who had in reality been CEO of Disney since 1929, was now faced with dealing with the creative side of Disney. As only brothers can, the two Disneys were the best of friends and could be the worst of enemies. Even so, the Disney Company prospered with a long track record of successes.
Then Walt died.
What would the Disney Company do?
This is what they did then. Are there lessons for what they might do now?
As anyone who has been married knows, there is a difference between the moonlight and roses of courtship and the bills and responsibilities of marriage.
– Van France, Founder of Disney University
Anyone who has ever been involved in a grand opening knows the feeling. The energy accompanying the pre-opening, followed by the eventual letdown afterward, can be an emotional roller coaster.
At Walt Disney World, a number of issues were adding to the post-opening blues:
Roy Disney, who took over as the company’s inspirational leader after Walt Disney’s death in 1966, passed away in December 1971, barely two months after the opening of Walt Disney World. His enthusiasm and focus motivated all the cast members to push through the challenges to complete Walt’s Florida dream. The company lost its vital inspirational leaders in a relatively short span of time.
Cast members were exhausted. There wasn’t an operational road map for opening Walt Disney World. Everything was new; cast members learned as they created. Systems and procedures were developed as the resort took shape.
Opportunities for career advancement slowed down. Turnover skyrocketed.
Much more than a single theme park, Disney World was a complex environment that involved many professions. Walt Disney World, with the hotels, golf courses, campgrounds, and resorts, was a 24/7/365 operation. The word downtime wasn’t in the vocabulary.
The singular goal of opening Walt Disney World, a tremendous source of motivation in and of itself, was gone. What else was there to look forward to? The inspiration and motivation provided by the clarity of a major goal would be hard to duplicate.
Sustaining the intense levels of pre-opening enthusiasm, effort, and momentum is not a reasonable goal for any organization. However, preventing a post accomplishment toxic environment or a mass exodus of team members driven out by crashing morale is a goal that is both attainable and worth pursuing.
The size and scope of Walt Disney World were unprecedented. It faced an equally immense employee relations crisis.
What would Disney do (again)?
Disney executive Dick Nunis began a series of meetings of the divisional vice presidents – but it wasn’t any ordinary meeting, and it was definitely not an ordinary location. In a small, sparse room – more like an unfinished attic than a meeting room – the meetings began.
That room, in the tower of Cinderella Castle, the symbol of the Happiest Place on Earth, would be the location for a miraculous turnaround.
The meetings led to a revised employee development strategy of centralized activities controlled by the Disney University and decentralized activities under the control of the divisions.
At the center of the plan was Disney University. It is the keeper of the key, the company’s conscience regarding the Disney brand; it is responsible for setting the ‘big picture’ to ensure a consistent delivery of the product. The new-hire orientation ensures everyone coming on board knows the culture of the company. The decentralized portion of the training strategy is the responsibility of each operating division.
Thor Degelmann, Human Resource Development Manager, Walt Disney Company
And the result – by 1975, two years after the meetings began, the turnover rate at Walt Disney World had dropped from 83 percent to 28 percent, a 66 percent reduction in turnover.
The honeymoon was over, but the marriage would thrive.
Applying Van France’s Four Circumstances
Innovate – Support – Educate – Entertain
Crisis Management and Culture Change
In your organization, what is the equivalent of a honeymoon coming to an end?
Are senior team leaders fully engaged in the resolution process?
How could this turnaround strategy be improved?
What symbols represent the culture of your organization?
How could these symbols be used to help reinforce organizational culture and resolve crises?
How do you communicate important messages?
Are openness, honesty, and collaboration encouraged?
Get the book TODAY to learn invaluable lessons for your Guest Experience Teams
Disney U is one of the most significant resources related to the Disney organization, leadership, team development, and Guest Experiences available. Over the last ten years, I’ve spent over 100 days on Disney properties. During observations, and in numerous conversations with Cast Members, I was reminded again and again of the importance of the training principles found in Disney U.
NOTE: Continuing reflections on the replacement of Bob Chapek, Disney CEO, with Bob Iger, former CEO.
Tucked inside the entrance gates to Disney’s California Adventure is an iconic reproduction of the Carthay Circle Theater in Los Angeles. One of the most important theaters in the Golden Age of Movies during the Twenties and Thirties, it represents the premier of a tremendous achievement by Walt Disney – the first full length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Though we now view Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as an animation classic, in the mid-1930’s the idea of a full-length “cartoon” was unheard of. Walt Disney took one of the biggest risks of his career, putting almost all of his resources – both business and personal – into the film. Called “Disney’s Folly” by most of Hollywood (and more than a few inside Disney Studios itself), the film opened to critical and financial success, paving the way for Disney to continue expanding his creative genius.
With critics becoming more vocal, Walt Disney knew he would have to inspire his team of artists and writers as never before.
Ken Anderson, Art Director for Snow White, remembered it this way:
When we walked into the soundstage it was all dark so we could save money. There was just a light on the floor in front of the seats. About forty of us sat there and we got all settled.
Walt came down in front of us and said, “I’m going to tell you a story. It’s been with me all my life. I’ve lived it!”
He started in and told the story of Snow White better than we put it on the screen. From eight o’clock to eleven thirty, he portrayed all the parts. We were spellbound. He had to go forward and back and forward and back in order to get it all in. He became the queen, became the huntsman, became the dwarfs, and even Snow White.
In front of us, he wasn’t embarrassed to do anything. He became all of those creatures. The guy changed right in front of us.
He had enormous talent as an actor. He could really sell things. And he sold the story to us in such a way that we could’t believe our ears. He so thrilled us with the story that we were just carried away. We came away from that meeting know that it could be done, even though no one else had ever done it.
One animator later claimed, “that one performance lasted us three years. Whenever we’d get stuck, we’d remember how Walt did it on that night.”
The rest is history…
Disney history, that is!
It’s also a telling story of why there will never be another Walt Disney, and why even the best intentions of Bob Iger will not meet that mark.
Acclaimed Disney expert Jim Korkis tells the stories of what Walt did right, what he did wrong, and how you can follow in his footsteps. Drawing upon his unparalleled knowledge of the Disney Company and its legacy, Korkis distills the essence of Walt Disney’s leadership principles into an exciting narrative of popular history and self-help.
You’ll read not just about what Walt did but why he did it, and how you can apply the lessons to your own life or your own enterprise.
Who’s the Leader of the Club will teach you how to lead like Walt. You don’t have to be producing animated films or running theme parks to benefit from the innovative but common-sense approaches Walt Disney took to every challenge. In just a few hours, you’ll learn what it took Walt a lifetime to perfect, and you’ll learn how to put it to work for you.
Just as important, Korkis will teach you how not to lead like Walt. No leader is perfect, and Walt had traits that cost him, such as his berating employees in public, never praising an employee for good work, and trying to get the best out of people by pitting them against one another. Despite these flaws, Walt inspired great personal loyalty and devotion. Korkis explains why.
Packed with lessons, anecdotes, and quotes, Who’s the Leader of the Club? comes with all you need to master the Disney way, start telling your story, and become the leader of your club!
About the Author
Jim Korkis grew up in Glendale, CA, immediately adjacent to Burbank, the home of Disney Studios. Eager to learn about animation, as a young boy he wrote down the names of Disney staff members from the credits of Walt Disney’s weekly television series, and proceeded to look them up in his local phone book. When Korkis called them up to ask about Disney animation, he was often invited to their homes and spent hours enthralled by their stories.
As they recommended him to other Disney staff members, he developed a network of animators, Imagineers, and others who had personally know Walt Disney. As the years progressed, he even developed a friendship with Diane Disney Miller, Walt’s oldest daughter, who was supportive of his work and shared personal insights about her father.
In the mid-90’s, Korkis moved to Orlando Florida and began working with the Disney Institute and Disney University, meeting many executives who had worked with Walt Disney and been trained by him.
As he had done in California, he listened and took extensive notes about their stories and experiences.
The leadership lessons of Walt Disney contained in Who’s the Leader of the Club created an organization respected and admired around the world. Unfortunately, these lessons have not been officially taught at Disney University to new leaders for well over two decades.
Korkis felt it was time to share them again, making every effort to use Walt Disney’s words as well as the words of those how had experienced him in action to help elaborate and describe the concepts.
It is Korkis’ desire that his book will prove to be an informative workbook on Walt’s leadership philosophy as well as an entertaining glimpse into a different perspective of his life.
Here is a summary of Korkis’ seven lessons of leadership lived out by Walt Disney, along with a quote by Walt for each of the seven:
Know the Story
A leader’s vision is most effectively presented in the format of a story, the most powerful communication in the world for centuries.
The Wisdom of Walt: It is a curious thing that the more the world shrinks because of electronic communications the more timeless becomes the province of the storytelling entertainer.
Share the Story
In order to accomplish his vision, a leader must passionately share the complete story with everyone involved and actively encourage contributions to strengthen the story.
The Wisdom of Walt: I’m a storyteller. Of all the things I’ve done, I’d like to be remembered as a storyteller.
Take a (Calculated) Risk
So that the organization can avoid stagnation, a leader must occasionally take calculated risks to expand into new areas.
The Wisdom of Walt: To some people, I am kind of a Merlin who takes lots of crazy chances, but rarely makes mistakes. I’ve made some bad ones, but fortunately, the successes have come along fast enough to cover up the mistakes. When you go to bat as many times as I do, you’re bound to get a good average. That’s why I keep my projects diversified.
Make ‘em Laugh
It is the responsibility of the leader to establish a tone in the work place that allows people to feel safe and comfortable and to be able to smile and laugh.
The Wisdom of Walt: In bad times and good, I have never lost my sense of humor.
Eager to Learn
It is important for a leader to gather information from a variety of sources and encourage his team to do the same.
The Wisdom of Walt: We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.
A leader needs to know, understand, and listen to his team in order to lead them to success.
The Wisdom of Walt: You can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality.
Live the Story
The most important quality a leader can have is integrity, demonstrating by his words and actions that he stands for what he says he believes.
The Wisdom of Walt: Our heritage and ideals, our codes and standards – the things we live by and teach our children – are preserved or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings.
Still to come:
Succeeding as the new CEO of the Walt Disney Company was not going to be easy.
It wasn’t going to be easy for the new leader of the Walt Disney Company…even if his last name was Disney.
Note: This is a revised version of a post first published in early 2020. With the huge announcement earlier this week of the replacement of Disney CEO Bob Chapek by former CEO Bob Iger, I thought I would revisit the post before publishing a new one on the return of Bob Iger, what that means to the Disney company, and how hard it is to continue a founder’s vision.
For many people today, Walt Disney is not seen as a man, but instead as a nameless, faceless entertainment giant which owns the intellectual properties of the Disney Studios, Pixar Studios, Marvel, LucasFilms, and Fox. While that is all true, the man named Walter Elias Disney rose from humble beginnings to found the studio that bears his name in 1923.
After several years of barely scraping by and one disastrous setback, Disney put together a string of successes. By the early 1930s, Disney had reached what many industry leaders considered the pinnacle of success for an animated short features studio.
However, Walt Disney wasn’t at the top; he was just getting started.
Not all visionaries are leaders, but all leaders are visionaries. You can’t lead people without a vision of where you are taking them.
What is your dream, your vision?
According to author Pat Williams, great leaders are people of vision. Without a vision, how will you know what success looks like? How will you know how to get there? Your vision is your definition of success.
Look at the quote by Walt Disney above: “I dream, I test my dreams against my beliefs, I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.”
Author Pat Williams breaks the quote down as follows:
“I dream.” Walt began with a vision, a dream of the future.
“I test my dreams against my beliefs.” Walt made sure his vision was consistent with his beliefs, his core values, and his integrity.
“I dare to take risks.” He acted boldly, betting on himself to win.
“I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.” He focused all his energies, and those of his organization, on turning his dreams into reality.
Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966. Although the purchase of land for what would become Walt Disney World had been completed, infrastructure work had barely begun. After concentrating on theme parks for years, the quality of movies and animation had declined. Leadership of the company passed to several individuals for a few years, then to Michael Eisner for twenty years.
After rising through the ranks of ABC Television and Disney, Iger became the COO of Disney in 2000, and then in 2005, Iger was named chairman and then CEO of The Walt Disney Company.
Put yourself in Iger’s shoes, if you can imagine: How do you assume the legacy of Walt Disney?
In the fall of 2019, Robert Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, released a memoir/leadership book, based on his forty-five year career in the media and entertainment world.
Robert Iger became CEO of The Walt Disney Company in 2005, during a difficult time. Competition was more intense than ever and technology was changing faster than at any time in the company’s history. His vision came down to three clear ideas: Recommit to the concept that quality matters, embrace technology instead of fighting it, and think bigger—think global—and turn Disney into a stronger brand in international markets.
Today, Disney is the largest, most admired media company in the world, counting Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox among its properties. Its value is nearly five times what it was when Iger took over, and he is recognized as one of the most innovative and successful CEOs of our era.
In The Ride of a Lifetime, Robert Iger shares the lessons he learned while running Disney and leading its 220,000-plus employees, and he explores the principles that are necessary for true leadership.
This book is about the relentless curiosity that has driven Iger for forty-five years, since the day he started as the lowliest studio grunt at ABC. It’s also about thoughtfulness and respect, and a decency-over-dollars approach that has become the bedrock of every project and partnership Iger pursues, from a deep friendship with Steve Jobs in his final years to an abiding love of the Star Wars mythology.
“The ideas in this book strike me as universal” Iger writes. “Not just to the aspiring CEOs of the world, but to anyone wanting to feel less fearful, more confidently themselves, as they navigate their professional and even personal lives.”
As Iger neared the end of his 45+ year career and began to think back on what he had learned, he came up with ten principles that struck him as true leadership:
Optimism – A pragmatic enthusiasm for what can be achieved.
Courage – The foundation of risk-taking is courage.
Focus – Allocating time, energy, and resources to the strategies, problems, and projects that are of highest importance and value is extremely important.
Decisiveness – All decisions, no matter how difficult, and and should be made in a timely way.
Curiosity – A deep and abiding curiosity enables the discovery of new people, places, and ideas.
Fairness – Strong leadership embodies the fair and decent treatment of people. Empathy and accessibility are essential.
Thoughtfulness – Taking the time to develop informed opinions.
Authenticity – Be genuine and honest. Truth and authenticity breed respect and trust.
Relentless pursuit of perfection – A refusal to accept mediocrity or make excuses for something being “good enough.”
Integrity – High ethical standards for all things, big and small.
How can Iger’s list of principles inspire you to be a better leader?
A little backstory on the acquisition book: This is the book everyone who has even a passing interest in the Disney Corporation was waiting for. Since becoming a part of Disney’s senior management team in 1996, and especially since becoming CEO in 2005, Iger’s ideas and the values he embraced have led to the reinvention and resurgence of one of the most beloved companies in the world.
Under Iger’s leadership, Disney acquired four powerhouse companies – Pixar, Marvel, LucasFilm, and 21st Century Fox.
Iger donated proceeds of from his book to educational initiatives aimed at fostering more diversity in the field of journalism.
When the rumors of his book first came out in the fall of 2016, it went on my watch list, and true to Amazon’s promise, it was delivered the day it was released on September 23, 2019.
Handing off the CEO role to Bob Chapek in early 2020, Iger remained executive chairman (till the end 2020) and chairman of the Board of The Walt Disney Company (till the end of 2021).
And now coming soon, the sequel to Bob Iger’s leadership post of the Walt Disney Company…
The legions of ancient Rome were composed of ten cohorts each: cohesive units of 300-600 men who trained, ate, slept, fought, won, lost, lived, and died together. The strength was their ability to think, act, and react as a unit. Though composed of individuals, training and socialization equipped them to behave as if of a single mind when called to battle. Social demographers, students of the effects of population on society, use the term cohort to refer to people born in the same general time span who share key life experiences – from setting out for school for the first time together through reaching puberty at the same time, to entering the workforce or university or marriage or middle age or their dotage at the same time.
The six primary generations of today’s American lifestyle span a remarkable slice of American and world history. Three major wars, countless minor (?) ones, economic booms and busts, social upheavals, rocketing technological achievement, and even stepping beyond our planet are among the milestones that have directly and indirectly shaped the times.
I count myself fortunate to have a direct connection to all six generations. To me, understanding more about how each of them think, feel, and act is not just a mental exercise – it’s a necessary part of life.
Builder Generation (1922-1945) My father and mother were born into the early part of this cohort. He entered military service just as WWII was ending; she was in college and then taught school; they were part of what some call “The Greatest Generation”. Think “American values” and you’ve got their number: civic pride, loyalty, respect for authority, and apple pie. My father passed away in 2012, and my mother in 2018. They may not be physically present with me, but who I am was shaped by their influence, and they impact me every day. Additionally, this cohort, as their generation moves into their twilight years, still controls a significant part of the economy and will continue to be influential in the years ahead outside of their numbers.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964) My wife and I are late Baby Boomers. Born in the latter 50s, we are a part of what was until recently the largest cohort in US history. For over thirty years, the sheer size of the Boomer generation defined the organization’s social landscape in a majority-rules cultural takeover. We were the civil rights, empowerment, and diversity generation. Never content with the status quo, we are always redefining what it means to be old and cool and important and successful.
Generation X (1965-1982) My oldest son and one of my daughters-in-law are Xers, even though they sometimes exhibit characteristics of the next cohort as well. Technologically adept, clever, and resourceful, the Xers are a deeply segmented, fragmented cohort. Their need for feed back and flexibility, coupled with the dislike of close supervision is but one of the many complex nuances of this generation. They are all about change- they’ve changed cities, homes, and even parents all their lives. Often seen as pessimistic with an edgy skepticism, many Xers are more positive about their personal future than the group as a whole.
Millennials (1983-2000) My other three children, two daughters-in-law, and a son-in-law all fall into this cohort. They are the children of the soccer moms and little League dads, and endless rounds of swim meets, karate classes, dancing lessons, computer camp and … you get the picture. They consider themselves the smartest, cleverest, healthiest and most-wanted group to have ever lived. Born into the technology boom times, barriers of time and space have little absolute meaning to them. They are willing to work and learn. By sheer numbers (their total births eclipsed the Boomers by several million) they are going to dominate history in new ways. They are the hyper-connected: constantly connected to multiple devices in order to know what and whom they need to know.
Generation Z (2001-2015) As the generation of the first five of my grandchildren, it is important to me to try to fully understand them. Technology is the hallmark of this group, which is the first generation to be raised in the era of smartphones and social media as a daily part of life. They’re growing up amid the promise of technological innovation – but also in the environment of economic uncertainty, a sharp decrease in well-defined and reliable career paths, increasing political divides, and the effect of decades of repressed racial tensions. The preeminent event of this cohort is the 9/11 attacks and the rise of terrorism around the world (and the U.S. response to it). Consequently, when compared to their predecessors, this group is both more cautious and more anxious.
Alpha Generation (2016-TBD) I have one grandchild in this cohort, and there are more on the way! While it is too early to define the characteristics of this cohort in any meaningful way, consider the early memories of children born since 2106: They will assuredly recall adult populations that were divided, diseased, and depressed. Their early years were launched alongside the large differences of the Trump and Biden administrations; their memories will be forever marked by the pandemic, ongoing political polarization, and increasing international unrest on a scale not seen since WWII.
There are some indications that generational cohorts repeat every four generations, so we’ll just have to see. Led by the thoughts of William Strauss and Neil Howe published in the late 1990s, this idea of “cycles” is getting more attention now that their predictions of today’s Millennial cohort are proving to be on target more often than not. That will definitely be my radar in the future!
An interesting fact, and the origin of the title of this website: there are 27 years between each of the first born in the above first three generations of my family, thus 27gen.
Here’s the last time all of #TheAdamsFamilyExperience was together in one place: Thanksgiving 2021, in Greenwich, NY.
The next five years are going to be very interesting as each of these five generations exert influence on each other. I will be actively watching my own microcosm of society.
My latest reading on generations: The release of A New Kind of Diversity by Tim Elmore was much-anticipated. Elmore brings his decades of research and leadership experience to bear on what might be the biggest, most dramatic, and most disruptive shift the American workforce has ever seen: the vast diversity of several generations living—and working—together.
For the first time in history, up to five generations find themselves working alongside each other in a typical company. The result? There can be division. Interactions between people from different generations can resemble a cross-cultural relationship. Both usually possess different values and customs. At times, each generation is literally speaking a different language!
One can be inspired by research as well as immersed in it for inspiration. Rhonda Counts, Show Producer, Walt Disney Imagineering Florida
How you do research is dependent upon where you are in the process. Disney’s Imagineers value the story’s intent and the importance of being surrounded with or immersed in the story’s environment.
With a nod to today’s “Talk Like a Pirate Day” celebrated annually on September 19, here’s an example of creative immersion from one of my projects:
As you can see, there’s a definite pirate’s theme going on in part of my office. It’s both from previous work and work in process. I’ve used the theme of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” storyline – both the attraction and the movies – to develop training resources and presentations in the area of Guest Experiences.
Specifically, I created a tool – the Guest Experience Compass. And how better to demonstrate it, than using Jack Sparrow’s compass? I also created the Guest Experience Code – and based it on the storyline of the Pirates Code. Of course, both of these tools had to be introduced and used by a pirate – the Navigator – in a fully immersive learning environment. The result?
As a result of my pirate “adventure,” I created a series of Guest Experience learning activities lasting from a half day to two days.
And it doesn’t stop with pirates.
There’s the fact that my office is, in fact, a Disney museum (a title given by my granddaughter).
It’s continually changing as I acquire new books and other “resources” that help my inspiration.
It’s no secret that I am a Disney fanatic of the first degree! I had an early start in the 60s, both from watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” and benefiting from my father, who as a Gulf gasoline dealer received many promotional tie-ins from Disney movies.
Anchored by a Disney library of over 450 books (and growing!), I am literally immersed in all things Disney. As I research and work on various projects – especially Guest Experiences – I find great inspiration through the many resources at hand. My immersion is not limited to the visual and tactile – at any given time, the soundtrack of a Disney movie, or the background music from one of Disney’s theme parks is playing in the background.
Here’s how Disney Imagineers recommend immersion into an environment:
Select a project that you want to immerse yourself in. Make a list of all the elements of the project and find samples (the larger the better) that represent these elements. Find a place in your surroundings to display the samples so you can immerse yourself in them.
For example, if you wanted to fix up a vintage car, surround yourself with large detailed pictures of its original interior and exterior, very large color samples for its seat cushions, dashboard, etc., and exterior paint job, pictures of various locations you would drive to, and of course, spray the space with new car scent.
Research leads to inspiration.
part of a series of ideas to help shape and tone your creative muscles
The trouble with place attachment is that to fall in love with a place is to risk losing it and grieving for it.
Author Melody Warnick believes that home is nothing more or less than the place where you feel at home and choose to stake yourself – and maybe not in that order. When we decide to plant roots, often the feeling of at-homeness follows.
The problem is that your town, wherever it is, will in all likelihood fall apart some day.
Warnick believes that what locals do next, after the disaster, is a key measure of how place attached we really are. How loyal will we be when things go wrong?
Warnick’s “Love Where You Live” experiments were used to test her hypothesis that actively seeking the good things in her town, investing her time and energy, and immersing herself in her surroundings would make her feel more like she belonged. For the most part, they had.
What she had never tested, and could not, was whether she had the mettle to make it through a crisis.
In her research of other places’ disasters or crises, she discovered the paradox of resilience: while anticipating Bad Things can make you feel antisocial, the aftermath of the actual event tends to increase social capital. The newfound ties developed during the crisis have the added benefit of making residents feel more rooted just at the moment they’re waffling between fight and flight.
Here are a few ideas from Warnick on Staying Loyal:
Create an emergency contact list for your neighbors. You’ll be one another’s first line of defense in case of disaster, with the added benefit that now you have their numbers to invite them to your Sunday Night Dinner.
Read about your town’s history so you’ll have a better sense of what it’s been through. Even small towns tend to carry local history books in their library.
Make your own personal resilience plan. Identify the most common shocks in your region – earthquakes, floods, wildfires – and figure out what you need to deal with them. You’ll feel less stressed if you know what to do when a Bad Thing happens.
I can’t emphasize this enough: If you like the idea of loving where you live, of being a better neighbor, or anything remotely connected, you MUST check out the work of Melody Warnick. Follow her on social media. Buy the book. Sign up for the newsletter on her website. Peruse the website for other articles she has written. It’s all PURE GOLD.