Immerse Yourself in the Creativity of the Disney Imagineers

My admiration for the creative brilliance of Walt Disney and the amazing group of geniuses he gathered around him runs deep and long.

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As a boy growing up in the 60s, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color television show was something I looked forward to every week. My father, an owner-operator of a Gulf gasoline station, was the recipient of various advertising tie-ins involving such Disney classics as 101 Dalmatians, The Jungle Book, and the amazing nature films. I was fortunate to be part of a high school band marching in Disney on Parade in 1975, just a few years after Walt Disney World opened.

Then marriage and four children came, just in time for the rejuvenation of Disney animation of the late 80s-early 90s. That meant endless viewings of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and the rest of the Disney library.

By the time the 2000s had rolled around, I was beginning to accumulate different types of books on the Disney organization – biographies, behind-the-scene details, first-person accounts, and various types of business-related books. I was beginning to use them in leadership and teaching positions I held.

In 2011, the fortunate circumstances of my daughter graduating from college in three years before beginning her master’s degree and her request for a much-talked-about-but-never-fulfilled Disney trip led to a week-long adventure in Walt Disney World with a 23-year old graduate student and her two early 50’s parents.

Before that, I knew about Disney. That week, I experienced Disney.

That may seem like a small thing, but in reality it is a HUGE difference.

In the last five years, I have been to Walt Disney World at least several days each year, with the last year being the highlight: by the time this fall rolls around, I will have been on Disney property 19 days.

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.

And for over 60 years, the Imagineers have delivered – time and time again. To date, the Imagineers have built eleven theme parks (with Shanghai Disney opening in just a few weeks); dozens of resort hotels; 4 cruise ships with two more under construction; 2 water parks; and ongoing development in existing parks.

The Imagineers deliver the experience of Disney.

Now I want to bring you full circle by highlighting the recent work of author Louis Prosperi in The Imagineering Pyramid.

Using existing material published by Disney plus conversations with Imagineers, Prosperi weaves together an interesting thought captured in the book’s subtitle: Using Disney Theme Park Principles to Develop and Promote Your Creative Ideas.

It’s a very compelling challenge: look at the existing body of work done by the Imagineers for Disney’s theme parks and translate those principles into a “pyramid” of 15 principles grouped into 5 tiers.

Here’s an outline for an appetizer:

Tier 1: Foundations of Imagineering

  • It All Begins with a Story – Using your subject matter to inform decisions about your project.
  • Creative Intent – Staying focused on your objective.
  • Attention to Detail – Paying attention to every detail.
  • Theming – Using appropriate details to strengthen your story and support your creative intent.
  • Long, Medium, and Close Shots – Organizing your message to lead your audience from the general to the specific.

Tier 2: Wayfinding

  • Wienies – Attracting your audience’s attention and capturing their interest.
  • Transitions – Making changes as smooth and seamless as possible.
  • Storyboards – Focusing on the big picture.
  • Pre-Shows and Post-Shows – Introducing and reinforcing you r story to help your audience get and stay engaged.

Tier 3: Visual Communication

  • Forced Perspective – Using the illusion of size to help communicate your message.
  • “Read”-ability – Simplifying complex subjects.
  • Kinetics – Keeping the experience dynamic and active.

Tier 4: Making It Memorable

  • The “it’s a small world” Effect – Using repetition and reinforcement to make your audience’s experience and your message memorable.
  • Hidden Mickey’s – Involving and engaging your audience.

Tier 5: Walt’s Cardinal Rule

  • Plussing – Consistently asking, “How do I make this better?”

But instead of building an object like an attraction, Prosperi challenges the reader to do something with the principles that may be even more daunting: be creative.

Even though I was familiar with most of the principles and their origins, I enjoyed reading how Prosperi linked the ideas together into a unified whole. Especially helpful were the questions at the end of each chapter, with a general focus as well as specialized applications for game design, instructional design, and management and leadership. The questions will help anyone have a better grasp of the concept and how to apply it an almost any field.

The Imagineering Pyramid was especially beneficial to me on a recently completed 3-day “field trip” to all four theme parks at Walt Disney World. As I walked through each park, the genius of the Imagineers inspired me to fill several pages of my Disney journal with new ideas for development as well as take over 1,000 photographs of design details – exactly what I believe Louis Prosperi had in mind when writing the book.

Leaders in any capacity will benefit from The Imagineering Pyramid as a helpful tool, providing a creative framework for solving problems.

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Leading Forward by Looking Back to the Leadership Lessons of Walt Disney

Courage is the main quality of leadership, in my opinion, no matter where it is exercised. Usually it implies some risk – especially in new undertakings. Courage to initiate something and to keep it going – pioneering and adventurous spirit to blaze new ways.   – Walt Disney

Jim Korkis is a Disney historian and long-time writer and teacher about Walt Disney and the organization he created. Who’s the Leader of the Club: Walt Disney’s Leadership Lessons is a departure for Korkis in that his usual subject matter is about the culture and history of Disney, a topic which he is uniquely qualified to write about.

As a boy, he grew up grew up in Glendale, California, which just happened to be located next to Burbank – the home of the Disney Studios. Korkis was an inquisitive and undaunted fan of Disney who not only watched the weekly Disney television series but took the initiative to write down the names he saw on the end credits.

He matched passion with inquisitiveness and began to look for those names in the local phonebook. Upon finding one, he would call the individual up and ask them about their work. Many were gracious enough to invite Korkis to their homes where he spent hours being enthralled by their stories of their work at the Disney organization.

Fast forward decades, where you will find that Korkis relocated to Orlando FL to take care of aging parents. In his own words,

I got a job at Walt Disney World that included assisting with the professional business programs, where I met many executives who had worked with Walt Disney and been trained by him.

I was often called on to research, design and facilitate customized programs for different Disney clients like Feld Entertainment, Kodak, Toys “R” Us and more that touched on both the connections of the individual companies to Disney history, as well as how Walt did business.

I was tapped to do this work because of my knowledge of Walt Disney and his approach to business.

I got the opportunity to meet with some of Walt’s “original cast.” I was enthralled by their stories and experiences and took detailed notes. Hearing stories about how Walt led and how he expected others to lead with compassion, integrity and common sense made a huge impact on me.

Twenty years later, the result is Who’s the Leader of the Club.

Korkis goes to great lengths to use Walt Disney’s own words, from a variety of published and unpublished interviews, as well as the words of those who personally experienced him in action, to help elaborate and describe the basic concepts.

In doing so, we have delivered to us a refreshing breath of fresh air – a business book using the words and actions of a rare genius that are glaringly absent from most organizations today.

Five decades after Walt Disney’s death, his achievements and legacy continue to inspire new generations.

In my case, it’s actually to re-inspire old generations. As a Baby Boomer, I grew up with “The Wonderful World of Disney” as a weekly television show. As a child, I was taken to see most of the Disney films of the 60’s and early 70’s. As a teenager, I took myself – and then, once I became a father, took my family to see those movies. Though I only visited Walt Disney World once as a teenager, I maintained a fascination with the Disney organization that has continued to grow in recent years.

In the early 2000s my vocational role as a consultant to churches took on a specific niche – a focus on guest experiences. That lead to a Disney immersion of research, books, films, on-site visits, and conversations with Disney Cast Members past and present.

Vital to that immersion was the work of Jim Korkis – through his books and writings by, for, and about Walt Disney and the Disney organization.

By his own admission, Who’s the Leader of the Club was the most difficult book Korkis has ever written. That may be true from his perspective, but the words and stories flow off the page and into the reader’s conscience in an almost imperceptible manner.

Leaders of any organization would do well to settle in with Who’s the Leader of the Club, and be prepared for a story-filled journey of insight into one of the most creative geniuses of recent history.

Along with the stories the reader will find seven “lessons” about Walt Disney’s leadership. Best of all, Korkis concludes each of the “lesson” chapters with a one page checklist called “What Would Walt Do?” summarizing the key points in the lesson and a space to write notes.

What are you waiting for? It’s time to join the “club!”

For more on the book by Korkis himself, see here.

Who's the Leader of the Club

It’s Your Move

In the easy-reading but powerfully-impacting style he is known for, Mark Miller has released his newest book Chess Not Checkers.

And he’s not playing around…

Well, actually he is – and that’s the part leaders everywhere will enjoy. Miller tells the story of Blake Underwood, newly appointed CEO of a company troubled by poor performance and low morale. Nothing seems to work – especially trying to do what he’s always done before.

The problem, his new mentor points out, is that Blake is playing the wrong game.

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Here’s a couple of quotes that set the whole book up:

Most of us began our leadership journey utilizing an approach with striking similarities to the game of checkers, a fun, highly reactionary game often played at a frantic pace. Any strategies we employed in this style of leadership were limited, if not rudimentary.

The game today for most leaders can be better compared to chess – a game in which strategy matters; a game in which individual pieces have unique abilities that drive unique contributions; a game in which heightened focus and a deeper level of thinking are required to win.

Chess Not Checkers is an enjoyable read that leaders in all organizations will want to put into practice quickly. Here are the “4 Winning Moves” Miller develops in the book:

  • Bet on Leadership – Growing leaders grow organizations
  • Act as One – Alignment multiplies impact
  • Win the Heart – Engagement energizes effort
  • Excel at Execution – Greatness hinges on execution

It’s your move…

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This is One Secret that is Not Meant to be Kept

Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller’s 10th Anniversary edition of The Secret is definitely not meant to be kept to yourself!

An updated version of their classic business fable, The Secret captivates the reader through an intriguing narrative centered around a simple but profound secret: “great leaders serve.”

Some of my earliest professional training during graduate school was based on the writings of Ken Blanchard, and his works continue to both line my shelf and inform my leadership activities.

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In much the same way, for the past few years Mark Miller’s writings have been an influential factor in my ongoing leadership development.

With The Secret, the authors have once again crafted a learning device that is not only a pleasure to read but filled with practical helps applicable from the volunteer team leader to the C-suite. In addition to these helps, the self-assessment included at the end of the book is a quick, useful tool to use at both the beginning and end of any mentoring or leadership development program.

The “secret” to The Secret is a simple acronym that successful leaders follow:

See the Future

Engage and Develop Others

Reinvent Continuously

Value Results and Relationships

Embody the Values

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Your continual journey as a developing leader developing others will benefit greatly from practicing the “secrets” from The Secret.

 

How to Be Like Walt, Part 1

Growing up in the 60’s, my earliest memories of Walt Disney came through his television shows and movies. Only decades later did I experience the magic of one of his theme parks. Looking back over all those experiences, I realize that in some sense, Walt Disney’s creative genius was equal, if not superior, to another genius of our time – Steve Jobs.

My curiosity led to ongoing research about the man called Walt Disney – and is producing some amazing lessons from his life that are powerful leadership lessons for today.

Walt Disney was more than a man. He is a symbol of the values he represents: imagination, honesty, perseverance, optimism, and vision. He was a creative genius who could visualize a future found only in his dreams – and then make those dreams come true.

Pat Williams

Walt Disney’s life provides powerful lessons that can be applied in any leadership position. Author Pat Williams recognized this, and went behind the legend to discover a man every bit as fascinating as the world he created.

How to Be Like Walt is the result of thousands of hours of interviews of the people who knew Walt best. In addition to being a fascinating life story of one of our nation’s most creative minds, the author has distilled Walt’s life into 17 lessons – lessons that we all could learn from.

Live the Adventure – Walt’s boyhood on a farm near Marceline MO inspired a sense of wonder and imagination that stayed with him throughout his life. He also experienced treatment from his father that by today’s standards would be abusive. Yet he didn’t let those memories dominate; instead, he shaped his life around the warm, nostalgic memories of his boyhood. It doesn’t matter where you came from, or who your parents are, or what happened when you were a child. All that matters is that you are willing to live the adventure and dream big dreams, them make those dreams come true.

Be a Salesman – A deeper look at Walt’s life reveals that from the beginning of his career, he was a salesman – one of the greatest salesman the world has ever known. He worked hard and sold his ideas from the earliest days of his career. Walt had the right idea and the right spirit, and he was willing to go out and sell his ideas, even when faced with huge challenges. A great salesman can’t be stopped. Be honest, enthusiastic, confident, courageous and persistent. Sell your dreams, and make them come true.

Dare to Do the Impossible – Walt returned from France after WWI and believed that anything was possible. He was audacious enough to believe that an 18-year old with one year of art school could go to a newspaper and get a job as a political cartoonist. He was brash enough to believe that he could teach animation to other artists – after learning to animate after reading two books checked out from the library. He was reckless enough that, after going bankrupt in Kansas City he went to Hollywood to start over in animated cartoons when all the animation studios were in New York City. Dare to do the impossible. Dream big dreams, and don’t be surprised when your impossible dreams come true.

Unleash Your Imagination – After losing the rights to his first cartoon creation (Oswald the Lucky Rabbit), Walt responded with imagination. In effect, he said “I’ll solve this problem by creating something new, something the world has never seen before.” So Walt created Mickey Mouse. Walt had an astounding creative awareness. He not only stored up ideas and material in his mind, but he was alert to ideas from the world around him. He had the ability to expand a good idea into a spectacular idea.

Tomorrow: How to Be Like Walt, Part 2 

My favorite post from July, 2012

12 Best Books of 2012

Making a “Best of” list is always hard – it’s a very subjective process, driven by my personal tastes, professional needs, and plain curiosity.

I’ve always been a voracious reader – a cherished habit passed down to me by my late father. In the past year, though, I’ve been able to ramp it up considerably because of my role as Vision Room Curator.

It’s not only a pleasure to read, it’s part of my job description – how cool is that?

Even so, it’s also hard to narrow it a “Best of” list down: in 2012, my reading included:

  • 127 books checked out from my local library
  • 68 print books purchased
  • 31 books received for review
  • 75 digital books on my Kindle

I also perused dozens of bookstores on my travels, writing down 63 titles for future review and/or acquisition. There are also a lot of late releases just coming out that I don’t have time to take a look at – yet. Be that as it may, here is my list of my 12 favorite books published in 2012.

Outside In

  Outside In

Guest Experiences for ChurchWorld is my passion, and this book by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine will provide churches a “go-to” manual for years to come

 

Deep and Wide

Deep and Wide

Andy Stanley and Northpoint Ministries have a solid model that all churches would do well to study – not to duplicate, but to understand how to impact your community for Christ.

 

Center Church

Center Church

Tim Keller delivers a textbook for doing church; possibly the most important church theology/leadership/practical book in a decade

 

The Advantage

   The Advantage

Patrick Lencioni captures the concept of clarity (he uses the phrase “organizational health”) like no business thinker today

 

The Icarus Deception

   The Icarus Deception

Seth Godin’s most recent book is probably the most challenging personal one I’ve read – and that’s saying a lot!

 

The Lego Principle

   The LEGO Principle

Joey Bonifacio writes in a simple, profound way about the importance of “connecting” in relationships that lead to discipleship

 

Missional Moves

   Missional Moves

Rob Wegner and Jack Magruder in a quiet, unassuming way, illustrate how Granger Community Church is transforming into a community of believers reaching their community – and the world.

 

Lead with a Story

Lead with a Story

Paul Smith delivers a powerful tool to enhance the leader’s skill in storytelling.

 

Design Like Apple

Design Like Apple

John Edson delivers a stunningly designed book that challenges the reader to understand and utilize Apple’s principles of design

 

 

Better Together

   Better Together

Church mergers (and closings) are going to be a huge event in the next decade; Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird give an excellent resource on how to survive and thrive throughout the process.

 

Quiet

   Quiet

Susan Cain writes the book I’ve been waiting for over 30 years – because I am an introvert leader.

 

 

Midnight Lunch

   Midnight Lunch

Sarah Miller Caldicott delivers a powerful primer for collaborative teamwork.

 

 

HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations

   HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations

Nancy Duarte is not just a great writer – she knows how to deliver a great presentation from the first idea to the final applause.

 

 

Okay, it’s not 12 – but it is a baker’s dozen!

Let’s see – there’s still over 2 weeks left in 2012 – plenty of time to find a good book – what do you recommend?

Did God Think We Would Forget This?

It’s the only commandment that begins with the word remember – almost as if God knew we would forget.

Well, guess what?

We did.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:8,11

I first met Matthew Sleeth at a Creation Care Conference at Northland Church in Orlando in 2008. We were both speakers at the conference, and it was there that I learned Sleeth’s amazing story as he moved from an emergency room doctor to one of the leading voices for Creation Care.  Our paths have crossed several times in the last few years, most recently at the White House Greening America’s Congregations Conference.

Sleeth is the author of Serve God, Save the Planet, and founder of Blessed Earth, a nonprofit organization that focuses on Creation Care. It’s very much a family affair as wife Nancy (Go Green, Save Green and Almost Amish) and daughter Emma (It’s Easy Being Green) have contributed much to the healthy conversation about Creation Care by not just writing by living out their values.

Mathew Sleeth’s newest book 24/6 provides a life-giving prescription for a healthier more God-centered life amidst a digitally crazed, always-on world. It will help you better understand how your life can be radically transformed – physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually – by adopting a 24/6 lifestyle.

His years of experience as an ER physician in hospitals qualifies him as a veteran in a culture of demanding overwork. His entry into the Christian faith ten years ago provides a total reorientation of his imagination in the Hebrew/Christian culture of Sabbath keeping. And most impressive of all, he explores the many details of what is involved in practicing Sabbath in a world that is unrelenting in its distractions and pressures to work longer and harder.

All this is done not from a theoretical position but firmly in the context of marriage and family life, with all the domestic and relational details involved in doing nothing where doing nothing always requires constant coordination and relationship.

24/6 is a book that restores Sabbath to its extensive biblical narrative context. Jesus, not rules, sets the tone. Sabbath keeping is conveyed in stories – doctor stories, stories of friends, stories of family, stories of Jesus. These stories keep Sabbath “nested” – integral to the tie and place in which relationships form and develop.

To illustrate how well Sleeth accomplishes this, here are a few excerpts from a section entitled “What God Created on the Seventh Day.”

In Genesis, we find a seven-day week. God begins to create the universe, and finds everything “good.” Each succeeding day, things get more complicated. On day six, God forms Adam, and then – because she is even more complicated – God makes Eve. “Yes! Excellent! Very good! Tov m’od!”

How can God top creating a universe and my wife and daughter?

The piece de resistance comes out of left field. Up to this point, everything has been created out of nothing, but on the morning of the seventh day, God makes nothing out of something. Rest is brought into being.

The point is that something very important about the character of God is revealed on the seventh day: God stops.

God doesn’t need to rest after creating the universe because he’s tired. He rests because he’s holy, and everything that God does is holy.

God rests. God is holy. Therefore, rest is holy. It’s simple math.

24/6 is a powerfully personal story of one man’s exploration of our 24/7 world, why we need the Sabbath, how we do the Sabbath, and how to create a 24/6 life.

Consider the Sabbath close to home: what would it look like if you and your family remembered?