Today in the Magic Kingdom – A Field Trip for Guest Experiences

Greetings from Magic Kingdom!

courtesy John Skodak, CC 3343087934

courtesy John Skodak, CC 3343087934

When the rope drops this morning, I will already be inside the park, participating in the “Keys of the Kingdom” tour. Later in the day, I will be doing some “field work” for a Guest Experiences project – you’ll be hearing about it soon!

In the meantime, enjoy these Top Ten Takeaways from a Disney World Immersion from a previous visit.

Disney Expects Guests – What About You?

The Experience Begins in the Parking Lot

Excellence is Never Finished

Vision for the Future

Pay Attention to Details Others Ignore

Engaging All 5 Senses Creates Memory Links

Making Dreams Come True Requires Resources

Everybody Picks Up the Trash

Team Members Who Dream Together Create Fantastic Results

Everything Begins with a Story

It’s Hard to Forget the Fireworks at the End of the Day

Yes, you counted right – there were 11 Takeaways – but it’s about Disney, where they always exceed your expectations!

Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram for live updates throughout the day. I’ll be there from before it opens, till after it closes, with the Kiss Goodnight

photo by Tom Brickman

photo by Tom Brickman










Beyond Mickey’s Ten Commandments: Leadership Lessons from Disney’s Imagineers

There are two ways to look at a blank sheet of paper. It can be the most frightening thing in the world because you have to make the first mark on it. Or it can be the greatest opportunity in the world because you get to make the first mark – you can let your imagination fly in any direction, and create whole new worlds.  -Marty Sklar’s words to the Imagineers in 1966

Retired Disney Imagineer Mary Sklar had a remarkable 54-year career with the Disney organization. His work covered many areas of the organization, but focused on Imagineering, the group Walt created that blended creative imagination with technical know-how.

Sklar is best known for “Mickey’s Ten Commandments,” but in his recently published book Dream It, Do It! he revealed 3 additional lists: 2 on “The Leader’s Bible” and 1 on “Followership.”

The Leader’s Bible, Part One

  1. Create and maintain a climate of trust.
  2. Be responsive and make decisions – that’s what leader’s do!
  3. Empower your teammates – it takes many hands to bake a success.
  4. Create opportunities for new birds to fly.
  5. Remember: experience is not a negative.
  6. Make sure yours is not the only voice you are listening to.
  7. Celebrate diversity and different points of view.
  8. Never rest on your laurels – the next at-bat is your most important.
  9. Take a chance – support risk-taking.
  10. Provide plenty of blank paper.

The Leader’s Bible, Part Two

  1. Be optimistic – if you are not positive, who else will be?
  2. Courage and confidence are major cross streets on the road to success.
  3. Make curiosity your search engine.
  4. Learn to love you next assignment – be passionate about whatever you do.
  5. Provide time to explore – but deadlines are great motivation and discipline.
  6. Take time to teach – mentors are mensches.
  7. Forget the politics – it’s not an election!
  8. Traditions are important – but change is the great dynamic.
  9. Team and work are four-letter words – but together they spell “winner.”
  10. Remember: the last three letters of trend are E-N-D!

WD Quote Dream It Do It

Sklar’s ideas and principles were developed and implemented over decades of leadership with Disney’s Imagineers. They were formed by lessons learned from Sklar’s mentors, most notably Walt Disney and designer John Hench. They served the team of designers, engineers, architects, technicians, and others responsible for creating the Disney theme park experiences well…

…they will be pretty good for leaders in your organization, too!


Inspired by Dream It, Do It: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms, by Marty Sklar Disney Legend and Imagineering Ambassador

Dream It Do It

Disney’s Imagineers: Designing the Total Guest Experience

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.

Today is eighth and concluding session of Summer Term II of the 2013 GsD program with Applied Guestology 201, a review of some of the leading organizations who deliver exemplary Guest Experiences with application to ChurchWorld.

As I conclude this brief look at Applied Guestology 201, it’s only fitting to come full circle to where we started: Walt Disney and the worlds he created.

The Imagineers design intention is always to give satisfaction to the guest.

John Hench, Imagineering genius and Disney team member for 60+ years

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.

Initially, the Imagineers used the knowledge gained from their experience in films, but they soon found that their Guests themselves would teach them what they most needed to know about theme park design and operation.

To design most effectively for Guests, the Imagineers learned that they had to observe them up close, waiting in lines with them, going on attractions with them, even eating with them. The Imagineers paid attention to Guests’ patterns of movement and the ways in which they expressed their emotions. They were able to get an idea of what was going on in their minds.

When designers see Guests in their natural states of behavior, they gain a better understanding of the space and time Guests need in a story environment.

WD Guest quote DI

Disney Imagineer Marty Sklar, who retired in 2009 as the only Disney employee to have participated in the opening of all eleven theme parks around the world, is noted for many things, but one of the most cherished has to be his creation of “Mickey’s Ten Commandments.”

During his 54-year career, Sklar was involved in all facets of the theme parks – from concepts to design to operations. Along the way, he developed, refined and practiced key principles of leadership based on what he learned from Walt Disney and other Disney Legends, especially designer John Hench. He crystalized these “learnings” into the first of what he called Mickey’s Ten Commandments:

  1. Know your audience – Identify the prime audience for your attraction or show before you begin design
  2. Wear your Guests’ shoes – Insist that your team members experience your creation just the way Guests do
  3. Organize the flow of people and ideas – Make sure there is a logic and sequence in our stories and the way Guests experience them
  4. Create a wienie (visual magnet) – Create visual “targets” that will lead Guests clearly and logically through your facility
  5. Communicate with visual literacy – Make good use of color, shape form, texture – all the nonverbal ways of communication
  6. Avoid overload – create turn-ons – Resist the temptation to overload your audience with too much information and too many objects
  7. Tell one story at a time – Stick to the story line; good stories are clear, logical, and consistent
  8. Avoid contradictions – maintain identity – Details in design or content that contradict one another confuse an audience about your story or the time period it takes place in
  9. For every once of treatment, provide a ton of treat – Walt Disney said you can educate people, but don’t tell them you’re doing it. Make it fun!
  10. Keep it up! (Maintain it) – In a Disney park or resort, everything must work. Poor maintenance is poor show!

Exceeding Guests’ expectations is Disney’s Guest Service strategy, and paying attention to every detail is the tactic by which it is accomplished.

Class dismissed.


Application for ChurchWorld

Really? If you are involved in Guest Services at your church in any capacity, and can’t see the immediate and powerful application of Mickey’s Ten Commandments to your own Guest Services process, may I kindly suggest you are serving in the wrong ministry area?

Be Our Guest” has been the invitation to Disney visitors long before the song from Beauty and the Beast became a box office hit.

It underscores an important element in the Disney vocabulary, that customers are not referred to as such, but rather as Guests. In the Disney nomenclature, the word “Guest” is capitalized and treated as a formal noun.

What’s the difference between treating someone like a visitor, and treating someone like a Guest?

The obvious analogy is that we do things differently when we bring Guests into our home. We clean up the house. We dress up. We prepare something special to eat. We host them. We take care of their real needs.

Disney expects Guests

At Disney theme parks around the world, they expect Guests – and plan to exceed their Guests’ expectations every time. What about you?

Are you expecting Guests?

Recommended Reading for this session:

Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show, John Hench

Dream It, Do It: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms, Marty Sklar

(for a complete reading list, see The Essential Guest Experience Library)

Guestology – the art and science of knowing and understanding your guests – is a term originated by Bruce Laval of the Walt Disney Company. The use of GsD is a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment that organizations that really want to understand and deliver a WOW Guest Experience need to study the best practices and principles in use today, and then adapt them to the context of their own environment.

the GsD (Doctor of Guestology) journey: 2nd Term Summer 2013


Spring Semester in the GsD Program: It’s All Disney All the Time!

In my continuing pursuit of a GsD (Doctor of Guestology), I’m really excited about the next month:

Reading Perquisite

Disney UA long-anticipated book just arrived yesterday –


Look for details on the thirteen powerful lessons Lipp delivers in Disney U coming soon.

Learning Lab

Backstage Magic bookshelfIn late April, I will be headed to Disney World for a 2-day learning lab. The first day, I will be spending the whole day in the Magic Kingdom with my wife. We’ll be focusing on the newest attractions and restaurants that have recently opened up in Fantasyland.

The second day, I will be spending about 7 hours behind-the-scenes on the “Backstage Magic” tour. It’s a tour of all 4 parks plus a few extras.

During the ‘semester” look for regular updates on how ChurchWorld leaders can translate the magic of Disney into WOW! Guest Experiences for your church.

the GsD (Doctor of Guestology) journey: Spring 2013

What Can You Learn from Your Front-Line Team?

Cross-Utilization (Cross-U) is a Walt Disney World program that operates during the Spring and Winter holidays (their busiest seasons). It gives Cast Members from various parts of WDW a chance to work the front lines and interact with Guests.

With so many Cast Members of WDW working behind the scenes, Cross-U offers a wonderful opportunity for Cast Members to participate in one of the cornerstones of the Disney enterprise: Guest Services.

Participants in Cross-U witness the collective effort it takes to create the great Guest Experience. Regardless of where behind-the-scene (or off-stage) Cast Members work, there is no better way of understanding the impact of magical Guest Experiences than watching kids and their parents enjoying a favorite character or attraction.

According to Disney executives, getting ready for Cross-U takes months of planning, thousands of details to monitor and an untold number of checks and balances.

Is all this trouble worth it?

The answer for Disney is a resounding Yes! In addition to providing much-needed front-line help during busy times, the feedback from participants after their shifts is invaluable. They talk about making a difference with Guests and assisting Cast Members.

In other words, they get it – they understand the critical importance of front-line staff in Guest Experiences. And it’s just not head knowledge – it comes from direct interaction with Guests.

How valuable would that be in any organization that serves Guests?

More importantly, how important would a process like Cross-U be in ChurchWorld?

Mickey’s Ten Command-ments for the Setting

In yesterday’s post the concept of the “setting” at Disney was introduced. Going a little deeper, from the excellent guest services book Be Our Guest, Disney vice chairman Marty Sklar gave the following list of setting design principles:

  • Know your audience – before creating a setting, obtain a firm understanding of who will be using it
  • Wear your guest’s shoes – never forget the human factor; evaluate your setting from the guest’s perspective by experiencing it as a guest
  • Organize the flow of people and ideas – think of your setting as a story; tell that story in an organized, sequenced way
  • Create a visual magnet – a landmark used to orient and attract guests
  • Communicate with visual literacy – use the common languages of color, shape, and form to communicate through setting
  • Avoid overload – do not bombard guests with information; let them chose the information they want when they want it
  • Tell one story at a time – mixing multiple stories in a singe setting is confusing; create one setting for each big idea
  • Avoid contradictions – every detail and every setting should support and further your organizational identity and mission
  • For every ounce of treatment provide a ton of treat – give your guests the highest value by building an interactive setting that gives them the opportunity to exercise all of their senses
  • Keep it up – never get complacent and always maintain your setting

Around the Disney organization, these principles were known as “Mickey’s Ten Commandments for the Setting.” Whether it was a movie, a book, or a theme park, the Imagineers at Disney know the importance of setting as they told their stories.

What stories are your settings telling?

From Be Our Guest, by The Disney Institute

Everything Matters

All organizations, knowingly or unknowingly, build messages to their customers (Guests) into the settings in which they operate.

Consider these pairs:

  • A luxury car dealership and a used car lot
  • A theme park and a traveling carnival
  • A designer clothing retailer and an outlet store

In each pair, people are buying a similar product – cars, entertainment, and apparel. But in each case, the setting in which they buy these products is communicating a great deal about the quality of the products and services customers can expect, not to mention the price they are willing to pay.

The simple fact is that everything, animate and inanimate, speaks to customers.

The above words come from “Be Our Guest,” the fantastic customer service book published by The Disney Institute. Talk to me very long about Guest Services, and you will hear me talk about Disney – probably several times!

Yesterday it was about Process; today, it’s all about Place.  When you think about a physical setting, it’s appropriate to start at Disney and understand what they call “the magic of setting.”

Setting is the environment in which service is delivered to customers, all of the objects within that environment, and the procedures used to enhance and maintain the service environment and objects.

Components include:

  • Architectural design
  • Landscaping
  • Lighting
  • Color
  • Signage
  • Directional designs on flooring and wall coverings
  • Texture of floor surfaces
  • Focal points and directional signs
  • Internal and external detail
  • Music and ambient noise
  • Smell
  • Touch and tactile experiences
  • Taste

Quite a list, right? Remember that when considering Guest Services…

Everything matters.

From Be Our Guest, by the Disney Institute