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

It All Began With a Mouse…

The title of this post is actually a quote from Walt Disney himself, when asked to reflect upon the vast Disney empire shortly before his death in 1966. While Disneyland was successful, Disney World was 5 years from opening and EPCOT was just a few sketches on paper.

But Disney didn’t coin the term “Imagineer” for nothing.

The magic that Disney brought to the world was summed up in this phrase: “My business is making people, especially children, happy.” More than a statement, it was the basis for Disney’s mission as a business; it represented what the company stands for and why it exists. Changing just a little over the past 60 years, it is The Walt Disney Company’s service theme:

We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere

If you want to understand the “Process” of Guest Services, there is no better place to go than the Disney Company and look at their practical magic for creating the best known Guest experiences in the world.

Practical Magic

Disney has a simple definition for quality service – exceeding your guests’ expectations and paying attention to detail.

The Disney WOW! Factor is exceeding guests’ expectations

  • Paying close attention to every aspect of the guest experience
  • Analyzing that experience from the guest’s perspective
  • Understanding the needs and wants of the guest
  • Committing every element of the process to the creation of an exceptional experience

At Disney, the word Guest is always capitalized and treated as a formal noun.

Quality Service Cycle – the Practical Magic of Disney

  • Service theme – a simple statement, shared among all team members, that becomes the driving force of the service
  • Service standards – the criteria for actions that are necessary to accomplish the service theme
  • Service delivery systems – vehicles used to deliver service
  • Service integration – each element in the QSC combined to create a complete operating system

Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? It is, and should be – at least from your perspective. Spend a lot of time getting it right. Set up all the process you need to make it work. Implement your process. Evaluate it rigorously, and change it when necessary. Guestology, as Disney calls it, is both an art and a science.

But to the guest, it should all appear effortless.

The weekend’s coming – are you ready to welcome guests in your church?

From Be Our Guest, Revised Edition, by The Disney Institute


How to Be Like Walt, Part 2

Walt Disney had a burning desire for excellence in everything he did. He was always thinking, ‘We can do it better.’ That’s a common trait of all successful people.

Royal Clark, former treasurer of WED Enterprises

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. I introduced the topic yesterday; here are a few more:

Plus Every Experience: Sometime during the 1940s, Walt coined the term “plussing.” Normally, the word “plus” is a conjunction, as in “two plus two equals four.” But Walt used the word as a verb – an action word. To “plus” something is to improve it. “Plussing” means giving your guests more than they paid for, more than they expect, more than you have to give them. No matter what “business” you are in, your success depends on your commitment to excellence and attention to detail. If you deliver more than people expect, you will turn people into fans. Pursue excellence in everything you do.

Be a Person of Stick-to-it-ivity: Today we look at Disneyland and say, “Of course! Just what the world needed. How could it miss?” But in 1955, Disneyland was the biggest gamble in the history of American business. The risk paid off – not because Walt was lucky or favored or a genius. It paid off because Walt wouldn’t quit. The success of Disneyland is, first and foremost, the result of sheer dogged determination and persistence in the face of obstacles and opposition. In his own words, “Get a good idea and stay with it. Dog it, and work at it until it’s done, and done right.”

Become Like a Sponge for Ideas: Walt continually fed his mind with information and ideas. He absorbed inspiration wherever he went. If you want to be like Walt – more creative, more imaginative, and more successful – then keep your eyes and ears open. Read. Watch. Travel. Talk to people wherever you go. Ask questions. Invite opinions. Become a sponge for ideas.

Ask Yourself “How About Tomorrow?”: Walt embraced the future and put the stamp of his own personality on tomorrow. If we want to help shape a better tomorrow, then we need to continually ask ourselves the same question Walt asked Ray Bradbury: “How about tomorrow?” The difference between today and tomorrow is something called change. It takes courage to embrace the future, because the future is about change, and change brings uncertainty and anxiety. We fear change; we prefer the comfort of the familiar. But change is inevitable. If we do not become future-focused, we are doomed to obsolescence when tomorrow arrives. There are so many possible futures – which one will you choose?

Here are the rest of the author’s “How to Be Like Walt” lessons:

  • Become an Animated Leader
  • Take a Risk
  • Dealing with Loss
  • Live for the Next Generation
  • Build Complementary Partnerships
  • Stay Focused
  • Accept Your Mortality
  • Make Your Family Your Top Priority
  • Be the Person God Made You to Be

Each of the 17 lessons in the book are richly illustrated with stories by and about Walt Disney. I encourage you to get a copy and prepare to be delighted – and challenged.

Walt’s life challenges us to dream bigger, reach higher, work harder, risk more, and persevere as long as it takes. That is the rich legacy Walt Disney left us. That is the supreme lesson of his endlessly instructive life. The riches of an incredible, adventure-filled life are within our grasp – if we will dare to be like Walt.

Pat Williams

If you liked these two posts, here a few more select Disney-related posts:

The Secret of Disney World

Top Ten Takeaways from Our Disney World Adventure

Understanding Guests Like Disney

Where Did the Creativity Go?

Consider the talents of the following two groups who were asked these three questions:

  • How many of you are good singers?
  • How many of you are good dancers?
  • How many of you are good artists?

About 2 percent of the first group responded positively to each of these three questions. That’s a typical response of most business teams. But it’s possible to find a second group in almost any community who would give nearly 100 percent positive responses. Surprised?

Ask any group of first graders these three questions, and the children will respond with an enthusiastic “Yes!” to each one.

All children are creative – they’re born that way!

What happened to the creative gene that was so alive in our childhoods?

Authors and consultants Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson have answered that question in their book Innovate the Pixar Way. Subtitled “Business lessons from the world’s most creative corporate playground,” the book details how Pixar provides a working environment that encourages imagination, inventiveness, and joyful collaboration.

The book asks, and then answers, these questions:

  • How do you build an organization that embraces change and delivers an innovative, high-quality service or product?
  • How do you establish a culture of creativity in which the talents and abilities of all are nurtured and honed with great care?
  • How do you unleash the creative genius within your team and still meet budgets and deadlines?
  • How do you establish an environment that awakens dreams?

Going behind the screen at Pixar, Capodagli and Jackson answer these questions and more. Here’s a sample:

Pixar goes to great lengths to hire people who are interested in working together as a network in solving problems, building and supporting each other. Four common proficiencies are vital to making art a team sport.

  • Depth – demonstrating mastery in a subject or a principal skill such as drawing or programming; having the discipline to chase dreams all the way to the finish line
  • Breadth – possessing a vast array of experiences and interests; having the ability to explore insights from many different perspectives; being able to effectively generate new ideas by collaborating with an entire team
  • Communication – focusing on the receiver; receiving feedback to ascertain whether the message sent was truly understood; only the listener can say, “I understand”
  • Collaboration – bringing together the skills, ideas, and personality styles of an entire team to achieve a shared vision; fostering collective creativity and keeping the vibe and energy in the room upbeat and alive

Wouldn’t you want to work on a team in an environment like that?

Maybe the better question is,  Wouldn’t you want to lead your team in an environment like that?

Tomorrow: How to Think Like a Director

Other Posts You Might Be Interested In:

The Creative Process at Pixar

The Secret of Disney World

My Top Ten Takeaways From Disney World

The Disney Job Description

13 for 13

This is not a post about triskaidekaphobia, but today would be a good day for one. No, it’s a simple question:

What if Pixar came to your church?

This is Pixar Animation Studio’s track record: 13 for 13.

That’s thirteen films since the studio’s launch in 1995, every one of them a smashing success. What’s their secret?

Their unusual creative process.

Unlike the typical studio that gathers all the necessary personnel to produce a film and then releases them after it is finished, Pixar’s staff of writers, directors, animators, and technicians moves from project to project.

The result: a team of moviemakers who know and trust one another in ways unimaginable on most sets.

My wife and I saw “Brave” recently, and it reminded me of an article in Wired magazine from a couple of years ago on how Pixar does it, using “Toy Story 3” as the example. You can read the whole article here, but take a look at their step-by-step process in a nutshell:


  • Day 1 – coming up with a great story. The creative team leaves the campus for an off site retreat, and knocks out a quick storyline – which they promptly discard.
  • Day 3 – working from a series of plot points, screenwriter Michael Arndt begins drafting the script. Director Lee Unkrich and the story artists start sketching storyboards. The storyboards allow the filmmakers to begin imagining the look and feel of each scene.


  • Day 36 – character design begins. Working in digital images, sketches, and clay figures, each character comes to life in a process called simulation – a constant negotiation between the artistic and technical teams.
  • Day 123 – the storyboards are turned into a story reel that can be projected, much like an elaborate flip book. This allows the team to watch along with an audience and determine what works and what doesn’t.


  • Day 380 – actors come into the studio to record all the lines – dozens of times. The actors are also being filmed, so the animators can watch the actor’s expressions and use them as reference points when they animate the characters’ faces.
  • Day 400 – shaders began to add color and texture to character’s’ bodies and other surfaces that appear in the film. Complex algorithms are used to simulate the effect of light and shadow on different toy surfaces like plastic, cloth, or wood.


  • Day 533 – the pictures are moving, defined by up to 1,000 points of possible movement that animators can manipulate like strings on a puppet. Each day the team starts by reviewing the previous day’s work, ripping it apart to make each scene more expressive.
  • Day 806 – technical challenges pile up. The studio’s design which places essential facilities in the center allows the team to have unplanned creative conversations while on the way for a cup of coffee or walking to the bathroom.
  • Day 898 – the animators hit high gear, working late into the night in customized and personalized offices.
  • Day 907 – rendering, the process of using computer algorithms to generate a final frame, is well under way. The average frame (a move has 24 frames per second) takes about seven hours to render, though complex frames can take nearly 39 hours of computer time. The Pixar building has two massive render farms, each of which contains hundreds of servers running 24 hours a day.


  • Day 1,070 – the movie is mostly done. the team has completed 25 of the film’s sequences and is finishing the most complicated scene of the move. It has taken 27 technical artists four months to perfect that single scene.
  • Day 1,084 – Only weeks away from release, the audio mixers at Skywalker Sound combine dialog, music, and sound effects. Every nuance is adjusted and readjusted. Director Unkrich: “We don’t ever finish a film – I could keep on making it better. We’re just forced to release it.”

And you thought getting a sermon ready for Sunday was difficult!

The process depicted above can be highly constructive for you and your team. Granted, you don’t have either the budget or the time to produce a film like Toy Story 3, but you can take the principles above and apply them in your context, resources, and time frame.

So, how about it? What Pixar creative magic can you put to use this week?

Guest Services: Making Your First Impressions LAST!

Can the church learn anything from Walt Disney, Starbucks, Nordstrom’s, and the Ritz-Carlton?

My answer is a resounding YES!

Over the past four years I’ve been working on a project exploring the world of hospitality, looking for key principles that have application to the church world I live and work in. Early motivation for this effort came from great guest experiences over consecutive days from two establishments at opposite ends of the dining spectrum: Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Taco Bell. In both instances, the staff went beyond the expectations to deliver exemplary service. You expect it at one, but are surprised at the other, right? Why should price be any indicator of the level of service delivered? What about a place with no “price” at all – the church?

The companies I named in the opening sentence have been my primary research targets, but you could say that the hospitality industry in general is my field of research. My proposition is that the world of restaurants, coffee shops, fine hotels, and the ultimate in customer expectation and experience – Disney – can provide tangible and beneficial principles for the church to adapt in welcoming guests and members alike.

Along the way, I’ve supplemented my research with practical application in my own church: I lead one of the Guest Services (Parking) Teams at Elevation Church’s Uptown location. As the “first face” of Elevation, my crew and I get weekly opportunities to practice guest services and make a lasting first impression.

We don’t just park cars; we:

• Sanitize all touch points and spray air freshener in the elevator cabs and stairwells of the parking garage we use

• Pick up trash along the route from the garage to the theater

• Put up 22 parking signs along the entrances

• Man the elevator lobbies to call elevators for guests

• Hold the parking deck door for guests coming and going

• Pull the parking ticket and personally hand it to guests

• Validate parking for all Elevation guests

• Provide VIP (our first time guests) and family parking right next to the theater

• Know what’s going on Uptown so we can help any and everyone who has a question (sporting events, concerts, special activities, etc.)

• Provide umbrellas to guests in the rain

• Give a verbal greeting to everyone coming and going

And that’s just the parking crew! Elevation’s audacious Guest Services team also has Greeters, a First Impressions Team, VIP Tent, and Connections Tent. All this BEFORE a guest has stepped into the theater for worship.

You might say Guest Services is a big deal.

I think it is – and you should too.

Overboard on the Mouse? Or …?

For the last 10 days, I have gone into a little detail about what I considered the Top Ten Takeaways from a recent family trip to Disney World. Of course, there was also the Top Ten List itself. And the five posts while actually at Disney World. That’s sixteen posts in less than a month! You probably think I’ve gone overboard on Disney! After all, it’s only a Mouse…

No, I don’t think so – it’s much more than that.

My passion is to energize leaders so that they help their organizations thrive by turning challenges into opportunities.

And no one provides a better model for that than Disney.

So I’m going to keep coming back to the “magic” of Disney – because I know I’m learning a lot, and I’ve got a hunch you can too!