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

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