Leadership Lessons from Visionaries, Part Three: Walt Disney

January 1, 2020.

It was the beginning of a new year, and most would say, a new decade.

Many people, and certainly most leaders, look at the beginning of a new year to look ahead to what might be – to dream.

Since it was a new year, many of those dreams might even be worded as “resolutions” – or goals – for 2020.

Of course, looking back to January 2020 from the vantage point of early 2021, no one on earth could have predicted what the year was going to turn out like.

In spite of that, no, even BECAUSE of the way the year went, the team at Auxano would like you to focus instead on clarity.

Clarity isn’t everything, but it changes everything.

To help you understand clarity from a different perspective, this issue of SUMS Remix departs from our usual format of a common problem statement, with solutions from three books and accompanying action steps.

Instead, we invite you to take a brief look into the lives of two of the most brilliant, creative, and clarity-practicing geniuses: Walt Disney and Steve Jobs.

Though born in different generations, and living vastly different lives, Disney and Jobs have influenced millions of people through the respective outputs of the companies they founded, the Walt Disney Company and Apple.

The first installment was a look at Walt Disney. The second installment of the four-part series is a brief excerpt from a select biography of Steve Jobs, giving you background on his excellent of use of “vision” and “communication.” The third and fourth installments will give you a brief excerpt from other books that illustrate these two concepts from each man, each with action steps to help you do the same.

As you look at some specific events of their lives through the lens of “vision” and “communication,” it is my hope that you will be inspired to live and lead 2021 with clarity.

When we think of Imagineering, we think of Disney theme parks. But Imagineering is a creative process that can be used for nearly any project, once you know how it works. Lou Prosperi distills years of research into a practical how-to guide for budding “Imagineers” everywhere.

The Imagineering Process is a revolutionary creative methodology that anyone can use in their daily lives, whether at home or on the job. Prosperi will teach you first how Disney uses the Imagineering Process to build theme parks and theme park attractions, and then he’ll show you how to apply it to your own projects, “beyond the berm.”

You’ll learn how to begin as the Imagineers begin, with an evaluation of needs, requirements, and constraints, and then you’ll delve into the six stages of the Imagineering Process: blue sky, concept development, design, construction, models, and the “epilogue,” where you hold your “grand opening” and assess the effectiveness of what you’ve built.

From there you’ll see the process in action through a selection of interesting case studies drawn from game design, instructional design, and managerial leadership.

At the end of your master class, you may not be a bona-fide Imagineer, but you’ll be thinking like one.

VISION APPLICATION

Before the launch of the Disney+ streaming service, the inner workings of the Imagineers of the Walt Disney Company were considered industry secrets, guarded closely, with only glimpses available from the occasional book by a retired Imagineer.

The Imagineering Story, a six-part “behind-the-scenes” series produced by Leslie Iwerks, the granddaughter of Walt Disney’s first partner and creative genius Ub Iwerks, leads the viewer on a journey behind the curtains of Walt Disney Imagineering, the little-known design and development center of The Walt Disney Company, to discover what it takes to create, design, and build the magic of Disney around the world.

For leaders who might have seen this series, or even just heard about it, there are additional resources that help apply the principles of the Imagineers to real-world challenges found in organizations just like yours.

I think for many of us the challenge lies in finding the right model of how creativity and the creative process work so we can apply it in our own fields.

There are seven pieces or stages in the Imagineering process. Five stages form the core of the process, while the other two serve as its Prologue and Epilogue.

Prologue: The goal of the Prologue is to define your overall objective, including what you can do, can’t do, and must do when developing and building your project.

Blue Sky: The goal of the Blue Sky stage is to create a vision with enough detail to be able to explain, present, and sell it to others.

Concept Development: The goal of the Concept Development stage is to develop and flesh-out your vision with enough additional detail to explain what needs to be designed and built.

Design: The goal of the Design stage is develop the plans and documents that describe and explain how your vision will be brought to life.

Construction: The goal of the Construction stage is to build the actual project, based on the design developed in the previous stages.

Models: The goal of creating models and prototypes is test and validate your design at each stage to help solve and/or prevent problems that may arise during the design and construction process.

Epilogue: The goal of the Epilogue is to present your project to your audience, allow them to experience it, and evaluate its success and effectiveness over time.

Louis J. Prosperi, The Imagineering Process

A NEXT STEP

Author Louis Prosperi has provided an Imagineering Process Checklist for leaders to use as a guide in applying the principles listed above in their organizations. Listed below are a few examples for you to consider.

Prologue: Does your team really know what they need to create?

Blue Sky: How can you help your team define their story (vision) and creative intent?

Concept Development: What don’t you and your teams know about your project yet?

Design: Are team members collaborating and communicating as they work on separate parts of the project?

Construction: How can you help your team as they “build” the pieces and components of the project?

Models: How can you help test your team’s design?

Epilogue: How will you evaluate the success of your project?

Using these examples as a guide, continue to develop a checklist to guide the development and implementation of your project.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 135, released January 2020.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<

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.

ImagineeringPyramid