How Environmental Immersion Leads to Creative Inspiration

One can be inspired by research as well as immersed in it for inspiration.  Rhonda Counts, Show Producer, Walt Disney Imagineering Florida

How you do research is dependent upon where you are in the process. Disney’s Imagineers value the story’s intent and the importance of being surrounded with or immersed in the story’s environment.

Here’s an example from one of my projects:

As you can see, there’s a definite pirate’s theme going on in part of my office. It’s both from previous work and work in process. I’ve used the theme of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” storyline – both the attraction and the movies – to develop training resources and presentations in the area of Guest Experiences.

Specifically, I created a tool – the Guest Experience Compass. And how better to demonstrate it, than using Jack Sparrow’s compass? I also created the Guest Experience Code – and based it on the storyline of the Pirates Code. Of course, both of these tools had to be introduced and used by a pirate – the Navigator – in a fully immersive learning environment. The result?

As a result of my pirate “adventure,” I created a blog series which you can read about here.

And it doesn’t stop with pirates.

There’s the Disney wall in my office…

 

It’s no secret that I am a Disney fanatic of the first degree! I had an early start in the 60s, both from watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” and benefiting from my father, who as a Gulf gasoline dealer received many promotional tie-ins from Disney movies.

Anchored by a Disney library of over 250 books (and growing!), I am literally immersed in all things Disney. As I research and work on various projects – especially Guest Experiences – I find great inspiration through the many resources at hand. My immersion is not limited to the visual and tactile – at any given time, the soundtrack of a Disney movie, or the background music from one of Disney’s theme parks is playing in the background.

Here’s how Disney Imagineers recommend immersion into an environment:

Select a project that you want to immerse yourself in. Make a list of all the elements of the project and find samples (the larger the better) that represent these elements. Find a place in your surroundings to display the samples so you can immerse yourself in them.

For example, if you wanted to fix up a vintage car, surround yourself with large detailed pictures of its original interior and exterior, very large color samples for its seat cushions, dashboard, etc., and exterior paint job, pictures of various locations you would drive to, and of course, spray the space with new car scent.

Research leads to inspiration.


part of a series of ideas to help shape and tone your creative muscles

Inspired and adapted from The Imagineering Workout

written by The Disney Imagineers

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What Account Do I Draw From to Pay Attention?

Last fall I had the opportunity to be a part of The Adams Family Adventure – a week-long trip to Walt Disney World for my immediate family of fifteen: six children and nine adults.

All week long I had the most fun watching the rest of the family as they experienced Walt Disney World, most for the first time. We captured that trip in over 3,000 images, whose primary purpose was to bring up stories from our memory from that single image.

As we departed four different cities on the first day of our trip, we were texting and FaceTiming about our various experiences. It was the first airplane flight for four of the grandchildren (they did great). They left their homes early in the morning, took long flights, got on a big “magical” bus, and arrived at our resort.

To our grandchildren, it must have been a little strange. From the time they came running off the bus, throughout all of the fun adventures of the week, to the goodbyes at the end of the week, they were a little overwhelmed, maybe even overstimulated about the whole process – and I began to see all over again what it means to be curious.

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You can, and must, regain your lost curiosity. Learn to see again with eyes undimmed by precedent.   – Gary Hamel

My grandchildren’s curiosity was brought sharply into focus when I recently read the following:

In childhood, then, attention is brightened by two features: children’s neophilia (love of new things) and the fact that, as young people, they simply haven’t seen it all before.   – Alexandra Horowitz

On LookingAlexandra Horowitz’s brilliant On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes shows us how to see the spectacle of the ordinary – to practice, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle puts it, “the observation of trifles.”

On Looking is structured around a series of eleven walks the author takes, mostly in her Manhattan neighborhood, with experts on a diverse range of subjects, including an urban sociologist, a geologist, a physician, and a sound designer. She also walks with a child and a dog to see the world as they perceive it. What they see, how they see it, and why most of us do not see the same things reveal the startling power of human attention and the cognitive aspects of what it means to be an expert observer.

Here’s an illustrative example as Horowitz walks around the block with a naturalist who informs her she has missed seeing three different groups of birds in the last few minutes of their walk:

How had I missed these birds? It had to do with how I was looking. Part of what restricts us seeing things is that we have an expectation about what we will see, and we are actually perceptually restricted by that perception. In a sense, perception is a lost cousin of attention: both serve to reduce what we need to process of the world “out there.” Attention is the more charismatic member, packaged and sold more effectively, but expectation is also a crucial part of what we see. Together they allow us to be functional, reducing the sensory chaos of the world into unbothersome and understandable units.

Attention and expectation also work together to oblige our missing things right in front of our noses. There is a term for this: inattentional blindness. It is the missing of the literal elephant in the room, despite the overturned armchairs and plate-sized footprints. 

Horowitz’s On Looking should be required reading for ChurchWorld leaders. How often do we fly past the fascinating world around us? A world, mind you, that we have been called to serve.

How can we serve a neighborhood or community or a block of our subdivision if we haven’t paid attention to it?

To a surprising extent, time spent going to and fro – walking down the street, traveling to work, heading to the store or a child’s school – is unremembered. It is forgotten not because nothing of interest happens. It is forgotten because we failed to pay attention to the journey to begin with.

Will Mancini, Founder and Team Leader of Auxano, the vision clarity-consulting group I am a part of, has written eloquently on the subject. In his book Church Unique, he introduces a principle called “The Kingdom Concept” with references to artist Andrew Wyeth:

 Most artists look for something fresh to paint; frankly, I find that quite boring. For me it is much more exciting to find fresh meaning in something familiar.   – Andrew Wyeth

Mancini goes on:

What’s particularly interesting about Wyeth is that in more than fifty years of painting he never tried to capture a landscape outside of the immediate surroundings of his home in Chadds Ford Pennsylvania, and his family’s summerhouse in Maine.

 Ponder this starling fact for a moment: This man has touched the world with an ability he never exercised outside of his own backyard! His creative mind and brilliant skill, turned loose for ten hours a day and for years on end, can be forever satisfied by radically full attention to the familiar.

 It seemed to me that he was doing something inherently visionary, and critically important for ministry leaders to do as well: his ability to observe his immediate surrounding enables him to discover and express meaning in life that other miss.

The role of today’s leaders is to clarify what is already there and help people perceive what has gone unnoticed.  These are the skills needed to lead a Church Unique.

Questions to Ponder

  • How do you observe the all-too-familiar in order to discover new meaning and discern the activity of God that others miss?
  • What do you look for?
  • How can you learn to scrutinize the obvious?
  • What does it mean to look for the extraordinary in the ordinary?
  • How can you lead your church to find exponential impact through a simple and local focus?

A good place to start is simply looking…

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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How You Say Good Bye is as Important as How You Say Hello

Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.Walt Disney

The Disney organization has no peer when it comes to creating amazing Guest Experiences. Their Cast Member interaction with Guests is legendary in providing a warm welcome to the Disney Parks. From your arrival by car, monorail, or boat, the Guest is almost overwhelmed by the tremendous “first impression” that Disney Cast Members deliver.

But I think it’s how Disney says “goodbye” that leaves a “lasting impression.

Just a few weeks ago on Independence Day, I’m sure many of you saw and heard first hand fireworks of all shapes and sizes. Independence Day fireworks are memorable, and they add a special feeling to the festivities of the day. But fireworks at Disney parks – they are unique.

At Disney World, the fireworks in 3 of the 4 parks (the animals in Disney’s Animal Kingdom can’t handle the noise) are simply spectacular. Here’s how Aaron Wallace, author of The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom describes it:

Suddenly, almost without warning, the park goes dark, the castle lights up in a blinding white blaze, and the enormous trumpeting of horns heralds the long-awaited arrival of the fireworks show.

Words alone can’t convey the impact of that moment. There is no point during the Disney park experience when the magic hits harder than with the opening notes of the fireworks show. To quote Jiminy Cricket, “like a bolt out of the blue,” a feeling of “WOW! I’m actually in Disney World” washes over the crowd in that split second.

The show continues to build in intensity, the music gets louder, the fireworks more majestic until at the end, the sky is seemingly covered from horizon to horizon with a colorful canvas of memories and magic.

photo by Tom Brickman

photo by Tom Brickman

That’s what the Guests remember – and it makes them start thinking about the next time they can return.

But it isn’t quite time to say goodbye – for those hardy souls who have the stamina and endurance to remain till the park’s closing – and just a little longer – there is one more Disney magic surprise – the Kiss Goodnight.

As DisneyTouristBlog.com author Tom Bricker explains,

Too few Walt Disney World fans know about The Kiss Goodnight. If you just thought, “what’s that?” you’re not alone. The Kiss Goodnight is a little over 2-minutes long, and it is the Magic Kingdom’s way of saying “goodbye” to guests at the end of a long day. It usually plays every 30 minutes after the park closes and starts with Cinderella Castle “twinkling” as the music from When You Wish Upon a Star slowly builds.

photo by Tom Brickman

photo by Tom Brickman

A narrator then greets the last of the guests in the Magic Kingdom, saying: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, on behalf of everyone here at the Magic Kingdom, we thank you for joining us today for a magic gathering of family, friends, fun, and fantasy. We hope your magical journey with us has created wonderful memories that will last a lifetime. Walt Disney said that the Magic Kingdom is a world of imagination, hopes, and dreams. In this timeless land of enchantment, magic and make-believe are reborn, and fairy tales come true. The Magic Kingdom is a place for the young and the young at heart. A special place where when you wish upon a star, your dreams can come true. Until we see you again, have a safe trip home. Thank you, and goodnight.”

The Kiss Goodnight is the proverbial icing on the Cake (Castle!). After a long day in the parks, we can’t help but just stop and watch the Kiss Goodnight, completely frozen and unable to move. For us, the combination of the beautiful light display and hearing about the meaning Walt Disney wanted the parks to have for guests does it every time.

I’m convinced that most people who “get” the Disney theme parks would get goose bumps if they were to stand in a mostly empty Magic Kingdom and watch and listen to this on a tranquil Main Street USA. It’s special not just because you’re in the park at such a peaceful time, essentially by yourself with Cinderella Castle, but also because of the significance of the words in Roy O. Disney’s Walt Disney World opening day dedication speech. The Kiss Goodnight basically embodies and reminds us exactly why it’s so great to be a Disney fan. If you haven’t stayed to experience The Kiss Goodnight before, you should definitely make an effort to do it at least once. It absolutely belongs on everyone’s Disney Bucket List.

Now that’s a goodbye!

Which leads me to a simple, closing question:

How do you tell your Guests goodbye?

Details Are Important Because Guests Feel Perfection

Walt Disney had the idea that Guests could feel perfection.

As I’ve written before, the secret to Disney “magic” is simple: it’s attention to detail.

Easier said than done in any organization, but the Disney organization certainly leads the way for others to follow.

In this post, I displayed 3 close-up image and asked if anyone could identify them. If you haven’t guessed yet, here are the images, with identifying details below.

 

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The more important question is, “What do these details have to do with anything?”

Disney Imagineers excel at transforming a space into a story place. Every element they design works together to create an identity that supports the story of that place – structures, entrances and exits, walkways, landscaping, water elements, and modes of transportation. Every element in its form and color must engage the Guests’ imagination and appeal to their emotions.

The minute details that produce the visual experience are really the true art of the Disney themed show, its greatest source of strength. The details corroborate every story point, immersing Guests in the story idea. Walt Disney knew that if details are missing or incorrect, Guests won’t believe in the story, and that if one detail contradicts another, Guests will feel let down or even deceived.

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courtesy wdwinfo

The apple is part of a larger display holding a bag of apples. It is found in what was originally known as Kingdom Crossing, but almost everyone now calls it the “Tangled bathrooms.” There are an amazing number of details all around this area, all having to do with the movie Tangled. The apples? They were a favorite snack of Maximus, the horse of the palace guard (a lovable sidekick throughout the movie, and one of the co-stars of the “sequel” Tangled Ever After.)

courtesy chipandco

courtesy chipandco

The window contains two lanterns, and can be found on the second story just around the entrance to The Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square. Liberty Square is a small place but packed with dozens of details that highlight our country’s early history. The lanterns? Well, let’s just say Paul Revere would have known what to make of them!

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The withered and dying roses can be found in the rose garden outside the Haunted Mansion, near the queue line. Nowhere else on Walt Disney Property will you find plants allowed to exist in such a condition – but that’s part of the mystique of the Haunted Mansion. It’s filled with 999 ghosts, and no one wants to work anywhere near such a “haunted” place! The general run-down look of the whole area is also augmented by the dour, unsmiling faces of all the Cast Members – one of only two places in Walt Disney World where smiles are forbidden!

These three examples are representative of the genius of Walt Disney, now carried out by Imagineers and Cast Members. This is why Walt insisted that even details others thought no Guest would notice – like dying roses – were important.

Inappropriate details confuse a story’s meaning.

Appropriate details immerse the Guest in the story.

How do you pay attention to the details in your organization?

 

Details Make the Difference

Organizations that create exceptional experiences for their Guests know that details make the difference.

Can you identify these three images taken on a recent field trip to the Magic Kingdom? Reply in the comments section!

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What makes these so important to the story in the larger scene being depicted?

The secret to providing an amazing Guest Experience is simple: pay attention to the details.

 

Getting there, now that’s another story all together.

 

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