Good Leaders Unlock the Imagination by Starting with WHY

To help see others see change, the leader must understand how to unlock the imagination.

The very act of imagination is connected to faith. The author of Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). When a leader articulates, or provokes, a follower’s imagination, he or she is serving both God and the individual by exercising the muscle of faith.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Start with Why, by Simon Sinek

Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others? Why do some command greater loyalty?

In studying the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world, Simon Sinek discovered that they all think, act, and communicate in the exact same way-and it’s the complete opposite of what everyone else does. People like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers might have little in common, but they all started with why.

Drawing on a wide range of real-life stories, Sinek weaves together a clear vision of what it truly takes to lead and inspire.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Walt Disney’s dream that we now know as Disneyland faced an immense problem: how do you get financial investors to back something that’s never been done before, and exists only in a few sketches?

Faced with this dilemma, Disney did what he was best at: he painted pictures with words:

The idea of Disneyland is a simple one. It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge. It will be a place for parents and children to spend pleasant times in one another’s company.

Disneyland will be based upon and dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and hard facts that have created America. And it will be uniquely equipped to dramatize these dreams and facts and send them forth as a source of courage and inspiration to all the world. 

Disneyland will be filled with the accomplishments, the joys and hopes of the world we live in. And it will remind us and show us how to make those wonders part of our lives.

Walt Disney, An American Original, 246-247

Disney’s simple but evocative language convinced the investors of a future they could not see – and the rest is history.

Great leaders and great organizations are good at seeing what most of us can’t see. They are good at giving us things we would never think of asking for.

Great leaders are those who trust their gut. They are those who understand the art before the science. They win hearts before minds. They are the ones who start with WHY.

Products and services with a clear sense of WHY give people a way to tell the outside world who they are and what they believe. Remember, people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. If an organization does not have a clear sense of WHY then it is impossible for the outside world to perceive anything more than WHAT the organization does. And when that happens, manipulations that rely on pushing price, features, service or quality become the primary currency of differentiation.

WHAT: Every single organization on the planet knows WHAT they do. Everyone is easily able to describe the products or services a company sells or the job function they have within that system. WHATS are easy to identify.

HOW: Some companies and people know HOW they do WHAT they do. HOWs are often given to explain how something is different or better. Not as obvious as WHATs, many think these are the differentiating or motivating factors in a decision. It would be false to assume that’s all that is required. There is one missing detail:

WHY: Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your organization exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?

It all starts from the inside out. It all starts with WHY.

Simon Sinek, Start with Why

A NEXT STEP

There is a fine line between inspiration and manipulation. A leader can use powerful language, vivid images, and emotional pleas to his audience – and be a manipulative, power-hungry despot.

A leader can also use powerful language, vivid images, and emotional pleas to his audience – and be a visionary leader.

The difference is in the WHY. If people don’t believe in the WHY behind your vision, they won’t be motivated to help you deliver it.

To understand the WHY behind all sides of a situation, idea, or problem you are facing, take the WHY Train by answering the following questions:

  1. Who is the main actor in the situation or problem?
  2. What is the main concept, object, or action the main actor uses or performs?
  3. Where is the main actor located when performing or using the main concept, object, or action?
  4. When does the situation or problem occur?
  5. Describe each answer in more depth.
  6. Conclude by asking WHY to the answers you have given.

The result of this exercise will be a thorough and sequential description about a situation and the insightful reasoning behind each element.


As leaders, we communicate in all we say and do. We may be entertaining at times, we inform much of the time, and occasionally we must be directing in what we say. But in all situations, we can inspire and connect with our audience.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 29-1, published December 2015


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 “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.

Capturing the Vision Lesson Behind Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Frequent readers of this site know of my fondness (well, let’s call it what it is – extreme fanaticism) for the genius of Walt Disney and the amazing empire that bears his name. Recently, I’ve been researching the early history of animation at Disney through various sources, mostly first-person accounts of the animators of that time.

I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Anaheim, CA at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure last week. In a unique dining experience while talking with Cast Members, I was reminded again of the vision Walt Disney exercised to bring Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to life.

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Tucked inside the entrance gates to Disney’s California Adventure is an iconic reproduction of the Carthay Circle Theater in Los Angeles. One of the most important theaters in the Golden Age of Movies during the Twenties and Thirties, it represents the premier of a tremendous achievement by Walt Disney – the first full length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Though we now view Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as an animation classic, in the mid-1930’s the idea of a full-length “cartoon” was unheard of. Walt Disney took one of the biggest risks of his career, putting almost all of his resources – both business and personal – into the film. Called “Disney’s Folly” by most of Hollywood (and more than a few inside Disney Studios itself), the film opened to critical and financial success, paving the way for Disney to continue expanding his creative genius.

With critics becoming more vocal, Walt Disney knew he would have to inspire his team of artists and writers as never before.

The rest is history…

Ken Anderson, Art Director for Snow White, remembered it this way:

Walt approached a group of employees late one afternoon, gave each of them fifty cents, told them to grab dinner across the street and then return to the soundstage that evening. None had any idea of what Walt had in mind.

When they arrived and took their seats on wooden tiers at the back of the room, Walt was standing at the front lit by a single spotlight in the otherwise dark space.

Announcing that he was going to launch an animated feature, he told the story of Snow White, not just telling it but acting it out, assuming the character; mannerisms, putting on their voices, letting his audience visualize exactly what they would be seeing on the screen. 

He became Snow White and the wicked queen and the prince and each of the dwarfs.

Anderson said the performance took over three hours. One animator later claimed, “that one performance lasted us three years. Whenever we’d get stuck, we’d remember how Walt did it on that night.”

– Neal Gabler, “Walt Disney-The Triumph of the American Imagination

But there’s more to the story…

Along about the same time, Disney demonstrated his vision in another way. The new medium of television, though in its infancy, was growing.

According to Keith Gluck, writing for The Walt Disney Family Museum,

Before Walt Disney even understood the new medium of television, he still had the foresight to invest in it. Walt had learned from dealing with shady characters in the past to pay close attention to contracts. When his distribution deal with United Artists was coming to a close, he chose not to renew. UA was insisting on the television rights to all Disney cartoons. “I don’t know what television is, and I’m not going to sign away anything I don’t know about,” Walt said. He ended up signing with RKO Pictures in late 1935.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered in 1937, distributed by RKO Pictures. It was a smashing success, and was later given an honorary Academy Award for its groundbreaking achievements. It was no typical Oscar, either – the award instead was one statuette with seven miniature statuettes!

There’s one more piece to this vision puzzle…

Over a decade later, Walt’s interest in television began to develop. In 1948 he spent a week in New York with the specific purpose of watching and learning more about television. By the time he returned to the Studio, he was convinced it was just the forum to help promote his work. He even told Studio Nurse Hazel George, “Television is the coming thing.” While other movie studios were trying to think of ways to thwart the coming of television, Walt was gearing up to embrace it. 

 – Keith Gluck, The Walt Disney Family Museum

By being the first studio producer to become involved with the fledgling medium of television, Disney was able to leverage that partnership into a financing arrangement that allowed him to bring another dream to reality – Disneyland.

Walt had a grander vision of what his shows could do on ABC, and how they could be used to promote Disneyland. Despite pressure from the other studios, Walt and Roy Disney signed a contact with Leonard Goldenson of ABC, in which the network put up $500,000 in cash, guarantee $4.5 million in loans, and receive one-third ownership in Disneyland (which it later sold back to Disney).

– J. Jeff Kober, Disney’s Hollywood Studios: From Show Biz to Your Biz

With the opening of Disneyland in 1955, Walt’s vision and imagination took on a reality that people could see, hear, and feel – an experience that changed entertainment forever.

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Walt Disney’s Vision Lesson for Leaders Today

Walt Disney’s unique vision, personalized in the telling of Snow White, demonstrated in the far-reaching aspects of a contract, and brought to life at Disneyland, can be a model for church leaders today.

When God wants change, He affects the heart of the leader first.

To help people see the invisible, the leader must first understand how to unlock the imagination. How does the leader influence the imagination? Through metaphors, blended with the art of storytelling and question asking.

If the leader has any hope of painting a memorable picture of the future, it will be with the vivid and compelling language of metaphor – living language – that penetrates the soul as much as it illumines the mind.

– Will Mancini, Church Unique

What vision is burning inside of you, a vision that can captivate your team, influence the influential, and be brought to life in your community?

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 current projects:

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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. In 2014-2015, I used the theme of the Pirates of the Caribbean storyline 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.

Currently, I am working on developing new Guest Experience tools that will be available next spring – around the time that Pirates of the Caribbean 5 – Dead Men Tell No Tales – hits the theaters.

Then there’s the rest of my office…

DisneyImmersion

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 library of over 120 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 can be heard.

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 wold 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

Imagineering logo

From Storytelling to Storyboarding

 

Storytelling is probably the oldest form of communication. John Hench, Disney Legend and former Senior VP of Creative Development, used to insist that storytelling was ‘in our genes.’ – Tom Fitzgerald, The Imagineering Workout

Storytelling has played a vital role in our survival – allowing us to share information, knowledge, and values from generation to generation. Story is the medium through which we receive our early learning as to right and wrong, good versus evil, reward and punishment, social values, etc.

We respond to storytelling. It engages our attention; no matter how old we get, who doesn’t love a good story?

Understanding this, Walt Disney created a technique in the early days of his cartoon films that helped illustrate the flow and continuity of stories – the storyboard.

Donald Duck storyboard, circa 1937 - courtesy of Tom Simpson

Donald Duck storyboard, circa 1937 – courtesy of Tom Simpson

Storyboards are tools that allowed Walt and his artists to envision a film prior to production. It allowed his team to have a shared vision of the story they were telling and how it would unfold. As a bonus to driving the creative development, it also offered a cost-effective way to experiment with a film early on, so that when production began, costs could be minimized.

Decades later, the tradition of storyboards continues on, though it has long expanded past just films. At Walt Disney Imagineering, rides, shows, and films for Disney’s theme parks around the world are the objects of regular storyboarding.

Starting with brainstorm sessions, the Imagineer’s first thoughts, ideas, images, and feelings about the story they are creating are captured on note cards and quick sketches.

The storyboards are worked, re-worked, rearranged, and edited until the story is strong and clear. Only then will production proceed.

At Walt Disney Imagineering, everything they do revolves around the story – and storyboards have remained an essential tool in helping them tell the story.

What story are you trying to tell?

Let it start with words and images to single note cards pinned on wall. Step back and look at the story you are trying to tell. Rearrange, edit, and add to the cards. Work at it – hard – until the story is just like you want to tell it.

Now, it’s time to tell the story…

 

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

Imagineering logo

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

Starting at the End

TheImagineeringWorkout

inspired by and adapted from The Imagineering Workout, by the Disney Imagineers

– Peter Steinman, General Counsel, Disney Imagineering

Working from the back-end is finding the lessons that you don’t want to learn in the midst of your project. 

This practice of back-end visualization is essential to almost everything we do and can be adapted to any project. 

Next, consider how you could minimize these challenges so they do not negatively impact the project, and take necessary preventive action. This might be done through a contract, through people you might hire, materials you might use, or by adjusting a schedule.

Imagine all the reasonably possible outcomes of the project, select one that best meets your needs, think through all things that could delay, detour, or diminish your outcome and write them down.

Anticipating the possible outcomes of everyday decisions before you make them helps you avoid calamities, not to mention inconveniences.

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It takes a special kind of vision to see the end before the beginning.

“Of course he did,” recounted his wife Lillian. “If he had not seen it then, we would not be seeing it now.”

After being around Disney cast members for several days this week, the story of people lamenting the fact that Walt died before Walt Disney World was built was recounted several times.

Being onsite at a Disney theme park always heightens my awareness of Walt Disney and the vision he had to bring so much to our world – groundbreaking animation, the concept of the storyboard creative process, live action/animation  movies, and especially the concept of theme parks.

January 31, 2016

A celebration of National Backwards Day

Honoring Walt Disney and His Legacy of Organizational Culture

Great leaders lead, teach, and develop organizational culture by being onsite and visible to their team.

When it came to learning about Disney culture and how things should be done at the park, we learned it all through Walt being there and watching what he did and said. He was there almost every weekend and he was there every Wednesday for the Park Operating Committee. We built what is known today as the Disney Culture through association with Walt.
– William “Sully” Sullivan, in his book “From Jungle Cruise Skipper to Disney Legend”

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Walter Elias Disney was born on this date – December 5 –  in 1901.