Honoring Walt Disney’s Greatest Creation

The books in my Disney library are a valuable resource for my ongoing quest in learning the story of Walt Disney and the “kingdoms” he created; kingdoms that continue to expand in the 56 years since his passing.

But even books have limitations…

You can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world…but it requires people to make the dream a reality.

Walt Disney

Over the years I have been fortunate to make friends among Disney Cast Members, both current and past. A handful of those friends have been Imagineers, and as you may imagine, they are amazing storytellers, creative geniuses, and innovative to the core.

So…learning more about Imagineering? Sign me up – literally!

When the news that a new steaming service called Disney+ was coming in the fall of 2019, I was delighted – so much, that I signed up for a 3-year subscription as soon as they became available.

When the initial programming schedule was released, and included the 6-part series “The Imagineering Story,” I was ecstatic – it was among the first programs I watched on the new service.

When the book The Imagineering Story was announced, I was literally stopped what I was doing and pre-ordered the book.

There’s really no secret about our approach. We keep moving forward – opening new doors and doing new things – because we’re curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. We’re always exploring and experimenting…we call it Imagineering –   the blending of creative imaginational and technical know-how.

Walt Disney

The Imagineering Story continues the behind-the-scenes journeys first revealed in the books Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real (1995) and its sequel Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making MORE Magic Real (2010).

The book goes deep into the personalities, stories, and adventures of the men and women who brought create magic around the world.

More than just the theme parks (though that would have been awesome enough), every resort hotel, shop and business setting, cruise ship, and entertainment setting exists largely through the men and women of Disney Imagineering.

The Imagineering Story greatly expands the award-winning filmmaker Leslie Iwerks’ narrative of the fascinating history of Walt Disney Imagineering.

The entire legacy of Walt Disney Imagineering is covered from day one through future projects with never-before-seen access and insights from people both on the inside and on the outside. So many stories and details were left on the cutting room floor for the series – this book allows an expanded exploration of the magic of Imagineering.

Every one of the 731 pages was filled with stories that brought the Disney Experience alive.

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.

Designing the Guest’s experience is what Walt Disney’s Imagineers came to call “the art of the show,” a term that applies to what the Imagineers did at every level, from the broadest conceptual outlines to the smallest details, encompassing visual storytelling, characters, and the use of color.

Walt Disney realized that a visit to an amusement park could be like a theatrical experience – in a word, a show. Walt saw that the Guests’ sense of progressing through a narrative, of living out a story told visually, could link together the great variety of attractions he envisioned for his new kind of park. While traveling through their stories, Guests would encounter, and even interact with, their favorite Disney characters, and who would be transformed, as if by magic, from their two-dimensional film existence into this special three-dimensional story world.

As designers, the Imagineers create spaces – guided experiences that take place in carefully structured environments, allowing the Guests to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste in new ways. In effect, Imagineers transform a space into a story place.

Ultimately, the Imagineers gave Guests a place to play, something Walt believed that adults needed as much as children. The design of the Imagineers gives power to the Guests’ imagination, to transcend their everyday routine. Walt Disney insisted that Guests should “feel better because of” their experiences in Disney theme parks, thus establishing the art of the show.

For the Imagineers, that meant considering everything within and relating to the parks as design elements. To build effective story environments and assure Guest comfort, the designers realize that they always had to assume the Guests’ position and point of view, and just as Walt did, to take the Guests’ interests to heart and defend them when others didn’t think it mattered.

It is up to the designers to provide Guests with the appropriate sensory information that makes each story environment convincing. This means that design considerations go beyond the attractions themselves to the service and operations staff, transportation, restaurants, shops, rest rooms – even the trash cans.

The secret to Disney magic that the Imagineers bring to life is in the details!

Recently celebrating their 70th anniversary, the Imagineers have delivered – time and time again. To date, the Imagineers have built twelve theme parks; dozens of resort hotels; 5 cruise ships with two more under construction; 2 water parks; and ongoing development in existing parks and Disney properties around the world.

The Imagineers bring the Disney magic alive.

The Imagineering Story brings the Imagineers to life.

I have a hard time ranking the books in my Disney library – but The Imagineering Story is going to be in my all-time Top Ten from now on, and a highly-recommended book for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the creative genius (and occasionally weirdness) of that special and unique blend of artists and engineers who took the dreams of one man, Walt Disney, and brought them to life. 


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

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.

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Delivering Disney Magic: Dick Nunis, Walt’s Apprentice

If you read about the origins and development of Disneyland in the early 1950s leading up to its opening in July 1955, the well-know names start with Walt and Roy Disney, followed by a small-but-influential group of Disney studio team members who used their imaginative talents to transfer ideas from the screen to reality.

Of course, that is an important part of the history of Disney – we wouldn’t have the parks without their creative brilliance.

But it’s one thing to create a place like Disneyland, and a whole other thing to run a place like Disneyland.

During the final, frenzied weeks of construction leading to opening day on July 17, 1955, the name Dick Nunis appears in the history of Disneyland – a new college graduate, hired to be a “gofer” for Van Arsdale France, who created the first orientation and training program for employees.

Nunis had met Walt Disney several years before (Walt’s daughter Diane was a classmate of Nunis, and was dating her husband-to-be Ron Miller, a teammate of Nunis’ at USC). That memorable first encounter included a ride on “The Carolwood Pacific Railroad” – a miniature train with over 1/2 mile of track circling Walt Disney’s home (one of the four foundational origin stories of Disneyland, but that’s for another day).

That train ride with Walt Disney foreshadowed the future of Dick Nunis, as he progressed from a gofer to chairman of Walt Disney Attractions, a forty-four year career at Disney on the operations side of the parks. 

Walt’s Apprentice: Keeping the Disney Dream Alive is the memoir of Disney Legend Dick Nunis. It is a warm personal reminiscence of learning directly from Walt Disney for 12 years, followed by more than 30 years devoted to championing his vision and standards as the Disney empire grew.

The story covers Disney’s highlights, including the 1960 Winter Olympics, 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, and the development and opening of Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Epcot, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. 

Unlike other Disney books, this story is told from the perspective of operations rather than Imagineering. It touches on decisions that defined the guest experience and Disney’s reputation for quality in areas ranging from capacity and people-moving, training, delivering a consistent “good show,” food service, and more.

This first-person narrative is presented as a series of wide-ranging vignettes. Some vignettes focus on personal, character-shaping events, such as the injury that ended his collegiate football career. Other stories touch on national events, such as Nikita Khrushchev’s derailed visit to Disneyland, the decision to close the park following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan’s assistance in expediting the visa process for cast members staffing the Epcot World Showcase. Few people have enjoyed a life so immersed in Disney magic.

These stories share that magic through the memories of one of the original doers and dreamers.

In my personal research and study of the history of the Disney company, I had long noticed the name of Dick Nunis and the many contributions he made at each stage of his Disney career.

When I learned that the long-rumored book from Nunis was being published, it went to the top of my list.

It did not disappoint!

As one of a very few individuals still alive who worked closely with Walt Disney, Walt’s Apprentice chronicles how Nunis learned directly from Walt Disney for a dozen years, then spent the next thirty years devoted to championing Walt’s vision and standards as Disney grow into a worldwide enterprise, “creating happiness” for young and old alike.

If you want to read a first-person narrative on Disney with a focus on the operational side, Walt’s Apprentice is a must.


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

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.

When the Honeymoon Ends: What Happens When the Grand Opening is Over and the Daily Grind Begins?

Note: On the 56th anniversary of Walt Disney’s death, a continuing series of posts on the difficulties – and opportunities – former, now new again, Disney CEO Bob Iger is facing.

Upon Walt Disney’s untimely death in 1966 at age 65, his behind-the-scenes brother, Roy Disney, reluctantly came out of retirement to oversee the building and financing of Walt Disney World. Roy Disney died in late 1971, just a few months after the opening of Walt Disney World, and for the next decade the Disney Company was led by a team including Card Walker, Donn Tatum, and Ron Miller—all originally trained by the Disney brothers.

The genius of Roy Disney is often overlooked – a sad and unfortunate fact because Walt, the creative genius, only succeeded because of Roy, the organizational and business genius.

Their partnership, which began in 1923, was certainly filled with ups and downs. The lowest, of course, was when Walt died. In an act of pure brotherly love, Roy stepped out of retirement and stepped up to complete a version of Walt’s dream – renaming the project WALT Disney World, in tribute to his brother.

Roy, who had in reality been CEO of Disney since 1929, was now faced with dealing with the creative side of Disney. As only brothers can, the two Disneys were the best of friends and could be the worst of enemies. Even so, the Disney Company prospered with a long track record of successes.

Then Walt died.

What would the Disney Company do?

This is what they did then. Are there lessons for what they might do now?


As anyone who has been married knows, there is a difference between the moonlight and roses of courtship and the bills and responsibilities of marriage.

Van France, Founder of Disney University

Anyone who has ever been involved in a grand opening knows the feeling. The energy accompanying the pre-opening, followed by the eventual letdown afterward, can be an emotional roller coaster.

At Walt Disney World, a number of issues were adding to the post-opening blues:

  • Roy Disney, who took over as the company’s inspirational leader after Walt Disney’s death in 1966, passed away in December 1971, barely two months after the opening of Walt Disney World. His enthusiasm and focus motivated all the cast members to push through the challenges to complete Walt’s Florida dream. The company lost its vital inspirational leaders in a relatively short span of time.
  • Cast members were exhausted. There wasn’t an operational road map for opening Walt Disney World. Everything was new; cast members learned as they created. Systems and procedures were developed as the resort took shape.
  • Opportunities for career advancement slowed down. Turnover skyrocketed.
  • Much more than a single theme park, Disney World was a complex environment that involved many professions. Walt Disney World, with the hotels, golf courses, campgrounds, and resorts, was a 24/7/365 operation. The word downtime wasn’t in the vocabulary.
  • The singular goal of opening Walt Disney World, a tremendous source of motivation in and of itself, was gone. What else was there to look forward to? The inspiration and motivation provided by the clarity of a major goal would be hard to duplicate.

Sustaining the intense levels of pre-opening enthusiasm, effort, and momentum is not a reasonable goal for any organization. However, preventing a post accomplishment toxic environment or a mass exodus of team members driven out by crashing morale is a goal that is both attainable and worth pursuing.

The size and scope of Walt Disney World were unprecedented. It faced an equally immense employee relations crisis.

What would Disney do (again)?

Disney executive Dick Nunis began a series of meetings of the divisional vice presidents – but it wasn’t any ordinary meeting, and it was definitely not an ordinary location. In a small, sparse room – more like an unfinished attic than a meeting room – the meetings began.

That room, in the tower of Cinderella Castle, the symbol of the Happiest Place on Earth, would be the location for a miraculous turnaround.

The meetings led to a revised employee development strategy of centralized activities controlled by the Disney University and decentralized activities under the control of the divisions.

At the center of the plan was Disney University. It is the keeper of the key, the company’s conscience regarding the Disney brand; it is responsible for setting the ‘big picture’ to ensure a consistent delivery of the product. The new-hire orientation ensures everyone coming on board knows the culture of the company. The decentralized portion of the training strategy is the responsibility of each operating division.

Thor Degelmann, Human Resource Development Manager, Walt Disney Company

And the result – by 1975, two years after the meetings began, the turnover rate at Walt Disney World had dropped from 83 percent to 28 percent, a 66 percent reduction in turnover.

The honeymoon was over, but the marriage would thrive.

Applying Van France’s Four Circumstances

Innovate – Support – Educate – Entertain

Crisis Management and Culture Change

  • In your organization, what is the equivalent of a honeymoon coming to an end?
  • Are senior team leaders fully engaged in the resolution process?
  • How could this turnaround strategy be improved?
  • What symbols represent the culture of your organization?
  • How could these symbols be used to help reinforce organizational culture and resolve crises?
  • How do you communicate important messages?
  • Are openness, honesty, and collaboration encouraged?

Inspired by and adapted from Disney U by Doug Lipp

Get the book TODAY to learn invaluable lessons for your Guest Experience Teams

Disney U is one of the most significant resources related to the Disney organization, leadership, team development, and Guest Experiences available. Over the last ten years, I’ve spent over 100 days on Disney properties. During observations, and in numerous conversations with Cast Members, I was reminded again and again of the importance of the training principles found in Disney U.

What will Disney do?

How to Capture the Vision Lesson Behind “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”

NOTE: Continuing reflections on the replacement of Bob Chapek, Disney CEO, with Bob Iger, former CEO.


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.

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

When we walked into the soundstage  it was all dark so we could save money. There was just a light on the floor in front of the seats. About forty of us sat there and we got all settled. 

Walt came down in front of us and said, “I’m going to tell you a story. It’s been with me all my life. I’ve lived it!”

He started in and told the story of Snow White better than we put it on the screen. From eight o’clock to eleven thirty, he portrayed all the parts. We were spellbound. He had to go forward and back and forward and back in order to get it all in. He became the queen, became the huntsman, became the dwarfs, and even Snow White.

In front of us, he wasn’t embarrassed to do anything. He became all of those creatures. The guy changed right in front of us.

He had enormous talent as an actor. He could really sell things. And he sold the story to us in such a way that we could’t believe our ears. He so thrilled us with the story that we were just carried away. We came away from that meeting know that it could be done, even though no one else had ever done it.

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.”

The rest is history…

Disney history, that is!

It’s also a telling story of why there will never be another Walt Disney, and why even the best intentions of Bob Iger will not meet that mark.

Acclaimed Disney expert Jim Korkis tells the stories of what Walt did right, what he did wrong, and how you can follow in his footsteps. Drawing upon his unparalleled knowledge of the Disney Company and its legacy, Korkis distills the essence of Walt Disney’s leadership principles into an exciting narrative of popular history and self-help.

You’ll read not just about what Walt did but why he did it, and how you can apply the lessons to your own life or your own enterprise.

Who’s the Leader of the Club will teach you how to lead like Walt. You don’t have to be producing animated films or running theme parks to benefit from the innovative but common-sense approaches Walt Disney took to every challenge. In just a few hours, you’ll learn what it took Walt a lifetime to perfect, and you’ll learn how to put it to work for you.

Just as important, Korkis will teach you how not to lead like Walt. No leader is perfect, and Walt had traits that cost him, such as his berating employees in public, never praising an employee for good work, and trying to get the best out of people by pitting them against one another. Despite these flaws, Walt inspired great personal loyalty and devotion. Korkis explains why.

Packed with lessons, anecdotes, and quotes, Who’s the Leader of the Club? comes with all you need to master the Disney way, start telling your story, and become the leader of your club!

About the Author

Jim Korkis grew up in Glendale, CA, immediately adjacent to Burbank, the home of Disney Studios. Eager to learn about animation, as a young boy he wrote down the names of Disney staff members from the credits of Walt Disney’s weekly television series, and proceeded to look them up in his local phone book. When Korkis called them up to ask about Disney animation, he was often invited to their homes and spent hours enthralled by their stories. 

As they recommended him to other Disney staff members, he developed a network of animators, Imagineers, and others who had personally know Walt Disney. As the years progressed, he even developed a friendship with Diane Disney Miller, Walt’s oldest daughter, who was supportive of his work and shared personal insights about her father.

In the mid-90’s, Korkis moved to Orlando Florida and began working with the Disney Institute and Disney University, meeting many executives who had worked with Walt Disney and been trained by him.

As he had done in California, he listened and took extensive notes about their stories and experiences.

The leadership lessons of Walt Disney contained in Who’s the Leader of the Club created an organization respected and admired around the world. Unfortunately, these lessons have not been officially taught at Disney University to new leaders for well over two decades.

Korkis felt it was time to share them again, making every effort to use Walt Disney’s words as well as the words of those how had experienced him in action to help elaborate and describe the concepts.

It is Korkis’ desire that his book will prove to be an informative workbook on Walt’s leadership philosophy as well as an entertaining glimpse into a different perspective of his life.

Walt Disney was Walt Disney, and he does not fit into today’s limited categories of leadership. He used different leadership styles, depending upon the person and project, but always kept true to a core set of values that are highlighted in the seven lessons presented in Who’s The Leader of the Club?.

Jim Korkis

Here is a summary of Korkis’ seven lessons of leadership lived out by Walt Disney, along with a quote by Walt for each of the seven:

Know the Story

A leader’s vision is most effectively presented in the format of a story, the most powerful communication in the world for centuries.

The Wisdom of Walt: It is a curious thing that the more the world shrinks because of electronic communications the more timeless becomes the province of the storytelling entertainer.

Share the Story

In order to accomplish his vision, a leader must passionately share the complete story with everyone involved and actively encourage contributions to strengthen the story.

The Wisdom of Walt: I’m a storyteller. Of all the things I’ve done, I’d like to be remembered as a storyteller.

Take a (Calculated) Risk

So that the organization can avoid stagnation, a leader must occasionally take calculated risks to expand into new areas.

The Wisdom of Walt: To some people, I am kind of a Merlin who takes lots of crazy chances, but rarely makes mistakes. I’ve made some bad ones, but fortunately, the successes have come along fast enough to cover up the mistakes. When you go to bat as many times as I do, you’re bound to get a good average. That’s why I keep my projects diversified.

Make ‘em Laugh

It is the responsibility of the leader to establish a tone in the work place that allows people to feel safe and comfortable and to be able to smile and laugh.

The Wisdom of Walt: In bad times and good, I have never lost my sense of humor.

Eager to Learn

It is important for a leader to gather information from a variety of sources and encourage his team to do the same.

The Wisdom of Walt: We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

Understand People

A leader needs to know, understand, and listen to his team in order to lead them to success.

The Wisdom of Walt: You can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality.

Live the Story

The most important quality a leader can have is integrity, demonstrating by his words and actions that he stands for what he says he believes.

The Wisdom of Walt: Our heritage and ideals, our codes and standards – the things we live by and teach our children – are preserved or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings.


Still to come:

Succeeding as the new CEO of the Walt Disney Company was not going to be easy.

It wasn’t going to be easy for the new leader of the Walt Disney Company…even if his last name was Disney.

Revisiting the Leadership Qualities You Need to Assume the Legacy of Walt Disney

Note: This is a revised version of a post first published in early 2020. With the huge announcement earlier this week of the replacement of Disney CEO Bob Chapek by former CEO Bob Iger, I thought I would revisit the post before publishing a new one on the return of Bob Iger, what that means to the Disney company, and how hard it is to continue a founder’s vision.


For many people today, Walt Disney is not seen as a man, but instead as a nameless, faceless entertainment giant which owns the intellectual properties of the Disney Studios, Pixar Studios, Marvel, LucasFilms, and Fox. While that is all true, the man named Walter Elias Disney rose from humble beginnings to found the studio that bears his name in 1923.

After several years of barely scraping by and one disastrous setback, Disney put together a string of successes. By the early 1930s, Disney had reached what many industry leaders considered the pinnacle of success for an animated short features studio.

However, Walt Disney wasn’t at the top; he was just getting started.

I dream, I test my dreams against my beliefs, I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.

Walt Disney

Not all visionaries are leaders, but all leaders are visionaries. You can’t lead people without a vision of where you are taking them.

What is your dream, your vision?

According to author Pat Williams, great leaders are people of vision. Without a vision, how will you know what success looks like? How will you know how to get there? Your vision is your definition of success.

Look at the quote by Walt Disney above: “I dream, I test my dreams against my beliefs, I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.”

Author Pat Williams breaks the quote down as follows:

  • “I dream.” Walt began with a vision, a dream of the future.
  • “I test my dreams against my beliefs.” Walt made sure his vision was consistent with his beliefs, his core values, and his integrity.
  • “I dare to take risks.” He acted boldly, betting on himself to win.
  • “I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.” He focused all his energies, and those of his organization, on turning his dreams into reality.

Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966. Although the purchase of land for what would become Walt Disney World had been completed, infrastructure work had barely begun. After concentrating on theme parks for years, the quality of movies and animation had declined. Leadership of the company passed to several individuals for a few years, then to Michael Eisner for twenty years.

After rising through the ranks of ABC Television and Disney, Iger became the COO of Disney in 2000, and then in 2005, Iger was named chairman and then CEO of The Walt Disney Company.

Put yourself in Iger’s shoes, if you can imagine: How do you assume the legacy of Walt Disney?

The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, is that story.

In the fall of 2019, Robert Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, released a memoir/leadership book, based on his forty-five year career in the media and entertainment world. 

Robert Iger became CEO of The Walt Disney Company in 2005, during a difficult time. Competition was more intense than ever and technology was changing faster than at any time in the company’s history. His vision came down to three clear ideas: Recommit to the concept that quality matters, embrace technology instead of fighting it, and think bigger—think global—and turn Disney into a stronger brand in international markets.

Today, Disney is the largest, most admired media company in the world, counting Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox among its properties. Its value is nearly five times what it was when Iger took over, and he is recognized as one of the most innovative and successful CEOs of our era.

In The Ride of a Lifetime, Robert Iger shares the lessons he learned while running Disney and leading its 220,000-plus employees, and he explores the principles that are necessary for true leadership.

This book is about the relentless curiosity that has driven Iger for forty-five years, since the day he started as the lowliest studio grunt at ABC. It’s also about thoughtfulness and respect, and a decency-over-dollars approach that has become the bedrock of every project and partnership Iger pursues, from a deep friendship with Steve Jobs in his final years to an abiding love of the Star Wars mythology.


“The ideas in this book strike me as universal” Iger writes. “Not just to the aspiring CEOs of the world, but to anyone wanting to feel less fearful, more confidently themselves, as they navigate their professional and even personal lives.”

My experiences from day one have all been in the media and entertainment world, but these strike me as universal ideas: about fostering risk taking and creativity; about building a culture of trust; about fueling a deep and abiding curiosity in oneself and inspiring that in the people around you; about embracing change rather than living in denial of it; and about operating, always, with integrity and honesty in the world, even when that means facing things that are difficult to face. 

Bob Iger

As Iger neared the end of his 45+ year career and began to think back on what he had learned, he came up with ten principles that struck him as true leadership:

Optimism – A pragmatic enthusiasm for what can be achieved.

Courage – The foundation of risk-taking is courage.

Focus – Allocating time, energy, and resources to the strategies, problems, and projects that are of highest importance and value is extremely important.

Decisiveness – All decisions, no matter how difficult, and and should be made in a timely way.

Curiosity – A deep and abiding curiosity enables the discovery of new people, places, and ideas.

Fairness – Strong leadership embodies the fair and decent treatment of people. Empathy and accessibility are essential.

Thoughtfulness – Taking the time to develop informed opinions.

Authenticity – Be genuine and honest. Truth and authenticity breed respect and trust.

Relentless pursuit of perfection – A refusal to accept mediocrity or make excuses for something being “good enough.”

Integrity – High ethical standards for all things, big and small.

How can Iger’s list of principles inspire you to be a better leader?


A little backstory on the acquisition book: This is the book everyone who has even a passing interest in the Disney Corporation was waiting for. Since becoming a part of Disney’s senior management team in 1996, and especially since becoming CEO in 2005, Iger’s ideas and the values he embraced have led to the reinvention and resurgence of one of the most beloved companies in the world. 

Under Iger’s leadership, Disney acquired four powerhouse companies – Pixar, Marvel, LucasFilm, and 21st Century Fox.

Iger donated proceeds of from his book to educational initiatives aimed at fostering more diversity in the field of journalism.

When the rumors of his book first came out in the fall of 2016, it went on my watch list, and true to Amazon’s promise, it was delivered the day it was released on September 23, 2019.

Handing off the CEO role to Bob Chapek in early 2020, Iger remained executive chairman (till the end 2020) and chairman of the Board of The Walt Disney Company (till the end of 2021).


And now coming soon, the sequel to Bob Iger’s leadership post of the Walt Disney Company…

(To be continued)

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.

With a nod to today’s “Talk Like a Pirate Day” celebrated annually on September 19, here’s an example of creative immersion 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 series of Guest Experience learning activities lasting from a half day to two days.

And it doesn’t stop with pirates.

There’s the fact that my office is, in fact, a Disney museum (a title given by my granddaughter).

rva-office-db-3

It’s continually changing as I acquire new books and other “resources” that help my inspiration.

DisneyVerticalTowers091922

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 450 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

Disney’s Missed Opportunity at the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Walt Disney World

My recent trip to Walt Disney World for the kickoff of its 50th Anniversary celebration was a special time all the way round. My wife and I were joined by my daughter and son-in-law for 5 days and four nights of non-stop fun, food, and memories.

With a solid passion for Disney history, I was certainly an outlier of the tens of thousands who began lining up at the gates as early as 4 a.m. on October 1. (Note: I didn’t line up that early – my wife and I walked over from the Contemporary Resort at a much more respectable 7:30 a.m.).

Unlike the majority of Guests there, I wasn’t driven to acquire the large assortment of special anniversary merchandise (more to come on this in a future post).

I was there to celebrate an extraordinary achievement of the vision of Walt Disney, culminating in the efforts of thousands of team members for over six years: the creation of Walt Disney World.


The realtime thoughts and images of the 50th Anniversary kickoff were documented on my Instagram account.

I will continue to unpack that day here as well as on Guest Experience Design.

Even with all the good memories, I did have one major disappointment. I even knew it was coming, but was hoping for a last-minute big surprise.

Alas, it didn’t materialize.

Most of the crowd present at Magic Kingdom didn’t even miss it, which is sad.

Because without this one attraction, Disney parks as we know them wouldn’t exist.

And in my opinion, this “miss” for me was indicative of a bigger miss throughout the day.

I want it to look like nothing else in the world. And it should be surrounded by a train.

Walt Disney

The creation story of Disneyland, the first “theme” park in the world and the model for all Disney parks to follow, is somewhat clouded.

Depending on who is telling it, or even when it is told, the origins of Disneyland can start with a park bench, model making, boredom, or a boyhood fascination with trains.

There is a measure of truth to all of them. It is certain is that all of these influences in the life of Walt Disney contributed to the resulting creation.

Personally, I lean toward Walt’s love of trains as the primary inspiration for Disneyland.

His small-scale fascination led to a full-scale kingdom.

Michael Broggie, Walt Disney’s Railroad Story

As a bona fide Disney fan, focusing on the history of the man and the company that bears his name (especially from the late 1920s to the mid-1960s), I can trace “railroad” stories from Walt (and about Walt) that reinforce this.

Those railroad stories could (and do) fill several books – the best of which is Walt Disney’s Railroad Story, by Michael Broggie.

It’s a fascinating book, and when the author knew of Walt Disney as “Uncle Walt,” and had the enviable role as a teenager to assist Walt in the operation of the Carolwood Pacific Railroad (Disney’s personal, rideable miniature railroad in the backyard of his home), you know the stories are going to be memorable, filled with detail, and a fascinating read.

You see, Michael Broggie’s father Roger E. Broggie, was a precision machinist who joined the Disney Studios in 1939. Broggie’s accomplishments at the studio were wide-ranging, but in the early 1950s he was promoted to the head of the Disney Studios’ Machine Shop, where he became a transportation specialist. 

And where did he fine-tune the skills needed to create all the unique transportation vehicles found at Disneyland and later at Walt Disney World?

In building Walt Disney’s backyard railroad.

On the Carolwood Pacific Railroad.

The Carolwood Pacific Railroad (CPRR) was a 7 1/4-inch gauge ridable miniature railroad run by Walt Disney in the backyard of his home in the Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. 

It featured the Lilly Belle, a 1:8-scale live steam locomotive named after Disney’s wife, Lillian Disney, and built by the Walt Disney Studios’ machine shop. The locomotive made its first test run on December 24, 1949. It pulled a set of freight cars, as well as a caboose that was almost entirely built by Disney himself. 

It was Disney’s lifelong fascination with trains, as well as his interest in miniature models, that led to the creation of the CPRR. The railroad, which became operational in 1950, was a half-mile long and encircled his house. The backyard railroad attracted visitors to Disney’s home; he invited them to ride and occasionally drive his miniature train.

With the creation of a personal railroad, Disney’s next step could only be designing and building the real thing.

Research into the earliest development of Disney’s “park” reveals a constant: the presence of a railroad with a steam engine pulling cars that people could ride in.

So, any visit to a Disney theme park for me must include a ride on the Disney Railroad.

Unfortunately, at Walt Disney World, the railroad has been out of commission since 2018 for the pandemic-delayed construction of the TRON Lightcycle Run, a new attraction coming to the Magic Kingdom in 2022. The train tracks have been rerouted, through the Lightcycle attraction inside a tunnel, according to information released by Disney in concept art.

I knew that any surprise announcement that the train would be running on October 1 was unlikely, but it wasn’t until I rode the People Mover early that morning and saw the view of the dismantled train tracks, plainly visible where they would run through the future Lightcycle attraction, that the disappointment set in.

In the meantime, the train is available as the perfect backdrop for a memorable photo at different places in the park.

For me, “the perfect backdrop” of a static display is a far cry from the swaying motion of the train as it circles the park.

The way Walt Disney dreamed about it from the time he was a young boy…

…until he made it happen.


This (somewhat) detailed explanation of a personal miss for me highlights a bigger missed opportunity for Disney during the opening days of their 18-month long celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World –

Disney seems to be forgetting where it came from, and therefore, is struggling to determine where it is going.

Happy 80th Birthday, Fantasia!

Fantasia is a 1940 American animated film produced by Walt Disney and released by Walt Disney Productions on November 13, 1940. It is the third Disney animated feature film, and consists of eight animated segments set to pieces of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski, seven of which are performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. Music critic and composer Deems Taylor acts as the film’s emcee, providing a live-action introduction to each animated segment.

Disney settled on the film’s concept in 1938 as work neared completion on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, an elaborate Silly Symphonies short designed as a comeback role for Mickey Mouse, who had declined in popularity. As production costs grew higher than what it could earn, Disney decided to include the short in a feature-length film with other segments set to classical pieces. The soundtrack was recorded using multiple audio channels and reproduced with Fantasound, a pioneering sound reproduction system that made Fantasia the first commercial film shown in stereophonic sound.

Of course, I have several books about the movie, published in 1940.

This is THE book of Fantasia – Walt Disney’s new full-length feature production. Just as the movie Fantasia represents an entirely new departure in the art of the motion picture, this book is a unique publishing venture. It is the first Disney book designed for adults, the first comprehensive record of Walt Disney’s revolutionary contribution to contemporary art – painting in motion.

Fantasia is a sort of symphony between book covers – a new and exhilarating form of entertainment for the printed page – conceived by Walt Disney and worked out by him in collaboration with a distinguished company of writers, artists, and musicians.

In a profession that has been an unending voyage of discovery in the realms of color, sound, and motion, Fantasia represents our most exciting adventure.  At last, we have found a way to use in our medium the great music of all times and the flood of new ideas which it inspires.      

Walt Disney

Here are the other 1940 books about Fantasia: the movie premier booklet, and several books about individual pieces within the movie.

My favorite part of Fantasia, though, is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. As noted above, it was originally intended to be a Silly Symphony animation short to revive interest in Mickey Mouse. Instead, it became the centerpiece of Fantasia, and the Mickey Mouse character most-recognized of all time.

A 1940 book released with the film

Every time I visit a Walt Disney property where Sorcerer Mickey “lives,” I stop by for a quick visit.

My last visit in early February 2020

Sorcerer Mickey has been very visible around the world over the years: character appearances (as above), park attractions (Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Fantasmic, Mickey and the Magical Map, Starlight Dreams, the World of Color), and video games. His most recent feature film appearance was a cameo in Ralph Breaks the Internet.

My personal favorite appearance of Sorcerer Mickey was in the logo of Walt Disney Imagineering from 1986 – 2019.

With the launch of Disney+ and a greatly-increased interest in Imagineering through the series, The Imagineering Story, Sorcerer Mickey was dropped from the logo design.

Tonight I’ll be watching Fantasia to celebrate its 80th birthday – and of course, who do they choose to illustrate the movie?

Hocus Pocus Bewitches a New Generation

A Lesson in Culture Transfer from One Generation to the Next

When it first hit theaters in 1993, Hocus Pocus performed poorly at the box office and with critics. However, thanks to annual replays on cable and strong video/DVD sales, a core fan group kept it alive over the years.

When the Disney Halloween classic was released to theaters earlier this month, it quickly rose through the ranks to become 2020’s biggest box office. Granted, the numbers are tiny compared to pre-COVID box office totals, but people are still going to theaters and strange things are happening.

Which is totally appropriate for Hocus Pocus, a bonafide 90s classic that children of that decade – now parents – are introducing to their children.

And by the way, that last sentence describes my two older kids – born in 1981 and 1984.

They first saw Hocus Pocus in theaters when released, later on VHS, and for a few years now, rewatch it every year on DVD or streaming.

Now, they are introducing it to a new generation – my grandchildren.

The movie’s unexpected success at the box office is impressive since it is widely available for fans to rent or buy and stream on various platforms; it’s free on Disney+; and it has aired on Disney’s “Freeform” as well.

There’s even a book about it – Hocus Pocus in Focus, by Aaron Wallace. My daughter and her husband – born in the late 80’s – devoured it when it came out, talked about it with their friends, and now viewing the film on Disney+ is evidently a big deal among their friends.

Of course, with Disney involved, you know what comes next – a sequel.

Bette Midler, who played Winnie Sanderson in the original, recently confirmed that she, along with co-stars Sarah Jessica Parker (Sarah Sanderson) and Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson) will all be returning as the Sanderson sisters for the second Hocus Pocus movie.

The sequel will be coming to Disney+ at an undesignated date in the future.

As I was researching different sources for this post, it occurred to me that I have stumbled upon a whole new thread of generational research – the transfer of culture from one generation to the next.

Immediately, I thought of the Disney Company. Certainly, my Disney fanaticism was fully developed in the last couple of decades – but I was introduced to it by my parents. First, through movies: my first movie seen in a theater (1964), and my favorite Disney movie even today, is Mary Poppins. Then, my father, as a Gulf gas station owner, was part of a Gulf-Disney marketing campaign throughout the mid to late 60s. We received regular promotional items, like magazines and record albums (which I still have!), which his customers eagerly snatched up.

When my wife and I became parents (four times, from 1981 – 1992), the introduction of Disney movies through first theaters then VHS tapes was a regular part of family entertainment. It continued with the shift from a cable channel to DVDs then streaming services.

As our children became parents, they did (and are doing) the same: Disney entertainment is a regular part of their lives, especially with the advent of the Disney+ streaming service.

In 2016, my wife and I brought this to a new level: a week-long family vacation for all 15 members of our family to Walt Disney World.

From viewing movies to visiting theme parks to sharing our Disney-related gifts across birthdays and other times, the Adams family culture had been deeply imbedded with a Disney imprint.

In my childhood, that meant one thing: Disney. To my children and grandchildren, though, it’s much more:

  • Walt Disney (movies, cable channel, TV shows, theme parks, cruise line)
  • ABC
  • ESPN
  • The Muppets
  • Pixar
  • Marvel
  • Lucasfilm
  • 21st Century Fox
  • Disney+ (I list this separately because of the HUGE impact it will have in the future).
  • and many more!

Here’s a graphical representation of the above:

You want to talk about the transfer of culture from one generation to the next and the next?

Class is now open!

Leading Forward by Looking Back: The Leadership Lessons of Walt Disney

Courage is the main quality of leadership, in my opinion, no matter where it is exercised. Usually it implies some risk – especially in new undertakings. Courage to initiate something and to keep it going – pioneering and adventurous spirit to blaze new ways.   – Walt Disney

Walt Disney – and the company he founded in 1923 – was no stranger to adversity and even failure.

The setbacks, tough times, and even failures of Walt Disney are well-documented. In every case, he led the company bearing his name to greater success in spite of adversity.

Today is a sobering, disconcerting time to be a Cast Member of any Disney organization. In the last week I have had several conversations with both current and former Cast Members, and to a person, there has been one trait that stands out.

Optimism.

Even when it is hard to see in the increasing numbers of Cast Members laid off, the curtailment of operations, the postponement of work in progress, and the likely cancellation of future planning, optimism is the underlying strength of the Walt Disney Company.

So where did that come from?

Jim Korkis is a Disney historian and long-time writer and teacher about Walt Disney and the organization he created. Who’s the Leader of the Club: Walt Disney’s Leadership Lessons is a departure for Korkis in that his usual subject matter is about the culture and history of Disney, a topic which he is uniquely qualified to write about.

As a boy, he grew up grew up in Glendale, California, which just happened to be located next to Burbank – the home of the Disney Studios. Korkis was an inquisitive and undaunted fan of Disney who not only watched the weekly Disney television series but took the initiative to write down the names he saw on the end credits.

He matched passion with inquisitiveness and began to look for those names in the local phonebook. Upon finding one, he would call the individual up and ask them about their work. Many were gracious enough to invite Korkis to their homes where he spent hours being enthralled by their stories of their work at the Disney organization.

Fast forward decades, where you will find that Korkis relocated to Orlando FL to take care of aging parents. In his own words,

I got a job at Walt Disney World that included assisting with the professional business programs, where I met many executives who had worked with Walt Disney and been trained by him.

I was often called on to research, design and facilitate customized programs for different Disney clients like Feld Entertainment, Kodak, Toys “R” Us and more that touched on both the connections of the individual companies to Disney history, as well as how Walt did business.

I was tapped to do this work because of my knowledge of Walt Disney and his approach to business.

I got the opportunity to meet with some of Walt’s “original cast.” I was enthralled by their stories and experiences and took detailed notes. Hearing stories about how Walt led and how he expected others to lead with compassion, integrity and common sense made a huge impact on me.

Twenty years later, the result is Who’s the Leader of the Club.

Korkis goes to great lengths to use Walt Disney’s own words, from a variety of published and unpublished interviews, as well as the words of those who personally experienced him in action, to help elaborate and describe the basic concepts.

In doing so, we have delivered to us a refreshing breath of fresh air – a business book using the words and actions of a rare genius that are glaringly absent from most organizations today.

Five decades after Walt Disney’s death, his achievements and legacy continue to inspire new generations.

In my case, it’s actually to re-inspire old generations. As a Baby Boomer, I grew up with “The Wonderful World of Disney” as a weekly television show. As a child, I was taken to see most of the Disney films of the 60’s and early 70’s. As a teenager, I took myself – and then, once I became a father, took my family to see those movies. Though I only visited Walt Disney World once as a teenager, I maintained a fascination with the Disney organization that has continued to grow through the years.

In the early 2000s my vocational role as a consultant to churches took on a specific niche – a focus on guest experiences. That lead to a Disney immersion of research, books, films, on-site visits, and conversations with Disney Cast Members past and present. Over the past three years alone, I have spent over 70 days on Disney properties from coast to coast – and on the oceans. My Disney library numbers over 400 volumes – the oldest released in 1939; the newest coming hot off the press next week.

Vital to that immersion was the work of Jim Korkis – through his books and writings by, for, and about Walt Disney and the Disney organization.

By his own admission, Who’s the Leader of the Club was the most difficult book Korkis has ever written. That may be true from his perspective, but the words and stories flow off the page and into the reader’s conscience in an almost imperceptible manner.

Leaders of any organization would do well to settle in with Who’s the Leader of the Club, and be prepared for a story-filled journey of insight into one of the most creative geniuses of recent history.

Along with the stories the reader will find seven “lessons” about Walt Disney’s leadership. Best of all, Korkis concludes each of the “lesson” chapters with a one page checklist called “What Would Walt Do?” summarizing the key points in the lesson and a space to write notes.

Of course, when Korkis wrote the book, he could not have anticipated the  uncertainty caused by the disruption to the Disney “kingdoms” around the world by the pandemic.

Disney will emerge a greatly-changed organization – and future generations of families – and leaders – will benefit from it. After all, Walt Disney himself went through countless setbacks, and even failures, before the launch of the Walt Disney Company in 1923…

…and look what that has brought to the world in the almost-100 years since!

What are you waiting for? It’s time to join the “club!”

For more on the book by Korkis himself, see here.

Who's the Leader of the Club