“If you want to know the real secret of Walt’s success, it’s that he never tried to make money. He was always trying to make something that he could have fun with or be proud of.” Neal Gabler, author of Walt Disney: Triumph of the American Imagination, quotes animator-turned-Imagineer Ward Kimball on what drove Walt Disney to work the way he did. Walt spent his whole life believing what set him apart from the competition was quality, unyielding quality, and that everything he did should be done for the right reason, not just the right price.
Walt did what he loved, and did it with feeling.
Money is certainly important, but you always have better results when your work comes from a place of passion rather than profits. Businesses are often in need of this reminder and there are times when Disney can use a little nudge in the right direction. Or, as was the case a few years ago, a BIG nudge.
In episode #77 of WEDway Radio, Nate Parrish and guest Michael Crawford of ProgressCityUSA.com spin off a brief pre-topic tangent when comparing two Disney parks built around the same time: Tokyo Disney Sea and Disney California Adventure.
(This recording, used with permission, has been edited slightly from its original form)
Michael: You have this incredibly expensive, incredibly elaborate park [Tokyo Disney Sea] full of brand new attractions—all E-tickets almost—open at the same time you have what was, at the time, the worst thing Disney had ever done [Disney California Adventure]…pretty much…
Nate: Pretty much, yeah. Let’s not sell Imagineering short, they had much better plans for Disney California Adventure prior to it opening. I think the budget was cut several times and their original vision for the park was not what ended up on opening day and it was not even the original park that they wanted.
Michael: Oh no, not at all… That was a park pretty much designed by executives, and when you look at Disney Sea which happened at the exact same time you see the talent that the Imagineers have when they’re allowed to do their thing.
A park pretty much designed by executives. The Disney boardroom created a park about which even legendary Imagineer John Hench reportedly said, “I liked this place better when it was a parking lot.” The public found California Adventure to be lackluster and Disney took a beating for it.
We all make mistakes, the important thing is how we handle them. Acknowledging their error, the Disney board approved a $1.1b refurbishment to Disneyland’s sister site, a dollar amount famous for being nearly twice the initial $600m it took to build the park in the first place. The beautiful update is nearing completion, but it isn’t the size of the financial reinvestment that has made the difference, it’s the attitude.
Walt Disney chased quality, not dollars. He understood that when you do things from the heart people will respond positively, but when you do things just to do them you become disingenuous and people will respond negatively. This can be applied to anything—work, school and life in general. Doing things the right way may be hard (Walt went through many battles and faced ruin on many occasions because of his refusal to skimp on quality) but it’s always worth the effort.
From time to time we will forget this…and that’s ok. Even the company bearing Walt’s name forgets and must relearn what it knew all along. There’s no need to dwell on mistakes, just handle them in the best way possible and move on (although if I ever make a mistake that costs $1.1b to correct, I might not “handle” it so well).
The Disney corporation came to Walt Disney Imagineering, hat in hand, and said, “Yeah, sorry. We goofed.” The men and women of WDI are among the greatest storytellers on earth, combining their diverse talents to pull real emotion out of their audience. Sometimes the reality of the business intrudes, and the Imagineers are left to tell their stories with their gloved hands tied behind their backs. This time Disney set them free.
With this second chance to make things right, to make California Adventure what it should have been from the start, the crew in Glendale got down to some good old fashioned Imagineering…this time, with feeling.
WEDway Radio—A podcast that goes beyond trip or ride report, hosts Matt and Nate Parrish flesh out the history of everyone’s favorite vacation destinations with the careful eye of historians but with the love and joy of life-long fans.
Walt Disney: Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler—While many poke holes in its accuracy, this biography really takes you along with Walt and his studio, making you feel the crushing defeats and the soaring successes.
Contributed by: John Gray (NDI#194) John is the Imagineering Blogger.