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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I Wanna Be Like Walt

Walt Disney once said, “In this volatile business of ours, we can ill afford to rest on our laurels, or even to pause in retrospect. Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future."

I'm a big fan of Walt Disney. I enjoy all the movies and love going to Disneyland and Walt Disney World. I've made two trips to the still relatively new Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. But I love reading about Walt Disney the man, the visionary, the creative genius. I've read eight books about Walt (the best being Walt Disney: An American Original, by Bob Thomas). As a kid I always thought my grandpa looked like Walt; similar hair style and mustache. Coincidentally, they were both born in 1901.

This fascination with Walt started after I attended the Disney Institute in Orlando in 2007. All during our sessions and tours our instructors, Paul and Michelle, kept talking about the vision and passion Walt had for his company, as well as the influence and impact his practices and new ideas had on his competitors, even those organizations not in direct competition with the Disney machine. This left me thinking, "if only I can have a fraction of that vision, common sense, problem solving ability, creative thinking . . . just think of the impact I could have on those I work with and the community in which I serve . . ." Today, our Customer Service model in West Sacramento Parks & Recreation is based on the Disney model, thanks to the influence the Disney Traditions had on me and my staff.

Most fascinating to me about Walt was his pursuit of the future - he was an innovator. Always pushing the edge of possibility. Did you know Walt's most ambitious vision was of a master planned community? He really saw EPCOT as the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow - a living, breathing, functioning community that would always be evolving as new technologies and systems were developed. It was there he wanted to see those innovations put into practice as an experiment prior to their introduction to society at large. Unfortunately, he died before a shovel full of dirt could ever by turned on the 'Project X' site, but I believe he had been watching this vision in his mind over and over. That's how much he wanted to see it happen . . . and believed it would happen. For more on Walt and the original EPCOT concept check out the book Walt Disney and the Quest for Community, by Steve Mannheim.
“There’s really no secret about our approach. We keep moving forward – opening up 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 imagination with technical know-how.” - Walt Disney
In my department I talk a lot about how we can be the first to do something or do it better, set the bar, be trendsetters and be the ones to pioneer new best practices. That means taking risks, being tolerant of failure, being tolerant of more failure, being vulnerable, looking silly, not playing it safe. We dreamed, designed, collaborated, researched, prepared, built, trained, . . . and finally, we had our new West Sacramento Recreation Center. It was risky, but my director and leader, Bob Johnston, had a vision, and it wasn't long before we all started seeing that vision, too . . . even before we saw a single shovel full of dirt turned over. That's why being an innovator is important and having the ability to share your vision is critical.
The family leisure pool at the West Sacramento Recreation Center
In his article, Stop Blabbing About Innovation and Start Actually Doing It, Aaron Shapiro talks about the 10 ingredients in his recipe for having a work culture that helps foster innovation. It's a good read with some great ideas.

Of course if you have the vision and innovation ready and waiting, you could always take Walt's advice:
"The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
UPDATE: April 22, 2012 - Here's an article from Saturday's New York Times that talks about the Disney Institute: Teaching the Disney way is big business. I'm glad I wrote my piece before this came out . . . whew!

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