Saturday, October 18, 2014

Crossing Blurred Lines

Disney's California Adventure
I was reviewing some material I used in one of my Arrow Development postings and came across these quotes from Walt;

"I'm not Disney any more. I used to be Disney, but now Disney is something we've built up in the pubic mind over the years.  It stands for something and you don't have to explain what it is to the public. They know what Disney is when they hear about our films or go to Disneyland. They know they're gonna get a certain quality of entertainment. And that is what Disney is."

"What is the difference between our product and the other?...  The thing that makes us different is our way of thinking, our judgement and experience acquired over the years.  Giving it 'heart.' Others haven't understood the pubic.  We developed a psychological approach to everything we do here. We seem to know how to 'tap the heart.' Others have hit the intellect. We can hit them in an emotional way. Those who appeal to the intellect only appeal to a very limited group."

Walt Disney Productions Stock Certificate Image

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Small Reminder to a much bigger world

Sometime in 1953 a prospectus for a place called Disneyland was prepared. In twelve pages it outlined the purpose and form of a new type of gathering place, one for people of all ages and backgrounds. It was to be a place to find happiness and knowledge, teach and be taught, share hopes and dreams and be a source of courage and inspiration for all the world. 

It remains the voice of the man who dictated it and the place which followed and bears his name.

Holographic Re-creation

Friday, July 11, 2014

Walt's Estate and Legacy

An article in the December 22nd, 1966 Times Record offers some details on the disposition of Walt's estate.  Fourty-five percent went to the family; Lillian, Diane, Sharon and their children. 

Another fourty-five percent went to the Disney Foundation. Five percent of that (2.13% of the total) was reserved for charitable organizations, at the discretion of the foundation. The remaining portion of the second fund (42.87% of the total) went to the California Institute of the Arts.

According to online sources; "The Walt Disney Company Foundation was established in 1951 by Walt and Roy O. Disney to serve The Walt Disney Company's philanthropic needs and interests. It does so today along with Disney Worldwide Outreach, part of The Walt Disney Company.

The Walt Disney Company's outreach initiatives are dedicated to making the wishes of families and children a reality through public service initiatives, community outreach and volunteerism in the areas of compassion, learning, the arts and the environment.

To learn more about The Walt Disney Company Foundation and Disney's outreach programs, visit" In 2013, the Disney Company donated $369.5 million in strategic philanthropy.

Disney Will Leaves Three Trust Funds

Los Angeles (AP) - The will of Walt Disney - leaving three major trust funds - was filed for probate yesterday, naming his widow, Lilian, as a trustee and executor of the estate.

The document, dated March 18, disposes of Disney’s separate property and his half of community property. No estimate of the estate’s value was given except to note that the moviemaker left “substantial real and personal property.”

Disney, 65, died last Thursday.

Also named trustees and executors were attorney Herbert F. Sturdy and United California Bank.

The first of the trusts was named the Disney Family Trust, leaving 45 percent of the estate to Mrs. Disney and two daughters and grandchildren. The daughters are Mrs. Ron Miller, Encino, Calif. and Mrs. Robert Brown, Tarzna Calif.

The second trust <was> another 45 percent of the estate, which went to the Disney Foundation. The will said five percent of this is to remain in the foundation to be earmarked for charitable organizations, at the discretion of the foundation.

The remaining 95 percent of the second fund goes to the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles. Disney was instrumental in founding the institute, a college level professional school for the creative and performing arts. It now has a student body of 950.

The third fund (10% of the total?) went to benefit three nieces and a sister. The nieces are Marjorie Davis, of Beverly Hills, Calif., Dorothy Disney Puder, Bakersfield, Calif., and Phyllis Bounds, Los Angeles. The sister is Ruth Flora Beecher of Portland Ore.

Disney is also survived by two brothers, Roy O. Disney and Raymond A. Disney, who received no bequests.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Walt's Kind of Employee

One of the things I've noticed in my reading about Walt is the type of people he would hire. Particularly in the early days, he seemed to be looking for potential more than skills.  I suspect that part of the reason for that came from the fact that Disney was doing things which had never been done before, so looking for someone with experience was a waste of time. As far back as Laugh-O-Grams Walt would hire people and then train them. In those days, he was probably learning how to do what he wanted at nearly the same time.

Walt, Buzz and C. V. Wood
There are stories which come to mind which illustrate this. The first has to do with Harrison (Buzz) Price of SRI, who was frequently asked to evaluate the viability of ideas and projects.  Buzz had an approach that suited Walt and Roy’s needs perfectly. When answering one of Walt's frequent questions, Buzz would reply; “Yes, if...”  Regarding this Price said; “Yes if…" is the approach of a deal maker.  It points to what needs to be done to make the possible plausible. ‘No because…" is the language of a deal killer. Creative people thrive on ‘Yes if.” To which Buzz added; “Walt liked this language.”

Fowler points out details of Disneyland to King Hussein
Two other examples of this are told by Harry Wessel of The Orlando Sentinel in Joe Fowler's Obituary;

''Can do'' was both Fowler's trademark attribute and his favorite expression. When he was directing construction of Disney World, ''The last thing he'd always say is 'Can do.' '' Frank Hubbard, retired president of Hubbard Construction Co., recalled; ''That meant, 'Get out, I've got somebody else to see. Get this done as soon as you can.' ''

Bob Matheison
Disney Vice President Bob Matheison, vividly recalled a conversation between Joe and Walt in the early days of Disneyland. They were looking at a performing stage that featured a waterfall, with a dressing room off to the side. ''Walt turned to Joe and said, 'I'd like to part the water and let the entertainers come out, and then have the waterfall close behind them.' ''Joe never batted an eye,'' Matheison recounted. ''He just said, 'Can do, can do.' I know he had no idea how he was going to part the water, but he said it without hesitation - 'Can do.' And, by golly, he went ahead and did it. He parted the water and closed it back up again.'' In a later interview Fowler recalled; ''Walt said to me a couple of days after I was hired, 'Now look, I will try to have the ideas, and you make the engineering realities of them.' ''

Walt, Joe and a Curtain Waterfall (Mashup)
Can Do!
I'm pretty sure that was the same attitude Walt had when he was dealing with Arrow. He trusted them to deliver on what he wanted, and as long as he was happy with your work, he let you do it.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Three Walt's and Three Rooms

Two of the big questions many people have about being creative are; How do you do it?, and Is there a recipe?  I'm not sure anyone has fully answered either yet. Part of the difficulty in doing so is that it's one thing to study creativity and another to practice it.  Some of the most famous designers have maintained that you can't do both; that you can study or practice creativity, but not at the same time.

I recently posted about the similarities between Imagineering and Design Thinking after studying the lives of very creative people and looking for common themes between them. That turned out to be much more difficult than I expected, not only because of the sheer volume of reading material, but also because Walt and the Imagineers and Arrow's Development's founder's didn't really talk much about their methods. Even when they did, their vocabularies were quite different. Disney spoke in the context of telling stories and making movies while Karl Bacon and Ed Morgan were speaking as engineers and ride designers and others like William Lear and Tomas Edison were speaking in the context of their specialties.

Today we're going to look at a creative method that hasn't gotten much press. I'm talking about the idea of the Three Walts or Walt's Three Rooms.

Oliver Johnston was born on Oct. 31, 1912, in Palo Alto, Ca. where his father was a professor at Stanford. "Ollie"was one of Disney's "Nine Old Men".  Many feel that the two most accomplished of the group were Ollie and his close friend Frank Thomas. The pair met at Stanford in the 1930s and after graduation were hired by Disney for $17 a week when the studio was expanding to produce full-length feature films.

Ollie once noted that he and Frank "were bound to be thrown together" at Stanford, since they were two of only six students in the art department at the time. When not in class, they painted landscapes and sold them at a local speakeasy for meal money. 

Ollie also commented about Walt that there were actually three of him and that you never knew which one was coming to your meeting;;
  • First was Walt the Dreamer.
  • Second was Walt the Realist.
  • Third was Walt the Critic. 
Not only were there three Walts, when ideas were being developed there were three different rooms which were used to investigate, discuss and refine them.
  • Room 1 was for brainstorming, where all ideas were presented - no naysaying allowed.
  • Room 2 was for storyboarding & sketches of potential characters for the story.
  • Room 3 was for putting the project under the microscope. 
Room 3 was called the Sweatbox and it was there that the entire project was presented, not only to the team, but to the Devil’s Advocates, the most famous one being Walt.  In these "Critic"meetings no one was personally attacked, but it was where things either became a reality or were put on hold for later, sometimes much later!

Here are some detailed descriptions of what happened in each phase and room:

DREAMER - Dreamers spin innumerable fantasies, wishes, outrageous hunches and bold and absurd ideas, without limits or judgment. Nothing is censored. Nothing is too absurd or silly. All things are possible for the dreamer. Dreamers ask: If I could wave a magic wand  and do anything I want – what would I create? (Pixie Dust - df) How would it look? What could I do with it? How would it make you feel? What is the most absurd idea I can conceive? The Dream-storming in Room 1 was the space for asking "What if?" and "Why not?"

REALIST - The realist builds the dreamer’s ideas into something realistic and feasible. They try to figure out how to make the ideas work and sort them into an executable plan. To be a realist, ask: How can I make this happen? What are the main features and aspects of the idea? Can I build on ideas from the features or aspects? What is the essence of the idea? Can I extract the principle of the idea? Can I make analogical-metaphorical connections with the principle and something dissimilar to create something tangible? (Inversion, Forced Association- df) How can I use the essence of the idea to create a more realistic one?

CRITIC - The critic reviews all the ideas and tries to find flaws in them by playing the devil’s advocate. Critics, ask: How do I really feel about it? Is this the best we can do? How can we make it better? Does this make sense? How does it look to a customer? A client? An expert? A guest? Is it worth our time to work on this idea? This was also where Walt was when he suggested "plussing"things up.

For example; Suppose someone wanted a better way to water their garden.  The dreamer might suggest  teaching the plants how to talk, so they can tell you when they are dry. The realist develops this into an animated bird that monitors the moisture content of the soil. The realist refines the idea by exploring various sensors, hardware and software. Finally, the critic evaluates the idea for all possible flaws and problems.

Organizing these into process steps you get;

Step 1 - “WHAT are we going to do?”

Dream big. Any idea, no matter how absurd, can and should be suggested. Defining the big, bold objectives that will shape your project.

The Room Setup: Open, airy rooms with lots of light and high-ceilings are the best for thinking big. The team should sit in a circle facing each other to promote collaboration and creative flow.

Mindset: Any idea is fair game. This step is not about feasibility, it’s about surprise. Set aside your assumptions and push yourself to think in new ways.

Step 2 - “HOW are we going to do it?”

Here the focus is on creative execution. How will the idea be implemented? Who’s doing which tasks? What’s the timeline? In Disney’s case, this phase would involve sketching out characters, discussing plot, (storytelling - df) and populating storyboards.

Room Setup: A practical room with a large dry-erase board or wall which facilitates strategic planning. The team should sit in a semi-circle facing the board as everyone participates in the planning process.

Mindset: This is where you roll up your sleeves and fill in the blanks. You may find a gem of an idea from the first step that needs to be fleshed out. During this phase, seek to resolve every uncertainty around timing, logistics, and feasibility. When something doesn’t make sense, question it.

Goals: Seek to resolve every uncertainty around timing, logistics, and feasibility.

Step 3 - “WHY are we doing this?”

Ask “Is this the right approach?” In this final phase, the critic enters the fray, asking the hard questions. Is the plan really doable? Are there unwieldy aspects that need to be cut? Are you meeting the overall project objective? The process shifts from dream-storming, to subsequently practical. The environments in the various “rooms” prompt us to adopt the best mindset at the right time, ultimately giving great ideas the thoughtful consideration they require to ultimately be implemented.

Room Setup: Analytical thinking is best done in smaller, more constrained spaces. (The Disney crew used a small room under the stairs.) The team sits in a single row facing the project plan, which promotes criticism of the project, but not individual people.

Mindset: Pose the difficult questions and share the earth-shattering doubts.  In considering How, you’re likely to get lost in the weeds. The Why? step provides the perspective from the balcony as opposed to the dance floor. In this phase, consider the plan in the context of your business and your long-term mission.

Where traditional brainstorming approaches would probably have us patting ourselves on the back and adjourning the meeting, Imagineering, and Design Thinking, go deep: they are methodical, disciplined, and time-intensive up front.

Here are some possible Disney Mascots or Characters for Walt's three rooms:

The Realist - Ludwig Von Drake is the analyst.
The Dreamer - Mickey has the vision, heart and empathy.
The Critic - Donald Duck has the eye for what's missing or just plain wrong.

Realist, Dreamer and Critic

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Making Walt Cry

Although current theories lack harmony regarding the purpose and function of crying, they agree that it comes in response to strong emotions. Scientists have even discovered that tears produced during emotional crying have a different chemical composition from other types of tears. I think you can tell a lot about a person based on what can make them cry.

Throughout his life, Walt had an expressive nature and great empathy for children. He had an attraction to the theater at an early age and developed vivid storytelling as a key element of both his personality and his craft.  Although very little has been written about what could move him to tears, what has been written is revealing;

Disney assigned bothers Richard and Robert Sherman to develop the songs for Mary Poppins. Over the course of two weeks they sketched out five pieces, but the one Walt liked the most was "Feed the Birds".  He said it would replace Brahm's Lullaby and cried every time he heard it. Another soft spot were his daughters. He cried at both of their weddings.

Coming from the generation that he did, it's significant that Walt Disney was so comfortable with emotions. He clearly understood the importance of emotional content in everything he did.

Explaining what made Disney's works different from everyone else's Walt said:

"The thing that makes us different is... Giving it "heart"...  We developed a psychological approach to everything we do here. We seem to know how to "tap the heart." Others have hit the intellect. We can hit them in an emotional way. Those who appeal to the intellect only appeal to a very limited group."

It's Mother's Day.  Give your mom a hug.

There were two other things which could bring Walt to tears; Fear of Failure and America, Abraham Lincoln in particular.

During the difficult period which led up to his first breakdown, unexpected setbacks could trigger crying spells. Clearly,  the pressures of operating with limited support and the possibility of failure were a source of deep distress.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Walt's Relationship with Money

In council with the Seven Dwarfs

During a recent visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum, I overheard one of the guests who had just finished viewing the portion of the exhibit on Mickey Mouse chuckle somewhat cynically and say; "Who'd have thought a mouse could make someone a millionaire?" 

Reflecting on his observation made me realize that the present success of Disney, with it's $140 Billion market valuation, might give some people the impression that Walt was successful from the start and mostly interested in the money.

There is no question that the availability of money made a big difference.  Walt once said that the lack of money was his biggest problem. But underneath that statement is a much deeper truth.

"Biggest problem? Well, I'd say it's been my biggest problem all my life. MONEY. It takes a lot of money to make these dreams come true. From the very start it was a problem. Getting the money to open Disneyland. About seventeen million it took. And we had everything mortgaged, including my personal insurance."

1950 was a turning point in Disney's financial future. Up until that time his drive to always
"plus it up" and do things which hadn't been done before had resulted in a string of financial shortfalls; near misses; being robbed a couple of times; a few break-evens and finally, after 30 years, enough of a success to nearly balance the books - or at least get the debt down to the point that Bank of America wasn't wondering what they'd gotten themselves into with this crazy Disney fellow.

That doesn't sound like the kind of rags-to-riches story that inspires many today, with some software startups getting stratospheric buyouts in a matter of a couple of years.

"Disneyland is a work of love. We didn't go into Disneyland just with the idea of making money."

Walt commented that most people didn't understand how he thought about money. For him, it wasn't something to be acquired and hoarded. It was a resource to be applied to making and improving things.

In 1956, Walt explained his attitude about money, to his daughter Diane, in this way;

"All I know about money is that I have to have it to do things.  I don't get any fun out of possessing it. On the other hand, there is no truth in the theory that I have no regard for money.  I do, but not in the way some people mean.  I think of money as tool. I don't want to bank my dividends from my Disney stock; I'd rather keep that money working."

In his book "An American Original"Bob Thomas quotes Walt a little differently:

"I've always been bored with making money, I wanted to do things, I wanted to build things. Get something going." "People look at me... some of them say; 'The guy has no regard for money.' That's not true. I have had regard for money. But I'm not like some people who worship money as something you've got to have piled up in a big pile somewhere.  I've only thought of money in one way, and that is to do something with it, you see? I don't think there is a thing that I own that I will ever get the benefit of, except through doing things with it."

When you think about it, money in and of itself, has no intrinsic value, particularly these days when it is often just a number in a few kilobytes of computer memory somewhere. It is what the money represents that creates the power.  Money is primarily the value of stored labor. Walt seemed to understand this instinctively.  Perhaps it was the result of his upbringing and all those years of working for his father, basically for his childhood room and board.

That being so, there is another principle at work here.  The need to get others to help out when the job gets too big for just one person. I suspect Walt's persuasive powers of storytelling helped out quite a bit there - and his persistent optimism. Walt didn't use Tom Sawyer's methods of selling whitewash.  Walt was sincere and committed to the idea that people were basically good and would respond to that in others.

That's part of the reason why Disneyland prospered when other theme parks failed. It was patterned after a world where there was a lot of good in everyone and everything.

Not exactly what Walt had in mind