Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Walking in Walt's Footsteps


John Hench often talked about Walt's desires for his staff of Imagineers at W.E.D. to visit the Park often.

"You guys get down there at least twice a month. For God's sake, don't eat off the lot. Stay there... lunch with the guests... talk to them."

Why would Walt Disney suggest such a thing? The answer is of course very simple. Walt understood that the only way to discover what works and what does not work is to experience it for yourself. You must have a personal emotional response in order to progress with any sincerity. Think of the potential strength of your creative work force when they have been educated by their own product. Walt thought about that very thing.

How often have you experienced great joy at a Disney theme park? Was it your Jungle Cruise Skipper with his impeccable comedic timing? Was it seeing the family of ducks that crossed the parade path over to the StorybookLand canal for a swim? Was it the smell of fresh buttered popcorn? Now, do you personally feel qualified to tell your family, friends and/or peers about all of these things?

Of course you do.


How often have you experienced disappointment at a Disney theme park? Was it a crowd control Cast Member who was rude because you did not know which way to traverse Main Street in the evening? Was the restaurant you were anticipating the most closed early or not open at all? Was the restroom you went in to unclean, with a mysterious wet floor? Again, do you feel personally qualified to tell your family, friends and/or peers about those same things?

Yes. In fact, you become the most qualified, just for having been there.


But, what if the extent of your theme park visit was a piece of paper handed to you some 40 miles away? The contents therein being such information as- 37% of the clicks through the turnstiles may not have experienced Space Mountain today due to periodic attraction closures? This same paper also tells you that churro sales are up 5% from the same peak Saturday a year ago. What is your emotional reaction to that information? How interested are you in making sincere attempts to resolve any negatives in such reports? How damaging is it for a person who is in a position of decision or influence to only see the theme park guests as numbers or percentages on a spreadsheet?

Walt knew what he was saying when he would stress the importance of going to the Park. He knew, because he was there as a guest.

Frequently.


28 comments:

perkypickle said...

GREAT POST!

Mak said...

Nice change of pace post. The majority of the posts lately have been about architechture and urban planning, this is an excellent look at the human element through the potential eyes of an imagineer circa Walt's philosophy.

From what I have read on the net Joe Rhode bounces around the WDW resort constantly. I've read of meetings with him from Pleasure Island to the Rose and Crown in Epcot to the foot of his baby Expedition: Everest in Animal Kingdom.

Joe Rhode rocks.

Bruce said...

Walt gave us many lessons over years. Respecting your guest and not being above experiencing your product just as they do is high on the list. It seems so obvious, but sometimes corporate gets distracted and needs reminding. I guess that's why we have this blog.

Thanks for a terrific post!

Cinderella said...

HERE HERE!

Digital Jedi said...

No truer a concept. I believe this is what I have often referred to as "a no-brainer". It only makes sense that the best way to find out what your customers are feeling, is to ask them. I don't understand why this one concept is so hard for some corporations to grasp as an significantly crucial success factor.

I look forward to Part II...

Anonymous said...

Amen! I have read a good deal about Walt Disneyy in an effort to understand what made him and his Empire tick. I have been fascinated not only by his vision, but his abiltiy to translate his vision into the practical. The story goes that he came up with the idea for Disneyland when he took his own family to an amusement park and was disappointed in the experience. Disneyland in many ways was not just built BY Walt Disney, it was built FOR him. This personal involvement was what set Disneyland apart from the beginning. He saw himself and guests to the park as one and the same. This was not an impossible dream. It was a brilliant business plan that guaranteed a loyal, fervent customer base. However miserable your life, for the price of an admission ticket you could escape reality and be treated as an honored guest whose only duty was to enjoy.

Disney and his wife would visit the park incognito and take notes. The Peter Pan ride was too short? A park guard was rude? Disney knew that these seemingly small details were of enormous importance to each guest.

Detail, detail, detail. Disney understood that the only way to make a large dream come true was careful attention to the small ones.

Anonymous said...

Amen! I have read a good deal about Walt Disneyy in an effort to understand what made him and his Empire tick. I have been fascinated not only by his vision, but his abiltiy to translate his vision into the practical. The story goes that he came up with the idea for Disneyland when he took his own family to an amusement park and was disappointed in the experience. Disneyland in many ways was not just built BY Walt Disney, it was built FOR him. This personal involvement was what set Disneyland apart from the beginning. He saw himself and guests to the park as one and the same. This was not an impossible dream. It was a brilliant business plan that guaranteed a loyal, fervent customer base. However miserable your life, for the price of an admission ticket you could escape reality and be treated as an honored guest whose only duty was to enjoy.

Disney and his wife would visit the park incognito and take notes. The Peter Pan ride was too short? A park guard was rude? Disney knew that these seemingly small details were of enormous importance to each guest.

Detail, detail, detail. Disney understood that the only way to make a large dream come true was careful attention to the small ones.

Anonymous said...

Cinderella,

Where where?

I believe the correct spelling you are looking for is "hear hear"

Dave said...

Great post. I agree - how can someone make recommendations based on spreadsheets and numbers? To truly know what's going on in the parks, one needs to be in the parks. Fortunately, DL's former president got that. Unfortunately, he's no longer with Disney.

St. Chris said...

Next step: Adopt what Sony used to call "FAA," or "Frontline Awareness and Action" -- dreadful corporatespeak, but it meant that execs had to spend a certain amount of time on the factory floor at the Sony manufacturing plants. Translation: Put the Disney execs in the parks to see the operation from the viewpoint of a Cast Member.

Do park execs get CM training? They should.

Geoff said...

You Hit the Nail on the proverbial head. I Think that if the Imagineers as well as other execs at the Walt Disney World Corp. (I cringe whenever I say that) it would alleviate some of the minor annoyances, and problems that occur in the Parks daily.

At the very least I've seen Eisner walking through Disney's MGM park once, even though he seemingly didn't care about blending in (he was escorted by body guards and security) he even trifled himself to take one picture with my sister and I, now even though the visit probably ended with him plotting that huge ugly wizard hat in front of the theatre, it at least made us feel (for an ever brief moment) that someone seemingly cared about the parks enough to visit them.

If your are more open with your visits it sets your guests minds at ease with the thought that you are at least trying to make the parks a happier place.

Anonymous said...

Being a customer at your job is the best way to learn to do your job better.

I also think that anyone who works in 'park administration' positions should be required to work a minimum of 3 weekend shifts per month in front of house positions they're qualified for--characters, attractions, cashiering in Stores, it doesn't matter. Pay them their normal hourly/salary to work those hours, but require them to do it.

And FIRE them if they don't. It's been a pretty open secret that many TDA people who trained for the possible strike situation didn't show up for shifts they were scheduled to work. There was no accountability and there was no followup.

A lot of HR and morale issues would be solved VERY fast if senior management, their admins, their accountants, etc., all had to work with the common folks on a regular basis!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately most Imagineers don't actually go down and experience the park like a guest, much less with a guest.

They get cleared to park backstage and then walk onstage all ready in the park.

Usually they head straight towards whatever it is they need to do then leave.

Or, they come in with their pass and back door themselves into the rides with the long lines.

It would be nice to see Imagineers go through the entire process once a year like a regular guest. Actually spend money at the parking gate, the main gate and wait in line like everyone else.

Oh, and maybe they should buy some guests their breakfasts, lunch and dinner and sit down and listen to them.

Then, and only then, would they know what going to the parks like a guest really is.

Anonymous said...

Again, excellent post.

How can any imagineer create something beautiful and enchanting, yet not want to experience it over and over themselves? Conversely how can you not want to immerse yourself in the Disney theme park experience and yet feel qualified to create that for a guest.

mnmears said...

I honestly believe this is one of the main reasons Matt Quimet was so beloved by guests and by castmembers at Disneyland.

Maybe it was because Matt came from a cruise ship where he was practically forced to interact with guests -- or maybe he was just a good student who learned from the examples of Walt Disney's life. Maybe, unlike so many nose-in-the-air upper management types, he's a genuine people person.

I know that Matt frequently talked to castmembers and to guests -- many annual passholders recognized him and he always seemed to listen when they had something to say. I bet he heard as much good as he did bad.

Matt was responsible for Disneyland's 50th being so special, demanding that the park get spruced up, rushing to get Space Mountain reopened. He also bought into the need to restore the Lilly Belle presidential car restored -- far from a moneymaking proposition -- after talking to castmembers in the rail barn.

I certainly like the idea that senior managers, Imagineers and castmembers be encouraged -- even forced -- to visit the parks as guests with no special perks or privileges. I know those who do are those I admire, appreciate and respect.

Maybe they'll see and experience some of those less than magical experiences -- a rude castmember, the parent who uses a sink as a tub to clean a child who messed themselves, the guests who want to smoke where ever they want, the castmember who's thrown off when the total bill is $12.27 and can't figure the change because you go and give them $20.02 and they've already punched in $20.

Yes, experience the parks as a guest ... experience it alone, with others, with young children and with someone in a wheelchair. Stand in lines -- especially the food service and attraction lines. But don't just wait in those lines, talk to those around you about their experiences. Try to find a good viewing spot with the regular guests for the fireworks or Fantasmic arriving only 15 minutes before showtime.

Walk a mile in someone else's mocassins. You'll be surprised at what you might learn.

Anonymous said...

PRAISE BE!!!!

Although that picture of Walt holding that little child is a bit un-nerving...

Anonymous said...

What's unnerving about the photo of Walt Disney sitting with his GRANDCHILDREN?

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post

Anonymous said...

My sources tell me that this sort of mantra is being spoken by management within WDW. I know for a fact that the areas responsible for park/resort marketing have been challenged in this very way.

2ndrodeo said...

Our last time in Anaheim, we had long lines - [1]into the parking structure, [2]onto the tram, [3]getting through security screening (especially bad - and many guests didn't even know what the line (mob) was for), [4]ticket booths (just to get a gift card for the voucher we had), and finally [5]the gate. We finally got into the park! These things need to be experienced (as regular guests) by the right people, to know that they need to be dealt with a little more.

Scott M. Curran said...

I couldn't agree more with this post. For me, the list of what is right with a Disney park when I visit will always be longer than what is wrong. But every ride and attraction that I enjoy and every sight I take in is evaluated against the backdrop in my mind of "what would Walt think about this?" And I'm not an employee! I'm just someone whose parents took our family to Disney World 5 times as we were growing up (a big deal for six kids from Illinois) and a repeat customer as an adult who looks forward to taking my own family in the years ahead.
The sad part is wondering why employees - ALL employees - aren't trained to approach the parks (the stores, the films and the many horrible sequels for that matter) with the same critical eye.
Walt got it right when he was at the healm. Shouldn't the current rank and file, from street sweeper to Iger, all be focused on the same recipe for success?
And wouldn't it be fun for them to occasionally (and anonymously) hop on "Small World" to make sure the carpet that lines the side at the end of the ride isn't torn up; hop on a bus to make sure the drivers aren't rude; have a box of popcorn to make sure it is fresh (and then feed it to the ducks if they so desire); or make sure that the film makers aren't trying to "top pigs with pigs"???
Makes sense to me. But then again, what do I know?

Anonymous said...

I love this Blog!

Anonymous said...

Walt Disney wouldn't recognize his beloved Main Street today.

Will Eisner destroyed Disney's original concept of immersing yourself in a turn-of-the-century dream town when he gutted the interiors and filled it with tacky merchandise.

Every Disney exec should take a walk through Main Street and ask him/herself- "did I enjoy that?"

Sean Yoda Rouse said...

<< Will Eisner destroyed Disney's original concept of immersing yourself in a turn-of-the-century dream town when he gutted the interiors and filled it with tacky merchandise. >>

Especially when he partnered with editor Jerry Iger to produce comic books. Oh wait, that's not the right Eisner nor the right Iger.

Anonymous said...

This is so true, if the imagineers would just partake with the crowds, they will know more what we are thinking.

Sandals Resorts insists that their managers have breakfast and or lunch with the guest, also the Palace Resorts in Cancun Mexico. This was actually very plesant for my wife and I.

Anonymous said...

Holy Cow...

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

...Walt understood that the only way to discover what works and what does not work is to experience it for yourself. You must have a personal emotional response in order to progress with any sincerity..."

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

It seems to me that this is a lesson that LOTS of parks should take to heart besides the Disney chain. In fact, Sea World could learn some serious lessons from it.

That last passage in particular, about needing a personal emotional response to progress with any sincerity... All of a sudden, I have much greater clarity about why I so strongly support interactive animal exhibits (properly done, of course) -- and, perhaps more importantly, why I think Sea World has failed in that area in many ways.

But that's a topic for another board. Thanks for a terrific post!

(I can't remember my password -- from Bruce Lane, KC7GR)

Anonymous said...

My wife and I just moved from Florida a few months ago and changed our status to Seasonal. Where both of us worked we encounted alot of CM's that don't bother going to the parks. To them it's a job only. That kind of attitude shows...to my wife and I this was never just a job, it was a dream to work there full time.

Anonymous said...

In retail, this is called "shopping your store" and indeed an invaluable learning experience.