Sunday, March 18, 2007

Fixing WDI


The entire problem with Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) can be summed up in one word, “Accountability.”

At WDI, promotions are given out based on ones willingness to support management decisions, not ones ability to achieve results. Before any progress can be made, the WDI executives responsible for failures like Disney’s California Adventure, Disney Studios Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland need to be held accountable. So far, no one at WDI has taken any responsibility for these gargantuan errors in judgement. The fact is, nobody at WDI feels responsible. They all claim that they were just following orders, and on the surface this appears to be true. At WDI, the unofficial motto is, “to get along, you have to go along.” This means going along with bad ideas, inefficient production methods, poor casting choices, artificially inflated budgets…basically everything management dictates. To do otherwise is to risk your job.


However, there are those who did not simply keep quiet in order to protect their jobs, but actively supported many recent blunders. Some of them were rewarded with promotions, raises or choice assignments. These yes men and women should be called on the carpet by the new CEO. They are just as responsible as their bosses for the sorry state of the Disney Theme Parks and the tarnished reputation of Walt Disney Imagineering. Mortgaging the future of the company for a larger salary and impressive-sounding title can not be excused by the phrase: “I was just following orders.”

Accountability is the first step. The second is a shift in the corporate culture that rewards innovation and allows for a more open exchange of ideas. This is the foundation of any successful creative institution. After these elements are put in place, WDI will be on the road to becoming a healthy working environment again—with employees who are actually motivated to create value for the company.


Here are a few tips for the future management of Walt Disney Imagineering on how to foster a positive working environment:

1. Smaller, smarter management. Currently, WDI has a very top-heavy reporting structure. This needs to be reversed.

2. The integrity of the product should be more important than membership in the old boys’ network. WDI isn’t Hollywood. There is no need for WDI to imitate the worst business model in the country.


3. Reward those who achieve results.


4. Open communication with Walt Disney Feature Animation. WDI rarely takes advantage of its shared history and close proximity to Feature Animation. There was a time when the two creative groups worked together for mutual benefit. But today, WDI management has deliberately restricted communication with the Animation department (as well as many other divisions of the company).


5. Trust your people, and work to earn their trust.


6. Do not hire or promote slick Hollywood types or charcoal gray MBAs who think Disney is corny or sappy. People who are emotionally committed to Disney will stick around for the long-term and will make choices with the future of the company in mind (not just the next fiscal quarter). Emotional commitment and good business practices are not mutually exclusive. For a practical demonstration, see Pixar.


7. Do not rely on guest polls, surveys, and trend studies. They are never perfect and are easily slanted to produce a predetermined result.


8. Remember, not taking any risks is the biggest risk of all.


59 comments:

Anonymous said...

Awesome Read!!
I hope that Disney gets fixed soon. I'm loving this blog - I check for updates every day. Good Luck to the imagineering team.

Jahosifatz said...

I absolutely coul dnot agree more. In my idnustry results are not only monitored immediately, they are made public for the industry to cheer/boo. If an ad is unsuccessful in any way, the person who made it is usuall the last to find out. Make solid choices based on your gut, your experience, and your ability. Great article.

www.allthingswdw.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

"I was just following orders."

Isn't that what a lot of the Nazi soldiers said about their role in the Holocaust?

Anonymous said...

"At WDI, the unofficial motto is, “to get along, you have to go along.” This means going along with bad ideas, inefficient production methods, poor casting choices, artificially inflated budgets…basically everything management dictates. To do otherwise is to risk your job."

This is true also at Feature Animation. In fact it's true all over Hollywood with a corporate entertainment industry.
The people who run Disney will find out in the next 15 to 20 years when they start to lose a generation of customers.

Ambiguity said...

3. Reward those who achieve results.

One could argue that Pressler achieved results.

I think the above statement needs to be qualified to be more accurate

Ambiguity said...

3. Reward those who achieve results.

Scott M. Curran said...

I'll say it again..."you can't top pigs with pigs."

Disney’s California Adventure, Disney Studios Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland...you can't top pigs with pigs.

Cinderella II? You can't top pigs with pigs. Seriously...think for just a minute...if Walt walked in and got an overall assessment of what is going on...could you just imagine his horror?

Why isn't anyone else saying "you can't top pigs with pigs?"
Why isn't this handsomely stenciled on Iger's office wall? I hear there are some animators available who might be up for the job.

I'm just a lawyer by training...I can't draw worth a darn...I'm not qualified for imagineering...I've never worked at or near a Disney office, park or office park...and I don't know what job I could ever hold at Disney (that I would want). But I can read. And what I have read is that you can't top pigs with pigs.

Yes, shareholder return is important and so is doing both well and good when in business. But this is not a concept of a bygone era. Walt knew it. Pixar knows it. When will Disney re-discover (or re-imagineer) it?

Its about the pigs people!

Foy said...

I think another key aspect that has been touched on before in this blog is this:

Quality over Quantity

Pixar has been the best example of this: They do not make 5-13 movies a year- they make one. But, instead of making 5-13 stupid movies, they make one terrific movie.

Disney has to realize that though it may seem to be a good idea to make many rides or many Theme Parks ASAP, it usually is not, as they are done poorly to often. Maybe "releasing" one big ride every year- something to the tune of Expedition Everest- that has extremely good quality, may be better that lots of terrible quantity.

PARISINJUNE said...

Here's an interesting lesson for Disney, as well as other CEO"s:
When My family first started their company, my mother went everywhere looking for the best people--and she found them in the strangest places. She managed to convice them that working for her would be a risk, giving up their income for less pay...,but promised to always keep them working and to take care of them. As the years went by, I was constantly told "We can't afford to buy that for you now, you'll just have to wait." One day, I got a little snotty and said "You are always saying that, we make lots of money, where the hell is it all going?"--mind you, I was about 12. Instead of a direct answer, my mother opened the cash drawer and took out a stack of hundred dollar bills, put it in an envelope and handed it to my older sister, and said "Take this to Chef, and take her with you." When we got to our head chef's home (whom had given up his own business to work for our family and had went into deep financial stress because of it) I saw his entire family, with 7 children sleeping on the floor in a two room runned down house. When our company eventually became extemely successful and many powerful people across the country tried to hire my parents workers away (and the salary + bonuses...were incredible), amazingly none of them left. A simple "Thank You, but I work for Mrs. R." was the only reply they ever heard. It's a lesson I've never fogotten, and it's one that I've seen work time and time again with every job I've had since. Nobody gives a crap about a brand, a name, a group of corporate idiots out to make a profit. This is why Starbuck's Chairman and executives are still scratching their heads-- trying to figure out how not to turn a charming company into a comodity. This is why pedigrees don't really pay the bills.

Anonymous said...

<< scott m. curran said...: Why isn’t anyone else saying “you can’t top pigs with pigs?”>>

Unfortunately, Disney has found that they CAN “top pigs with pigs”. What needs to be done is to find a way to break them from this fixation.

Tongaroa said...

With regard to...

3 Reward those who achieve results.

Hmm. I thought it was evident that the definition of “results” here is “a desirable or beneficial consequence, outcome, or effect” not simply “an outcome.” I think this is made evident because it is proceeded by the word “achieve.”

I do not think it can be argued (with any purpose except that of making an argument) today that Pressler achieved results. Whatever gains he made were short term. If his Disney record isn’t enough there’s always the GAP. Furthermore we’re talking about managing the creative staff of WDI not Parks & Resorts, the end result of WDI’s labors is the creative product not the financial bottom line.

I hope I don’t need to add an obvious disclaimer (that I know the creative product directly feeds the bottom line, and the number of paying guests is the only real indicator of success, and that WDI’s product is not the only thing that feeds the bottom line, so the two are not entirely equitable) because it would really bog down the prose.

Anonymous said...

So very true. The new Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor is a sad example of the results you get from the fear of management, distrust of talent and disrespect for the audience you speak of.

That show will suffer until these things are replaced with a respect for comedy and the Guests.

Themed Show priorities USED to be: Safety, Courtesy, Show, Capacity.

Now it's Capacity over Show, because "operations wants their money's worth".

So do the Guests.

Henning Paul said...

I have been following this blog for a long time, and I am SO pleased that you are holding WDI to account.

BTW, my daughter is making college decisions and sincerely aspires to become an Imagineer some day (if they still have any...) Any advice to her?

Kindest Regards,

Henning Paul

Mr Banks said...

Based on the conversations I've had with several current Imagineers, I'd say give up the dream and try managing a fast food franchise instead. It's apparently much more rewarding.

Here's hoping that when she's older things will be a little more amenable at WDI.

Merlin Jones said...

>>Based on the conversations I've had with several current Imagineers, I'd say give up the dream and try managing a fast food franchise instead.<<

I would never tell any young person with passion to give up a dream.

Wisened folk told us the same thing as CalArts Character Animation students before the "rennaissance" of feature animation with "Mermaid" et al. (Ward Kimball started a lecture with the exclamation, "Walt Disney is dead and you missed him!"). But we were passionate youth and ignored the advice - - and sure enough, the business came back to life in a big way (though ultimately with disappointing political dimensions no one in the universe could have ever imagined at that time).

Imagineering for Disney's parks will perpetuate in some form, but likely not the current or past incarnation. She will need to be adaptable to finding out how a creative person can best contribute in a corporate world dominated by marketers, developers and MBAs who have taken nearly all creative enterprises as their own.

There is hope for the passionate, but perhaps she should read "1984" or watch "Network" in addition to pouring over another book on Walt Disney or Imagineering. She will need to know both sides to emotionally and financially survive in the global entity and be prepared to keep passion alive under extreme duress.

Hopefully, the positive creative influence of Lasseter/Pixar on WDI will result in changes that more harmoniously accomodate her passion by the time she enters the workplace.

At Re-Imagineering we're all fighting for her future as well as the Disney legacy - - at least in our own little ways.

ImageNation said...

Wow! What a blog. Obviously, many of you are insiders with the real knowledge of what is going on inside the company. I am not, but I always have an opinion... especially regarding one of the most beloved companies in the world.

I have always dreamed of working for the wonderful, creative, happiest place on earth company there ever was... Disney. However, I have found that regardless of how creative, educated, sharp and full of bright ideas I may be, it seems as though you must "know" someone to get that shot. AND THERE IS THE PROBLEM... in my opinion.

You will eventually cave in on yourself, if you do not get fresh ideas and points of view. (There is a reason you should not marry in the family...)

If MBAs in suits are running the creativity at Disney, the ship will go down. No, of course, Disney will never "go away," but tough times will be ahead before someone realizes the problem.

Does anybody truly believe that furthering your education will give you an imagination and creativity? Please do not take my words out of context, as I am not putting anyone down for having an education. I have obtained my Juris Doctor, but it did not incite my imagination or creativity. I had an imagination and creative spirit long before becoming "educated." And obtaining such a level of education did not inspire my imagination further.

In my opinion, you either have it or you don't, but you cannot force it. You can hone the skill by furthering your knowledge, but it cannot be learned. Sorry, MBAs in suits… you are not creative because of your degree.

Anonymous said...

I used to work at Imagineering and your article is spot on. My career there came to a fiery demise when a "used car" salesmen became a creative director. The epitome of Hollywood's slick and slimy, always wearing glasses indoors and sporting only designer clothes. Things were rosy, mostly because of his rose colored glasses, until he started assessing the talent around him. Then he started asking us to do things which were not "Disney" but more Las Vegas in nature. The team would question some of these ideas and that was the death to all those who raised a concern. We all thought we were working as a team to create the best projects possible, however, these tactics to get rid of those he thought to be a threat to his future rise at WDI. After 5 years of perfect performance reviews, I found myself sitting in front of my manager getting the worst yearly review of my career. Comments such as, "can only draw one style," " would be better suited for a position OUTSIDE the company," "does not do the task he is asked," "does not understand themed entertainment," and so on. I about fell out of my chair when I heard this. When I discussed this with my manager who was giving me this review the coincidence that for five years I had flawless reviews and now that this new "creative director" was in charge and reviewing me I suddenly was incapable of doing my job. I was told that "politically it would not behoove me to address this any further and you should just sign the review and let it go." This was from my own manager. Needless to say I was out the door in less than 6 months after that review. I loved my job, I loved what I did and for 6 years I did it flawlessly. Then, in a matter of one year a single used car salesman whom WDI put their hopes on for their future success not only ended my career but many others as well. There is no consideration for anyones true skill levels, abilities or admiration for their job at WDI. It is a look out for yourself environment where creativity is not rewarded, only your ability to play politics is rewarded and has value at 1401 Flower Street.

Anonymous said...

I used to work at Imagineering and your article is spot on. My career there came to a fiery demise when a "used car" salesmen became a creative director. The epitome of Hollywood's slick and slimy, always wearing glasses indoors and sporting only designer clothes. Things were rosy, mostly because of his rose colored glasses, until he started assessing the talent around him. Then he started asking us to do things which were not "Disney" but more Las Vegas in nature. The team would question some of these ideas and that was the death to all those who raised a concern. We all thought we were working as a team to create the best projects possible, however, these tactics to get rid of those he thought to be a threat to his future rise at WDI. After 5 years of perfect performance reviews, I found myself sitting in front of my manager getting the worst yearly review of my career. Comments such as, "can only draw one style," " would be better suited for a position OUTSIDE the company," "does not do the task he is asked," "does not understand themed entertainment," and so on. I about fell out of my chair when I heard this. When I discussed this with my manager who was giving me this review the coincidence that for five years I had flawless reviews and now that this new "creative director" was in charge and reviewing me I suddenly was incapable of doing my job. I was told that "politically it would not behoove me to address this any further and you should just sign the review and let it go." This was from my own manager. Needless to say I was out the door in less than 6 months after that review. I loved my job, I loved what I did and for 6 years I did it flawlessly. Then, in a matter of one year a single used car salesman whom WDI put their hopes on for their future success not only ended my career but many others as well. There is no consideration for anyones true skill levels, abilities or admiration for their job at WDI. It is a look out for yourself environment where creativity is not rewarded, only your ability to play politics is rewarded and has value at 1401 Flower Street.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the current state of the world where it's smart to be dumb and dumb to be smart. The people who kiss the right "you know what" get ahead no matter how incompetent they may be while those people who are the real talent and get the job done get discouraged and leave.

Scott M. Curran said...

"Unfortunately, Disney has found that they CAN “top pigs with pigs”. What needs to be done is to find a way to break them from this fixation."

I respectfully disagree...they are topping pigs with the appearance of pigs. They're only "topping" them in the financial sense. That isn't really topping anything...it is pimping out the original product so that they can bleed every last penny out of it...creativity be darned. That isn't topping. THINKING that they're topping the pigs with pigs just because they're making money is the real problem.

As to the issue about creativity and education. It is the collective human experience one chooses to embrace that makes them creative. Increased education, a JD and even an MBA could very well provide the creative spark some need to achieve their creative potential. Or it could be scuba diving, working at Club Med, flying a kite, takign a train ride, whatever. There is no one path to creativity for any one person.

So..."Does anybody truly believe that furthering your education will give you an imagination and creativity?"
Sure!

Anonymous said...

There is a lot of truth to what has been posted here but accountability is the key driver. WDI is at the lowest of lows when it comes to accountability and it isn't just the Creative Division. The lack of leadership is universally missing across the division. The lack of respect between Vice Presidents, Directors and Managers is astounding. Everyone blames the other group for the misfortune of the whole. Of course, none of this is discussed openly. It's only discussed within earshot of their own respctive staffs. It's a viscous cycle that has perpetuated a culture of mistrust culminating in an atmosphere where any form of success is considered sinister and obviuosly a result of political gamesmanship. This management behaviour polutes the work environment of the Imagineers that actually do the work.

Compounding this is the fact that almost without question, every single project in progress is in serious trouble. It might be creative trouble, financial trouble or schedule trouble. The psychological effect is that it enforces the notion to all Imagineers that the company is in a death spiral.

Lunch time discussions would suggest that most people feel that it's just a matter of time before the hammer drops. Salvation is just a dream and "Change" will never be just around the corner.

It is time for an "accounting". It needs to be swift, decisive and no doubt painful.

And it has to be everyone. Line EVERYONE up and re-interview the whole dam group. The people with passion and a natural inclination to colaborate will shine through.

And, take Imagineering out of the Parks and Resorts business unit. As long as you have an organization that is funded by their one and only customer, you will have a dysfunctional operation. They need to be run by Pixar.

ImageNation said...

You say...

"It is the collective human experience one chooses to embrace that makes them creative. There is no one path to creativity for any one person."

You missed my point. The point is everyone is not creative. Therefore, it cannot be forced or learned.

Many, many, many things can inspire someone's creativity. That is agreed, but not everyone is creative.

Anonymous said...

Imagineering, WDI, WED Enterprises, whatever you choose to call the organization, is exhibiting the symptoms of many ills. I can only accept the statements regarding the internal political turmoil as fact, because I have no way to verify it. But since I have intimate knowledge of the WDC, I have no problem believing it to be true.

What does seem obvious to me is that they no longer have clout, ownership or guardianship of the parks and their offerings. In Florida, skeleton crews of Imagineers protect the creative intent of thousands of acres of entertainment. Decisions that effect the Disney show years ago would have to been cleared with WED, are now just blessed by area or operations level managers whom usually are only thinking about how to improve things from a limited or self driven perspective. Merchandise decisions are made by "industry pros" brought in from the outside with no regard for the history, traditions or the creative intent of a shop, land or park; If Disney pins are hot, sell 'em everywhere! Who cares if it doesn't fit thematically in Frontierland, I'm here to make money and my mark!
It's also sad that everything they are commanded to develop has to have a synergistic marketing driven tie-in. What was the tie-in for HM, POC, BTMR..... Oh yeah, fun, immersive, lose your thoughts of the daily grind family entertainment.

That's all

Anonymous said...

As soon as eye find owt who itt is whooz ritting theez things...you ar fiyered!
sygn-ed,
WDI Management

Andy said...

My lurking days are over, and I am here to play Devil's Advocate. As a Creative Director for a successful videogame company, I must be a creative individual who also acts as role model, mentor, leader and manager. And as this person, were I working with you, I would have to ask:

If you were hired for your creativity and talent, and you are articulate posters, what prevents you from applying your talents to the challenges and obstacles you face in your own workplace? What, I must ask, separates the challenges of making a great theme park from the challenges of making a great workplace?

Anonymous said...

The more I read this site and the comments left after, the less I want to work for WDI. I graduate University in one month and it has been my dream to work for WDI, but everything I read about it from people who work there make it seem like a waste of creative energy, and even if it isn't a waste, it is still going towards a money-whore company who doesn't seem to "get it" anymore. No thanks! I think I'll stick to something local that can be appreciated and more personal. WDI has tanked itself!

Foy said...

I think it is safe to say that the Glory Days of WED & WDI as we knew them are over. It seems as though after Walt passed away, things started down a slippery slope. Not obvious at first, but slowly going downward. Once they tripped on the rock known as Eisner, the went head over heels into the Pit of Despair. Let's just hope Inigo Montoyo can rescue these "Men in Black".

Anonymous said...

Bless this group. I can sum up WDI's management philosophy easily:

If you can aim the money-gun at the hole in the damn faster than the cash running out, then you are doing a great job.

It is no wonder why upper management folks have such a hard time working in the rest of the industry after leaving Disney.

Some Questions:
1)Why make all of your employees go through Myers-Briggs personality testing if you won't allow the results to facilitate like-minded, organic, employee-empowered workgroups?

2)Why enact formal disciplinary action on an employee for not having their desk perpendicular to the wall (so computer activities could be monitored). This actually happened to someone in Imaging and Effects.

3)Why staff so many departments with individuals with zero field, shop, or related management experience?

3) And finally, why send company- wide emails mentioning the great xmas party, only to note that contractors are not allowed to attend?

These are just a few of the absurdities.

C'mon WDI management, get your act together. You cannot manage through fear and paranoia with any reasonable expectation of success.

StrangeVoices said...

Andy asked "What, I must ask, separates the challenges of making a great theme park from the challenges of making a great workplace?"

My response would be, that you need the ability to be able to affect your workplace. These people have, for many years, created one of the most exciting, desirable work environments they could. What really changed was that they no longer had that ability to affect their work environments. When you are forced into doing some of your worst work by poor management, morale and quality suffer.

Even if one were able to change some management, has the effects of earlier management changes gone too far in eroding the creative foundation of the company so that it will never really be able to restore itself to it's former glory? I fear that Disney has become such a corporate culture that the level of change needed is simply too huge for it to be feasible.

Which then leads me to suggest the following heresy - Perhaps the real legacy of Walt Disney and his view of the Disney Theme Parks is not necessarily tied to the Walt Disney Company. Perhaps it is time for a new park and a new Walt Disney to come forward.

Tongaroa said...

Andy asked, “If you were hired for your creativity and talent, and you are articulate posters, what prevents you from applying your talents to the challenges and obstacles you face in your own workplace?”

Well, Andy, we’re doing just that. We fight the good fight every day. And this blog is a part of that effort. But these are not small obstacles we face, and we need all the help we can get.

Thanks to everyone out there for their support.

Digital Jedi said...

Creative Individuals often have a mind towards business. Businessmen seldom have a mind towards creativity.

Somewhere along the way Disney forgot this. It's almost a cliché. How many movies have I seen where a heartfelt, creative business, run by caring individuals is suddenly taken over by a corporate suit who makes marketing decisions that directly insult the integrity of the business that someone else worked so hard to make? You know why we hate the "suits", or the MBAs, or whatever you want to call them, so much? Because historically, these guys are the epitome of the word “bottom feeders”. These guys are usually brought in at a perceived low point in a company’s success. They take the reigns from the people who actually sweat and bled to make the company the success it was, and ride that success with marketing campaigns and tricks that bring the consumers in and bring the product and its legacy down. And they don’t even know that this is a bad thing. When the only goal is money, all the bad you do to get it hardly seems effable. The price of success is justified by the ends.

That’s businessmen mentality, not creative mentality. Creatives take risks financially. They takes risks that the businessmen think is insane. But you see, creative types have an insight that businessmen will never have. They think like the consumer. They just don’t rely on statistics and surveys to tell them what the people want. They ARE the people. They are the same ones getting in line with the folks at the parks and eating with their families and sweating in the hot sun and loving every minute of it. Businessmen don’t do this. You can sweat in a suit, but it’s far less comfortable then a pair of Bermuda shorts.

Based on everything I’ve read over the years, this appears to be what happened to Disney. (And yes, I use the word “Disney” as a generic, all encompassing term that neither specifies nor excludes a particular division of the company. I’m a simpleton. I don’t have the sensibilities that allow me to justify the floundering of one division and the moderate sensibility of another because the corporation has gotten so big it can’t see far enough around itself to know its pants are on fire. I believe if your all on the same team, part of the same legacy, then you should all be working towards achieving the same goals. But like I said, I’m a simpleton.) The suit mentality has gripped the company. You see, suits like politics. It’s a game their trained to play. Politics suit the suits because they have nothing else to fall back on. The straightforward business world doesn’t reward creativity anyway. It rewards ruthlessness, self-centeredness and unaccountability. So if you can get away with something and further your career doing it, the company be damned. And it’s looking like this mentality has infected everyone, either by association or as a direct result of trying to stay alive.

But that just goes to show the limitations of a businessmen-exclusive mentality. Creatives on the other hand, fill two niches. They fulfill themselves by doing that which with they were born to do. And they then do all that and turn a profit at the same time. But I guess that’s too slow for the corporate types. So rather then get mired down in a minutia of creativity and progress, they’d rather get bogged down in the inefficiency of politics.

I don’t think I’ve seen a bolder statement in this blog, then the one made with this article. Lately, I was getting the impression that no one would speak out about the problems of the company they work for, for fear of sudden unemployment. But this blog seemed to have brought them out of the shadows, if just a little.

That is a sad state of affairs for any company, when your own people are threatened for publicly declaring their desire to see improvement. If anything. I would want my employees to be this passionate about their jobs. These people are the one who would do far more the company and for far less rewards then the nimrods who are playing politics just to get ahead. These boneheads will jump ship at the first site of a new opportunity. Creatives have devoted their lives to their craft and will only leave if their forced out or if conditions are beyond tolerable to do what they do.

Somebody, somewhere has to recognize this. This blog calls for all to stand up and take responsibility for their part in the mess WDI has become. But in order to do that, someone has to stand up and acknowledge that there is a mess to begin with. And they have to do it publicly. And they can’t do it alone. It’s hard for me to say “oh I’d for this and that and I wouldn’t stand for this” being that my job and career are not the ones in jeopardy. I can’t say what I’d do in that position for sure. I do know that in that in the past, I’ve never let corporate pressure dictate to me my actions, when I knew what I was doing was for everyone’s benefit. I was somewhat fearless in that regard and willing to face the consequences on principle alone. But that was different. I wasn’t facing down a beast of a corporation like Disney. So while I can’t sympathize fully, I can argue that something needs to be done. And it may take the actions of a few individuals to step forward and stand together, not in a mutinying manner, but in a steadfast manner that makes absolutely clear the overall benefits for the company you have in mind. Lord knows, you’d have the public’s support.

/bsdb said...

When a company that primarily exists to create fantasy environments is managed by individuals who couldn't design their way out of a paper bag, the company will falter. Only managers who can relate to the professional processes that those designers deal with daily will be effective. And the current crop of managers iat WDI cannot relate.

At this point in Imagineering history, I feel drastic measures are absolutely needed. When businesses reach rock bottom regarding morale, competitiveness, and successfulness of product design and delivery, reinvention of the business is typically the only solution. And WDI has been in desperate need of reinventing itself since Frank Wells' untimely passing.

Personally, I'd like to see the vast overwhelming majority of the current executive crop in both Parks and Resorts and WDI kicked to the curb, especially Rasulo, Goodman, and Fitzgerald. I'd like to see executives in control who understand and respect their target audience, the products and experiences that the target audience desires and expects to purchase, and what the artisans who create those products and experiences need in order to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. And the current crop of execs have demonstrated time and again that they cannot or choose not to deliver on these requirements.

Just as Pixar is reinventing WDFA, let them reinvent P&R and WDI. Placing the two business units on the same campus is a great start. Putting someone from Emeryville who loves the parks, like Pete Docter, at the head of Creative Development is another excellent idea. And find another exec with the Frank Wells mindset to run Parks and Resorts, who understands the history and legacy, but who can also speak with creatives in their language, who understands their needs. Wing Chao definitely springs to mind.

These are the types of radical changes that WDC needs to implement, if they have any hope of salvaging this f*cked up mess. But no way the status quo can continue. It's time for major regime change.

AEGuy42 said...

I'm going to have to stop lurking and speak up here. I've been reading this since day one and could not agree more with what is being said here, and I hope that the suits are reading this.

I have to agree with another commenter here, that the proverbial "reset" button needs to be pressed in regard to WDI. It has become far too run-down to be salvaged, and needs to be re-built from the ground up. Have John Lasseter hand pick (because he seems to have the passion and power to do that right) a new team of Imagineers (either current Imagineers or complete outsiders), and let the re-building begin. At this point, the moniker WDI should be dropped and the group re-named WED, as WDI has too many negative connotations now.

I think what also needs to change is the relationship between the parks and WDI. The current system, where the park management "owns" the parks, and WDI is simply a contractor, building whatever the park management orders, clearly isn't working (e.g. remove Alien Encounter, and design and build a Stitch attraction for the same space, all for only 16 million dollars). And if WDI ever did change, if this system is still in place there would be little (if any) change in the quality of attractions. Here's my idea:

First, WED (not WDI) would become more de-centralized, with a large group at each park. Right now, most Imagineers see Disneyland as their "home" park (and rightfully so), so more Imagineering effort is put towards Disneyland than WDW, simply because they have more of a personal connection to Disneyland. Most Imagineer’s relationships to WDW consists of flying out to oversee the installation of a new attraction, then flying home to Glendale. Attraction quality at WDW suffers as a result of this lack of a personal connection (among many other reasons). If WED were to de-centralize, with a large team permanently at each park, then a personal connection could develop, and hopefully attraction quality would improve.

Second, WED would “own” the parks, and “lease” them to managers that WED hires to operate the parks. This way, WED can have complete creative control of what goes into the parks, and complete control over how the parks are run. This would only work if WED was made up of Imagineers who are truly passionate about the parks. So, for example, if the Imagineers are unhappy with the way an attraction is being maintained, they have the power to fix the situation. This would also prevent any such “enhancements” like the dreaded Epcot wand, as passionate Imagineers would not allow something like this.

I do hope that WDI is fixed. I believe it will happen, as Iger seems to understand that creativity will win in the long-run. I also think that John Lasseter will have a very positive effect on WDI, once he finishes fixing feature animation.

whimmel said...

"I hope that the suits are reading this."

No doubt there are teams of people who follow up on this and other blogs. I don't believe they are looking for inspiration though. More likely they would love to can the fine folks behind it for the "damage" done to the Company.

Foy said...

>>Lately, I was getting the impression that no one would speak out about the problems of the company they work for, for fear of sudden unemployment...That is a sad state of affairs for any company, when your own people are threatened for publicly declaring their desire to see improvement<<

This statement is so true. Disney has almost taken a Communist approach to their employees, not letting them speak out against the government.

Maybe what Disney needs is a "Constitution"- a document governing everything that Disney does. It would bestow each department of Disney with certain "powers", but not ultimate authority, sort of how the US government works. The Big Wigs would be the "executive" branch, while representatives from the other divisions, as well as the workers, would make up a Legislature of sorts. A separate "judicial" branch would be a neutral group, used to govern money disputes as well as troubles of other kinds that arise.

This is probably a stupis idea, as I have about zero knowledge of politics. But I do know this: there needs to be a balance of power.

bluesky said...

This site is fascinating. From what I have read elsewhere, it seems that Iger wants to change things in the near future. A smart business person should know to hire people that can do things that they cannot. It should be management's job to put people in a position to be successful. The contestants on "The Apprentice" seem to know more about this than Disney's upper management. YOU HIRE CREATIVE PEOPLE TO MAKE CREATIVE DECSISIONS! Let the managers manage, the accountants to account and so forth. This is business 101. How could they let it get so out of control? There has been so much damage done to the parks in the past 10 years, it is not even funny. The good news is that most of it is easily reversible. I could go in to great detail here, but most of you already know what I am talking about. This is not just a shameless plug, but I run the "Amateur Imagineer" website and I implore all of you creative people who read and participate in this blog to also come participate in mine. If you do not like my ideas, then please write your own and submit them. I honestly would rather have more reader content on my site than my own. I just think that the people who write with the passion that you all do should use it as a creative outlet to help further the cause of making the Disney parks as great as they could be.

Henrique Delfina said...

I read your blog for almost a year.... And I find your oppinios very interesting....

I wonder what do you think about the recent work Disneyland Resort Paris is currently doing because of it's 15th Aniversary.
You can check it out (only a small part of the extensive work its being done) at:
http://www.dlrp.fr/news.php

This work includes rehabs, new atractions and areas, a castle makeover and, most of all, the reborn of some minimal details that made the resort so especial back in 1992...
Check this out:
http://www.dlrp.fr/actu_rehabilitation_disneyland_1066.html

After the deception of WaltDisney Studios, I think DisneyLand Paris is actually working on it's redeption...

Continue with the good work,
Henrique Delfina
(sorry my bad english...)

pariartspaul said...

Fix WDI? WDI will never be fixed until whoever is in charge of it thinks it is broken. And that will be a tough one since WDI is so good at pleasing whoever is in charge.

When Walt was in charge, he made sure the place was staffed with people who ‘got it’… his vision. Since then none of the subsequent bosses had even a trace of the kind of talent or vision Walt had. So over the years, legions of managers and muck mucks that ran the place caused a gradual shift in WDI’s day to day operating philosophy from ‘creating the best Disney product you can’, to ‘survive at all costs’. And the best way to survive in business is to please your boss.

The worst example of what happened with this philosophy was the Pressler era. Here was someone who had absolutely no business being in charge of WDI (or any creative company). His business philosophies were in every way opposite of Walt Disney’s. But WDI’s job was to please him….

And now there’s Lasseter, actually a creative guy, sort of in charge over there, supposedly breathing new life into WDI. What’s really happening is the same old schmoozers are courting him with more Pixar based attractions. (Ah yes, I have visions of conference rooms chock-full of storyboards filled with Pixar characters!) And guess what? He loves it. My guess is that the Lasseter legacy at Disney will be a bunch of Pixar themed dark rides. Hey, it could be worse right?

Maybe the next one in charge will have more of a clue.

Anonymous said...

http://www.theonion.com/content/news/new_disney_ride_simulates_disney

/bsdb said...

pariartspaul opined:

And now there’s Lasseter, actually a creative guy, sort of in charge over there, supposedly breathing new life into WDI. What’s really happening is the same old schmoozers are courting him with more Pixar based attractions. (Ah yes, I have visions of conference rooms chock-full of storyboards filled with Pixar characters!)

Are those conference rooms in Glendale or Emeryville? My vision is a bit fuzzy from all the Year of a Million Schemes marketing haze.

And guess what? He loves it. My guess is that the Lasseter legacy at Disney will be a bunch of Pixar themed dark rides. Hey, it could be worse right?

The mere fact that Laugh Floor received the green light calls the whole "Pixar themed dark rides" strategy into question.

If too many "please the boss" execs and managers from the old regime remain, it won't matter if Lasseter or Pressler is in charge. Seems that anything John loves will keep the WDI stewpot from boiling over. And any exec at this point, no matter how sincere, no matter how imbued with Walt's Legacy™ they appear, should be carefully scrutinized.

Not every Imagineer with their lips firmly attached to Lasseter's butt is thinking about "creating the best Disney product" they can. If they've lasted this long, they're in it for themselves. Period.

Maybe the next one in charge will have more of a clue.

You mean like, I dunno, Pete Docter?

See comments above.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Anonymous said...

The ones who play the politics the most are the ones most of the Disney theme park fans like to idolize. Their first names start with the letter "T"

/bsdb said...

The ones who play the politics the most are the ones most of the Disney theme park fans like to idolize. Their first names start with the letter "T"

Truer words were never written on this blog, anon.

It's an ongoing battle for ultimate control of Imagineering that's been waged for decades. And all the Travel Channel Disney theme park specials in the galaxy will never change this fact. The inherent nature of these executives is to maintain power and control and the adulation of fans who kiss the park pavers they walk upon. I know. I used to be one of those fans, long ago.

Back in the day when I couldn't discern between significant, relevant Disney history and self-promotional hype, I worshipped the "T" Imagineers. And unfortunately for many fans, it's not always easy to distinguish between the true history and the hype.

It takes time and dedication and reading -- lots of reading -- to catch the fairy tales and personal stories that somehow are never told the same way twice. It takes a willingness to smash those pedestals and listen with a discerning ear, to sift the BS from the brilliance. And that goes triple for the Burbank and Emeryville leadership.

This is why I appreciate blogs such as these. Sifting the BS from the brilliance is how Disney will return Imagineering to its roots of being the standard, the premiere design institution which all others were once measured against.

I believe that the WED of Walt's Era still lies dormant beneath this political snake pit, waiting for the leaders in Burbank and Emeryville to listen with those discerning ears, sift the BS from the brilliance, and make the tough choices to put this company back on track. Even if those choices involve the removal of personal friends.

Self-serving politics have slowly killed this company. It's time to finally end the executive duels and fire anyone -- ANYONE -- who cannot set aside their desire for power and monetary gain and fan adulation at the expense of Imagineering's future.

Anonymous said...

anonymous said...
“The ones who play the politics the most are the ones most of the Disney theme park fans like to idolize. Their first names start with the letter "T"”

and

/bsdb said...


”I believe that the WED of Walt's Era still lies dormant beneath this political snake pit, waiting for the leaders in Burbank and Emeryville to listen with those discerning ears”

Well, while the fact of political BS is indeed running rampant at Imagineering, the “T” you are referring to is a puzzle. The only “T” that I know of that has reached fan idolization level in NO WAY deals with the politics of the company and that’s why he’s been effectively rendered powerless.

Those who do play the politics, schmooze up to the other “T (F)” and work with him to butter up the one (“L”) who is supposed to be breaking down the political stranglehold at WDI. Unfortunately, their efforts appear to be working and the politics are as strong as ever.

/bsdb said...

anonymous #15 confidently claimed:

The only “T” that I know of that has reached fan idolization level in NO WAY deals with the politics of the company and that’s why he’s been effectively rendered powerless.

Hmm... I wouldn't exactly call "T(B)" powerless. Far from it, actually. He's managed to survive for over 37 years, despite other 'old school' Imagineers (like Steve Kirk) and members of his 'team' (like John Stone, Nina Rae Vaughn, and Bruce Gordon) being kicked to the curb, one by one. "T(B)" might not possess the same degree of clout and power he once held inside Glendale, but he's far from having lost control completely. Nemo Subs is just weeks away from being released, with double the original budget and reduced hourly capacity over Sub Voyage. Yet "T(B)" still remains gainfully employed in the WDI executive ranks.

Powerless? I don't think so.


anon15 continues:

Those who do play the politics, schmooze up to the other “T (F)” and work with him to butter up the one (“L”) who is supposed to be breaking down the political stranglehold at WDI. Unfortunately, their efforts appear to be working and the politics are as strong as ever.

So I take it those Emeryville field trips by "T(B)" have been measurably less successful than what "T(F)" has done to butter up "L"?

Well, at least he got some frequent flyer miles for his efforts.

Jonathan said...

How is the break-down in Disney any different than the break-down of other companies? This is all office politics. It happens everywhere!

Its a joke when people mention "When Walt was alive..." because the world has a million different variables that have changed since those days. Any speculation as to what Walt would have done are purely speculation. Just because a person works for the company doesn't give them the real insight to speak on Walt's behalf. Anyone claiming that Walt would have been the savior to all of ills of modern times are nostalgic. WED started as group of guys in a warehouse. Today its a big corporate wing with more employees and middle management than ever.

I don't believe Disney can be "fixed" in the way the authors of this blog wish it to be. Its a great intention with respect towards a legacy, but corporations are reactionary entities. Despite what many of you want to believe, businesses are in business to make money. When lack of money becomes a threat, they react. I can't think of many Fortune 500 companies that have aggressive pro-active business strategies. Talent, property, and franchises are viewed as assets that support the bottom line. They are not viewed AS the bottom line. Most wait for a problem to arise. Unless the accountants tell them there is a problem, office conflicts and subjective critiques of creativity fall on deaf ears.

Disney has so much baggage. Some of its good. Some bad. To change the momentum of what has been going on for half a century is tough. When a competitor learns from Disney's mistakes, that competitor will be able generate all the magic and wonderment that Disney does...probably more.

This past year was one of the most successful financial years for the company in a long time. They've had several hits as well as a bumper crop of guests in the parks. The money is talking and its saying "Nothing is wrong".

Instead of blaming the 'suits' for their inability to hear anything but money, these people should be finding a way to speak their language. Creative and business people might not think alike, but no one is winning when there is a break-down in communication.

One final rant: I'm really tired of everyone acting as if Pixar has all the keys to success. To my knowledge, their management structure and turn-around dates are very different than Disney's. How fast would they collaspe if they had to open their own theme park, distribution networks, merchandise development department, and all the other pots Disney has their hands in? They do one job: make 3D films. When you only do one thing, its easy to become good at it. Their size also plays a big part in their daily communication and thought process. Disney gave up a lot of this when they decided to go global.

Digital Jedi said...

jonathan said:
>>>One final rant: I'm really tired of everyone acting as if Pixar has all the keys to success. To my knowledge, their management structure and turn-around dates are very different than Disney's. How fast would they collaspe if they had to open their own theme park, distribution networks, merchandise development department, and all the other pots Disney has their hands in? They do one job: make 3D films. When you only do one thing, its easy to become good at it. Their size also plays a big part in their daily communication and thought process. Disney gave up a lot of this when they decided to go global.<<<

Right, because no one can take the basic tenets of good business and expand it to other venues. Do like Walt Disney did and stick to cartoons...umm...hrm...

>>>Its a joke when people mention "When Walt was alive..." because the world has a million different variables that have changed since those days. Any speculation as to what Walt would have done are purely speculation. Just because a person works for the company doesn't give them the real insight to speak on Walt's behalf. Anyone claiming that Walt would have been the savior to all of ills of modern times are nostalgic. WED started as group of guys in a warehouse. Today its a big corporate wing with more employees and middle management than ever.<<<

Let's see. Walt WOULD have put creativity first. Walt WOULD have put the quality of a thing above quantity of a thing. Walt WOULD have sunk every last dime into a project he believed in. Walt WOULD have put his Guests first and foremost above all else. Walt WOULD NOT have stood for corporate BS and inter-office politics, especially if they stood in the way of progress and development. Walt WOULD NOT have let corporate ego play a part in Imagineering.

You see, your one of those many people that hear "What would Walt do" and automatically think we're trying to second guess and mystically channel the specific decisions that Walter Disney would have made with regard to a specific thing. That’s utterly ridiculous. Walt was a man with very defined principles. He did things a certain way and did them that way based on a very strict, personal sense of morals. When we ask “What would Walt do?”, we mean what would he do in principle. Which is very easy to accurately speculate on, because we have a very clear understanding of his principles from his past actions. It’s the reason so many of us can agree on many things, in principle.

By the way, nostalgia is a compliment around here.

>>>Instead of blaming the 'suits' for their inability to hear anything but money, these people should be finding a way to speak their language. Creative and business people might not think alike, but no one is winning when there is a break-down in communication.

There is no common ground between greed and creativity. A point I was somewhat hinting at earlier. Creative types often make good businessmen because doing what they love drives them to be successful at it. But men and women driven to accrue nothing but profit for the sake of profit alone will never understand, and thereby be unable to nurture, a creative environ. Fire and Water. Two different philosophies that neither support, nor perpetuate the other.

Anonymous said...

>/bsdb said...
Hmm... I wouldn’t exactly call “T(B)” powerless. Far from it, actually. He’s managed to survive for over 37 years, despite other ‘old school’ Imagineers (like Steve Kirk) and members of his ‘team’ (like John Stone, Nina Rae Vaughn, and Bruce Gordon) being kicked to the curb, one by one. “T(B)” might not possess the same degree of clout and power he once held inside Glendale, but he’s far from having lost control completely. Nemo Subs is just weeks away from being released, with double the original budget and reduced hourly capacity over Sub Voyage. Yet “T(B)” still remains gainfully employed in the WDI executive ranks.

Powerless? I don’t think so.


<

Surviving is just what he’s done. But not without cost. Probably the only reason that he has survived is because Disney management would be seen as total fools if they fired him as they did the Kirks (and THAT maneuver exposed their stupidity). “T(B)” is one of the few remaining creative executives that still maintains passion for quality and integrity in the projects he works on (over just appeasing budget minded management). Fans and many in the company know that. (BTW: Subs increased budget brought to you by “L”)

Unfortunately, as politics are currently more important than quality at WDI, those who are willing to cow tow to the bottom line are rewarded and given prestige projects while those who still strive for creative integrity are bypassed and given leftovers.

>/bsdb said...
So I take it those Emeryville field trips by “T(B)” have been measurably less successful than what “T(F)” has done to butter up “L”?

 Well, at least he got some frequent flyer miles for his efforts.<

While “T(B)” may have gained some f/f mileage, Disney has subjugated a key creative force, all due to internal politics and jealousy.

Morale within WDI peaked immediately after the Pixar merger announcement indicating “L” would be taking over creative control of WDI and the political faction began being very nice-nice to the creative talent. But as soon as they realized that “L” wasn’t going to make any moves, the political forces moved to butter him up and reestablish their power.

So, politics rule and creativity suffers.

Travis said...

Over several decades I've been an occasional outside contractor with Disney/WDI. While I would have no idea how to "fix" it, here are some impressions I got which might be useful to someone trying to improve the creative situation at WDI/WED.

(1) The location in Glendale is dismal - it's an area primarily occupied by equipment vendors, former manufacturing and now rundown plants, vehicle maintenance facilities, warehouses, and so on -- not the sort of "creative" environment found at the Disney Studios a few mile away.

The interior of the building is surprisingly sterile in feeling - even though there are lots of "Disney" decorations on the walls, etc., everything feels kinda' old and dirty - like an old museum that had been closed years ago.

(2) Everybody wants to be able to s say they're working for Disney, so they'll "cheerfully" accept working conditions they might not otherwise agree to -- They'll "happily" do anything to keep their job. However, there seems to be a feeling of sadness and resignation that I feel everywhere I've encountered the organization. This has been amplified by the fact that I, as an outsider, WAS excited to work on WDI projects, but I was able to distance myself avoid whatever negativity was going on there.

(3) It might have been just a coincidence, but several of the people I worked with complained of illnesses of various types which might have been stress-induced or due to some environmental presence in the neigborhood. One took an early retirement, another was told by his doctor that if he didn't quit his job there, he wouldn't live much longer (He did quit and is much happier and healthier now.) Another passed away recently, far too young.

(4) I was paid well, and in a very timely manner. Other WDI contractors I've met were surprised by that. -- Don't know anything specific, but it might be something to look into. I was frustrated that some of the work I did was suddenly cancelled (I was paid for it though, so I'm not complaining.) Another project was cancelled and re-instated three times - though I did make more money through that process, I would have preferred to have made less and done a better job.

/bsdb said...

As I posted previously, I stopped drinking the fan worshipping kool-aid. I have a better appreciation for looking at issues from both sides now. And in the case regarding the Dueling "T" Imagineers, it's not as cut and dry as some anonymous posters would have us believe.

Not everything comes down to 'jealousy' as it pertains to the older "T" in Glendale. I've heard this argument before, and it just doesn't wash.

For instance, take the sub rehab project. The original budget proposed to Matt by older "T" and his blue sky team was between $40 to $50 mil. Some sources now claim the final total will be closer to $100 mil. It was my understanding that "L" only added about $10 mil to the tab for his additions.

If that is indeed the case, where did the other $40 to $50 mil come from? Who was responsible for these added costs? Given the budget explosion history of older "T" from previous projects, not to mention the hyperfocus on the bottom line by Burbank, wouldn't it make more logical sense that this project was deliberately low balled in order to get the green light?

Gee whiz... I wonder which Imagineer might have done that?

And how, precisely, is this related to 'jealousy' on the part of other Imagineers, like younger "T"? Why would any executive continue to be 'jealous' of another executive at a lower position in the corporate food chain, even after all these years? Maybe this whiny excuse worked initially, but not anymore.


By keeping my discerning ears open to all arguments, I've heard frustration from many parts of Glendale regarding how older "T" plays the political game.

Yes, everyone who manages to survive in Glendale must play politics to some degree. But... I do not believe that one Imagineer's particular flavor of politicking is holier and less sullied than another's. All politicking, by nature of the activity, is inherently rife with self-serving motivation and action.


I'm really tired of these single-sided defenses where one "T" is placed on the pedestal and the other "T" is completely trashed for having no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Why is everything measured in such severe and limiting terms?

Both "T" Imagineers have good points.

Both "T" Imagineers have bad points.

And most importantly of all, both "T" Imagineers are executives.

Senior Vice President and Executive Vice President. Not your average get-yer-hands-dirty low-ranking peon-creative-artist-types. And this has been the primary focus of their Disney professional existence, good or bad, for a very long time.


The Dueling "T" Imagineers lost all desire to work at the lower creative level, decades ago. It's all about being at the top of the food chain. It's all about the compensation, benefits, perks, and power.

The Dueling "T" executives create an adversarial atmosphere in Glendale which makes for a shitty work environment. And whether or not their supporters choose to acknowledge this fact, these two are significantly responsible for the waning morale in Creative Development.

It no longer matters who is right or who is wrong regarding their positions. As far as I'm concerned, both engage in the politicking, so neither one is correct. Splitting moral hairs to see which executive engages in more ethical behavior more often or who is more concerned with Walt's legacy is a futile exercise at this point.

Cleaning up the Imagineering snake pit will require the dismissal of both "T" Imagineers, not just one.

And "boo hoo" to the supporters of younger "T" and older "T" alike. Neither executive holds a monopoly on creativity and the Disney vision. But both Imagineers have clearly demonstrated that it's more about their own individual needs and wants over the company's. And that's not what "effective" executives should be concerning themselves with the most.


Time to put your executive overcompensation where your mouths are and prove your creative worth, Dueling "T" Imagineers. Just like Steve Kirk, Bob Rogers, Craig Hanna, Eddie Sotto, and Bob Baranick have done.

Here's my Disney dream: good riddance to you both.

/bsdb said...

Just a few quick thoughts:

I doubt Disney management feels stupid for firing the Kirks, or any other executives and managers long since gone. WDI is way too top heavy with execs. Cuts still need to be made, to bring the ratio of execs to worker bees down to a reasonable level. This is one of the reasons why WDI is such an expensive firm for the parks to do business with. Overhead is killing them. And all that executive overcompensation doesn't help.

There are still execs in Glendale who are quality-minded, such as Joe Rohde, Tim Delaney, and Tom Morris. But I don't see anyone claiming that they're "powerless" and just barely surviving. Far from it. And I wouldn't exactly call DAK and Expedition Everest nor HKDL "leftovers." Same for Nemo Subs, the first major E-Ticket DL has seen in over a decade.

I also doubt that "L" is mostly responsible for the budget mushrooming on FNSV. Some additional costs to plus the show, yes. But most of the added costs? That's unfair.

Perhaps it's not a matter of jealousy, but a matter of frustration with stagnant designs and concepts that seem to recycle over and over. Did it ever occur to you that much of what has been presented in the past decade hasn't been his best work? And that maybe, just maybe, the idea well is starting to run dry?

You attribute his lack of professional support from Imagineering leadership to jealousy. Given the work he's done over the past 15 years, I don't find that argument convincing. I don't see a plethora of brilliant design work to be jealous about. And the previous fan support has been steadily declining over the past decade as well. Many fans are tired of his everchanging stories and self-promotional acts, just as are many leaders in Burbank and Glendale. And I don't believe their reasons aren't completely without merit.

He's not the same brilliant Imagineer he was 20 years ago, when EuroDisneyland was first being conceived and the main team was put together. Times change, tastes change. But this man seems to stay stuck in the past. And that's why many fans such as myself aren't so quick to defend him anymore.

Anonymous said...

>/bsdb said...

I doubt Disney management feels stupid for firing the Kirks, or any other executives and managers long since gone. WDI is way too top heavy with execs.<

Certainly they don’t feel stupid. Most who do stupid things are oblivious to their own stupidity. But those on the outside can see it clearly.

>There are still execs in Glendale who are quality-minded, such as Joe Rohde, Tim Delaney, and Tom Morris. But I don’t see anyone claiming that they’re “powerless” and just barely surviving. Far from it. And I wouldn’t exactly call DAK and Expedition Everest nor HKDL “leftovers.” Same for Nemo Subs, the first major E-Ticket DL has seen in over a decade.<

Yes, there are still a few remaining quality minded execs at WDI, but while those you noted won’t be claiming they are powerless or barely surviving, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t. In some situations they have indicated that they are frustrated with the current situation.

As for DAK and Expedition Everest, to be frank, Rhode has been given UNPRECEDENTED breadth of freedom to research and produce the projects he’s been working on. But even he has indicated dissatisfaction with WDI management in recent years.

Disneyland’s Subs, being an enhancement of an existing attraction, took a lot of work to keep alive. Even Sklar vowed they wouldn’t be closed (though he didn’t really put any significant effort to back that promise). But being that the attraction was Pixar related, corporate bought into the concept. It finally required “L” to ensure the quality was returned.

>I also doubt that “L” is mostly responsible for the budget mushrooming on FNSV. Some additional costs to plus the show, yes. But most of the added costs? That’s unfair.<

Well, the initial scope of the project was reduced from the point of it’s preliminary budget against all objections of the creative team. It took “L” to get that budget reinstated and enhanced to meet his quality standards. So while you may claim it’s unfair to “blame” him for that, many would applaud him for his dedication the quality that Disney was once noted for.

>Perhaps it’s not a matter of jealousy, but a matter of frustration with stagnant designs and concepts that seem to recycle over and over. Did it ever occur to you that much of what has been presented in the past decade hasn’t been his best work? And that maybe, just maybe, the idea well is starting to run dry?<

And what gives these stagnant executives the qualifications to question the designs and concepts of some of the world’s top creative talent? Do you have any idea of the extent of the outstanding concepts that have been developed and shot down by certain executives? Quality, integrity and exceptional concepts are not the main focus of WDI’s current management. And since they control all access to Disney’s upper management, they can inhibit their exposure to certain outstanding designs and concepts while promoting lesser versions.

>You attribute his lack of professional support from Imagineering leadership to jealousy. Given the work he’s done over the past 15 years, I don’t find that argument convincing. I don’t see a plethora of brilliant design work to be jealous about. And the previous fan support has been steadily declining over the past decade as well. Many fans are tired of his everchanging stories and self-promotional acts, just as are many leaders in Burbank and Glendale. And I don’t believe their reasons aren’t completely without merit.<

And why don’t you see the plethora of brilliant design? Could it be that over most of the past decade he has been denied the opportunity to develop any of the ideas he’s come up with???

As for fan support, that has never wavered.

Ever since the death of Frank Wells, Imagineering has been in decline. The unprecedented access that “T” had with Eisner and Wells ensured that projects would maintain the quality, integrity and outstanding show that Disney was known for.

After Wells’ death, Eisner shut himself off from WDI and added layers of management to further isolate himself. From that point, WDI management took advantage to reduce the creative power “T” had formerly held. So, as the “costly” creative show elements were no longer had corporate management (Wells) support, they were able to slowly reduce “T”s power and responsibilities. From overseeing the EDL project to being shut out of most every key project that comes along, it would seem obvious that there is some level of conflict that he ahs no control over that is keeping him down.

>He’s not the same brilliant Imagineer he was 20 years ago, when EuroDisneyland was first being conceived and the main team was put together. Times change, tastes change. But this man seems to stay stuck in the past. And that’s why many fans such as myself aren’t so quick to defend him anymore.<

And, how do you KNOW he’s not the brilliant Imagineer he was 20 years ago? You count yourself as a fan, but it appears that you are more in tuned to the feelings and attitudes of the current management and looking to continue the fallacy that the issues that “T” faces are of his own doing. I would imagine that the frustration he must be facing after over a decade of the treatment he has suffered would cause some attitude issues, but I doubt it would curtail his innate creative capabilities.

/bsdb said...

I have my views, and others have theirs. Either you're a fan or you're not. Either you agree with his particular creative decisions and directions or you don't. Doesn't matter what happened thirty or forty years prior to today, you're only as good as your last project.

I have a great deal of respect for individuals who can step back and look at the bigger picture, realize they're getting the shaft, and finally proclaim, "No more. I'm done. No amount of compensation is worth being treated like dirt." And after years of watching this Imagineer being treated like dirt, I eventually lost respect for him, because he was unable to do this.

Why couldn't he walk away then? Why can't he walk away now? Who the heck knows. Either his self-respect is that faulty, or his desire for material wealth and fan adulation trumps everything else. Perhaps it's a combination of both.

All I know is that most anyone else with a modicum of self-respect would have told his corporate masters to go F themselves and walk out the door years ago. If things have been even half as bad as anon has described, then this individual must be a major masochist for being able to tolerate the crap for this long.

This individual's continued endurance of the disrespect and demonstration to work for Disney at any and all costs, does little to win my admiration and respect, especially when the sycophant cheerleaders publicly defend him with every dysfunctional step.

This man is not "fighting the good fight" to bring back Walt's Legacy. That activity ceased years ago. This is about greed. This is about being in the spotlight, being admired by adoring fans and innocent youth who aspire to follow in his Imagineering footsteps.

This is about executive privilege and power and the wonderful lifestyle that goes along with it. This man would rather stay safely employed in a stress-inducing viper pit, than risk the unknown vast expanse of the consultant landscape. He would rather swallow his professional pride to continue his executive lifestyle than live an average and ordinary life with dignity like everyone else. One look at his fairy tale custom home in the hills says it all.


If you wish to continue drinking the kool-aid, anon, feel free. I choked down my last cup after BB took over the design studio. That should have been any self-respecting professional's last straw.

/bsdb said...

anon concluded:

I would imagine that the frustration he must be facing after over a decade of the treatment he has suffered would cause some attitude issues, but I doubt it would curtail his innate creative capabilities.

Given my own experience of working with textbook publishers who believed "interactive design" simply meant placing words on a computer screen, I must disagree with your conclusion.

Eventually, working in a contentious atmosphere year after year wears you down and definitely affects your creative abilities, innate or otherwise. A nurturing, supportive environment must exist for those talents to remain flexible and fresh.

Facing negativity about your work on a continuous basis does affect your overall attitude and job performance, not to mention your health. This is why ongoing training and 'creativity bootcamps' such as Pixar University are so important, to keep those skills and innate talents from becoming atrophied, to keep the juices flowing by having new challenges from which to grow.

I've been in professional situations where managers with less training and far less design sensibility were making creative decisions that affected the entire product line. Usability suffered with each revision, and sales plummeted as a result.

Ultimately, there would be nothing left to hang my hat on, to make the job worth sticking around for. Obviously, "T" still finds something enjoyable and/or rewarding in this job, else he would just finally give up and leave.


When an abused wife first complains about her husband's treatment, it's easy to be sympathetic. But after hearing years of the same complaints over and over about his abuse, the sympathy starts to wane. It's natural to think to yourself, "How abusive could this person possibly be if she's still sticking around, allowing him to treat her this way?"

You stated it yourself, anon. Much like an abused spouse, "T" has endured "over a decade of the treatment he has suffered" at WDI because he's been marginalized to the point of being "powerless."

So why does he stay?

Why does he stick around and put up with this disrespect, year after year after year, for as long as he has? If I were in his shoes (and I have been with other media edutainment companies), I would have told them off and marched out the door, long before now.

Just as I have little respect for that battered wife who refuses to leave her abusive husband, I have little respect for creative professionals who refuse honor their own talent and self-worth enough to leave toxic environments, no matter how well they're compensated.

Either you honor your creativity by nurturing it and protecting it or you don't. But constantly whining about how bad conditions are when you refuse to get off your butt and change the channel gets zero sympathy from me.

Anonymous said...

You suggest that everyone who faces years of adversity should eventually just give up? While politics within Imagineering have resulted in a detrimental atmosphere, your solution that all those who feel oppressed by that atmosphere should flee would leave Imagineering in the hands of those who brought it about. That doesn’t sound like a very reasonable solution. It serves neither the Imagineer nor Disney. You don’t nurture creativity by running away from a challenge.

/bsdb said...

You suggest that everyone who faces years of adversity should eventually just give up?

Actually, yes.

Not all battles can be won. It is the wise warrior who can recognize these situations and walk off the battlefield in one piece. Sun Tzu detailed this centuries ago in "The Art of War."


While politics within Imagineering have resulted in a detrimental atmosphere, your solution that all those who feel oppressed by that atmosphere should flee would leave Imagineering in the hands of those who brought it about.

I have no problem with cutting my loses and moving on. If I did, I'd still be married to an abusive jerk, I'd still be working for nitwit educational developers, and I'd still be socializing with individuals who swallow their self-esteem every time their "rich and famous" friends disrespect their needs and treat them like dirt.

Admitting defeat and moving on takes a level of maturity that many individuals in our society are incapable of achieving, let alone comprehending. Remaining in a hostile environment, staying the course in the face of adversity ceases to be noble past a certain point, and simply becomes cowardice.

There is no shame in giving up when the time is appropriate. And his appropriate time happened years ago.


That doesn’t sound like a very reasonable solution. It serves neither the Imagineer nor Disney. You don’t nurture creativity by running away from a challenge.

"Challenge"? There's a huge difference between a challenge and a dogfight.

Staying too long in a dogfight does not serve the Imagineer. It ultimately weakens him/her. Creativity will always deteriorate when too much time and energy is focused on negative adversarial endeavors.

In order to best serve Imagineering and Disney, one has to first serve one's creativity and health. And playing company politics does little to promote either one.

Anonymous said...

>/bsdb said...
Admitting defeat and moving on takes a level of maturity that many individuals in our society are incapable of achieving, let alone comprehending. Remaining in a hostile environment, staying the course in the face of adversity ceases to be noble past a certain point, and simply becomes cowardice.<


Well, as the point of this blog, and this “Fixing WDI” post in particular, is to discuss ways to repair the damage that has been done to WDI, what is your solution? Nothing you have posted gives any sort of resolution to the problems facing Imagineering. Bagging on particular Imagineers for not quitting is not constructive.

Things are already bad enough at WDI without completely abandoning the company’s capabilities to a management that would probably be willing to just outsource theme park attractions to some outside company. Your solution of all creative Imagineers fleeing when faulty management would result in the company becoming a useless division incapable of fulfilling it’s intended function.

Fixing WDI would require reestablishing creative integrity, quality and passion throughout the company’s employees. If faulty management is the cause of the deterioration, then dealing with that would be the optimum solution, not abandoning the creative talent that actually maintains Disney’s leadership in the theme park industry.

/bsdb said...

Thanks for clearing up my misconceptions, anon! You are absolutely correct! Every comment you've submitted is a testament to the True Faith of Walt Disney Imagineering! The greatest design institution ever to be created!

How could I have been so blind and so ignorant to think that years of headbanging and handwringing over the quality decline in Imagineering would never produce results in turning around the company? *slaps forehead*

Of course! This is simply a contest of wills wherein the faithful all-knowing torch bearers of Walt's Legacy™ need only hang in there and wait out the nitwits who seized control of the leadership 13 years ago! For they do not have any true love for Disney, their hearts are not pure! They do not possess the resolve and fortitude to stay their course and keep Imagineering on its continuing and inevitable descent into the seventh level of hell! They will indeed give up, once they recognize the folly of their design decisions by the ongoing decline in park attendance and attraction turnstile clicks!

I must now drive to Emeryville and pay penance for my sins.

Anonymous said...

So I take it the guys who run this blog are the Imagineers who were willing to keep quiet and churn out the trash just to keep their jobs, otherwise they'd have been fired by now.
Right?

Mr Banks said...

To the above: This blog started at Pixar. Blog members are from that studio, Disney Animation, and Imagineering current and Imagineering retired.

I hate censoring comments on this blog, but if incoming comments like yours continue to debase the healthy exchange of ideas here then I'm afraid your comments won't see the light of day.

Good luck.