The Disney Way (Book Review)

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“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” – Walt Disney

Everyone knows the magic of Disney.  But not everyone knows how to re-create the magic that Walt Disney was able to create for his Company, his Cast Members (employees) and his Guests (customers).

Imagine if you could lead yourself and others the Disney Way?

In the book, The Disney Way, authors Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson share insights into how you can build better teams, create a servant leadership organization, connect better with customers, and create a culture of innovation and change that inspires everyone at all levels, like Walt Disney.

With that in mind, let’s dive into The Disney Way

Chapters at a Glance

  • Chapter 1 – Walt’s Way
  • Chapter 2 – Make Everyone’s Dream Come True
  • Chapter 3 – You Better Believe It
  • Chapter 4 – Never a Customer, Always a Guest
  • Chapter 5 – All for One and One for All
  • Chapter 6 – Share the Spotlight
  • Chapter 7 – Dare to Dare
  • Chapter 8 – Practice, Practice, Practice
  • Chapter 9 – Make your Elephant Fly—Plan
  • Chapter 10 – Capture the Magic with Storyboards
  • Chapter 11 – Give Details Top Billing
  • Chapter 12 – Love: The Real Pixie Dust
  • Chapter 13 – Ottawa County, Michigan: Disney’s Credo Transforms Country Government
  • Chapter 14 – Producing a Customer-Centric Culture: An Implementation Strategy

What You Can Learn

Here are some of the things you can learn from The Disney Way:

  • How to give every member of your organization a chance to dream
  • How to stand firm on your beliefs and principles
  • How to treat your customers like guests
  • How to support, enable, and reward employees
  • How to build long-term relationships
  • How to dare to take calculated risks
  • How to align long-term vision with short-term execution
  • How to use storyboarding to make your dreams come true
  • How to demonstrate ‘love’ for employees, customers, products, and yourself

Walt Disney’s 4 Steps to Success: Dream, Believe, Dare, Do.

More than “just do it” or more than “just dream it”, Walt Disney combined clarity along with courage to dream big and make things happen:

Dream beyond the boundaries of today, believe in sound values, dare to make a difference, and then just go out and do it: Dream, Believe, Dare, Do.”

11 Fundamentals of the Disney Way

Here are the 10 original fundamentals of the Disney Way along with an 11th one that Bill and Lynn added:

  1. Give every member of your organization a chance to dream, and tap into the creativity those dreams embody.
  2. Stand firm on your beliefs and principles.
  3. Treat your customers like guests.
  4. Support, enable, and reward employees.
  5. Build long-term relationships with key suppliers and partners.
  6. Dare to take calculated risks in order to bring innovative ideas to fruition.
  7. Train extensively and constantly reinforce your organization’s culture.
  8. Align long-term vision with short-term execution.
  9. Use the storyboarding technique to solve problems, plan projects, and improve communication.
  10. Pay close attention to detail.
  11. Love your employees, your customers, your product, and yourself!

Whatever You Do, Do It Well

Here is Walt’s version of be so good they can’t ignore you:

“Whatever you do, do it well.  Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”

Leadership Defined

Walt Disney fundamentally believed that great leadership inspires.  Here is Walt Disney’s definition of leadership:

“the ability to establish and manage a creative climate in which individuals and teams are self-motivated to the successful achievement of long-term plants in an environment of mutual respect and trust.”

Ask, “How Can We All Do This Together?”

To practice the “All for One and One for All mindset”, Bill and Lynn suggest that teams think of themselves as a cohesive unit:

“When we help bring together members of a new team, we stress the importance of the individual’s functioning as a cohesive unit from the outset.  They must not think of themselves as a committee, with one person representing marketing, another there to protect the interests of the purchasing department, and so on.  Instead of someone saying, ‘Well, I’ve done my design piece,’ or ‘I’ve given my financial statement,’ and then sitting back to wait for someone else to produce the deliverable, the entire team must ask, ‘How can we all do this together?’

To foster the necessary cooperative attitude and to increase productivity, we emphasize the necessity of bringing teams together to work in a central location, a process known as collocating.  Walt Disney often referred to these locations as planning centers, and his Company has found that its people are much more efficient and willing to take the initiative when they can discuss a problem or ask questions of someone sitting nearby.  Brainstorming sessions have a way of happening spontaneously under collocated conditions.”

Project Management the Disney Way

Bill and Lynn outline Disney’s rigorous 9-step regimen for turning dreams into reality:

  1. Step 1. Blue Sky
    1. Ask ‘what if?’ rather than ‘what?’
    2. Learn to live for a time with the discomfort of not knowing, or not being in full control.
    3. Take a trip through ‘fantasyland’; start with the story.
  2. Step 2. Concept Development
    1. Develop research.
    2. Evaluate alternatives.
    3. Recommend an idea.
  3. Step 3. Feasibility
    1. Reconcile scope.
    2. Prepare pro forma.
  4. Step 4. Schematic
    1. Finalize master plan.
    2. Outline initial business processes.
  5. Step 5. Design Objectives
    1. Finalize design details, equipment, and materials.
    2. Develop implementation strategy and budget.
  6. Step 6. Contract Documents
    1. Prepare contract documents.
  7. Step 7. Production
    1. Construct site infrastructure, and develop work areas
    2. Produce show elements.
  8. Step 8. Install, Test, Adjust
    1. Install the show.
  9. Step 9. Close Out
    1. Assemble final project documents.
    2. Monitor performance.
    3. Get sign-off letter from operations.

Storyboarding the Disney Way

Storyboarding is one of the key techniques that Disney uses to bring dreams to life.

Bill and Lynn share an overview of the storyboard process the Disney Way:

“From a procedural standpoint, storyboarding evolves in a logical progression.  First, a team identifies the topic to be defined or the problem to be solved, and this is written on a card and posted at the top of a storyboard.  Then, the group establishes a ‘purpose,’ which is the reason for pursuing the topic.  The facilitator gives participants the time to sit and answer the question or problem, jotting down their thoughts, one idea per card.  The facilitator then collects the cards as participants continue to write more thoughts.

When the group has completed the writing exercise, the facilitator reads each card aloud, invites discussion, and asks the participants to suggest how the cards might be clustered or positioned on the wall or storyboard.  Once all the cards are read and discussed the group prioritizes their most significant ideas.”

The Six Types of Storyboards

According to Bill and Lynn, Disney makes use of six types of storyboards to influence culture, products, and process:

  1. Idea Storyboard – Develop a concept and unleash the creative thinking of a group.
  2. Barriers Storyboard – Identify existing and potential roadblocks to success.
  3. Planning Storyboard – Manage a project and bring an idea to its successful fruition.
  4. Customer Feedback Storyboard – Identify customer desires and ‘dreams.’
  5. Leadership Storyboard – Gain anonymous feedback that can enable leaders to increase their overall effectiveness.
  6. Communications Storyboard – Organize and communicate daily activities in a visible way to those who need to know.

Idea Storyboards the Disney Way

You can use an Idea Storyboard to tackle “soft” issues, such as culture, or to tackle “hard” issues such as process improvement.

Bill and Lynn summarize the concept of Idea Storyboards:

“The Idea Storyboard is one of the most useful tools for developing a concept and unleashing the creative thinking of any group of people.  Walt Disney once said, ‘We don’t allow geniuses here.’  He did not feel that creativity was just for right-brainers.  He felt that everyone was creative.  All we have to do is create an environment where everyone’s creative energy is captured and focused on solving a problem, and the Idea Storyboard does just that.”

Here are examples of some topics you might tackle with an Idea Storyboard:

  • How might we adopt a Dream, Believe, Dare, Do culture in our organization?
  • How can we achieve a legendary customer service reputation?
  • How can we improve quality and productivity on the XYZ production line?

Career Development the Disney Way

Bill and Lynn recommend trading up from performance appraisals to development plans to give employees a chance to prosper:

“It’s high time we abolish performance appraisals and establish a development planning process that will enable employees to continuously improve.  If you think about it, the word development sends a much more positive message within a company than the term appraisal.  If you believe that workers inherently want to do exceptional work, then you must give them the opportunity to grow through development, not to be graded through appraisal.

At the Walt Disney Company, development planning involves collaboration between leaders and their teams of Cast Members who identify specific development goals or expected desired results, time frames, and resources needed to reach each goal.  Continuous learning is a Companywide and a Cast Member an create an individual learning goal that can pull from resources including more than 10,000 online and print reference materials, instructor-led courses, and keynote presentations.”

Dream big.

Start small.

Realize your potential, the Disney Way.

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