Jill and I took the kids I Disney World this past weekend. I proudly began my career as a Disney Imagineer intern, so the parks hold a very special place for me. Walt was also my entrepreneurial hero long before any other, and I think shaped my view that great entrepreneurs were creatives and the power of ideas.
They’re building New Fantasyland and signs like the one above are posted all around the construction area. They remind me of the signs that Facebook puts up around its office and at its hackathons:
In some ways, Walt was the original Zuck.
At around 15 or 16, during one summer at Imagineering in Burbank, I attended at meeting about Animal Kingdom. It seemed so far fetched that Disney would build and maintain acres of wild animals. I vividly remember thinking there wasn’t a chance this would happen. Twenty years and two kids later, I road the safari vehicle through the Florida savanna for the first time and was literally blown away by what had been built. Walt had this vision that even the most incredibly big and grand ideas could be brought to life, and that thread and belief continues to live on in Imagineering today.
The one ride that had no line was Carousel of Progress. It was one of Walt’s last personal creations and is a rotating theater that takes riders through 5 decades of an animatronic family’s life beginning at the turn of the century (almost exactly when Walt was born). The lead character and narrator, Rex, looks surprising like Walt, and marvels from decade to decade about the amazing changes he’s witnessed: in-home electricity, cars that don’t require cranks, appliances, etc. (The attraction was last updated in 1994, with lots of references to virtual reality, so today it’s more museum piece and tribute than anything else.)
The show tracks largely the technological changes that Walt had witnessed personally from 1901 till his death in 1966. He had personally seen the electricity, appliances, and television come into the home. He saw the invention of the modern automobile, robots, and early computers. Raised in this environment and exposed to this rapid and dramatic invention, almost compounding each decade, nothing seemed impossible. If you had seen the invention of these things, you could imagine building Disney World and even have an even grander vision for EPCOT than the grand vision that was actually achieved. You could also create a company and culture on a path to do even bolder and bigger parks in the years to come.
It was great for the kids to see the characters, and it was great for me to reconnect with the grandness of the Disney vision, and the massive operational complexity that surrounds the parks and all the resorts. It makes you realize that even the most enormous of visions can be accomplished when you begin with an idea and plug away a day at a time with a great team. Walt got this fact, and he got better than anyone that it all begins with an idea. The most apt quote of his, the one that I always remind myself of when thinking about beginning a new task, problem, or team project is the beautifully put:
I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse. – Walt Disney