Success Lessons from Walt Disney

Last week my family took a trip to Walt Disney World Florida. While at Disney Hollywood Studios, I went through the “Disney: A Man and His Dream” exhibit. It was a little museum dedicated to the history of Walt Disney. At the end a short documentary played. As what often happens when I watch docs like this, I started gleaning lessons that I knew I’d want to share with all of you on the blog. So here goes.

  1. Dream big. It’s not secret Walt was a big dreamer. He dreamt big when he wanted to make the first, feature-length animated film. He dreamt big when we wanted to start a TV show. He dreamt big when he, an animation studio executive, wanted to create an amusement park. He dreamt big when as the creator of the first “theme park,” he wanted to create an even BIGGER theme park, and world of tomorrow. How big are your dreams?
  2. Take Risks. Walt left his home state of Missouri to pursue his dreams in Los Angeles. That was a huge risk. Deciding to make the first, feature-length animated film was also a risk (according to Wikipedia, he even ran out of money during production. It went to become the highest grossing film of 1938, earning $8 million). So was going to the banks to get financing for a theme park. What kind of risks are your taking in your business? In your craft?
  3. Don’t Give Up. Disney had a few set backs. Before Mickey Mouse became a world-wide hit, he had a hit with Oswald Rabbit. But the copyright owners of the character rescinded the license. Walt had to start from scratch. Later on, after the studio was growing in the late 30s and early 40s, the United States entered World  War II and Walt lost a lot of his top animators to the draft. That of course caused him to re-think and re-group. But he persevered.
  4. Take a break. Shortly after the success of “Snow White,” Walt nearly had a nervous breakdown. He and his wife took a long needed vacation. The rest and relaxation reinvigorated him with fresh new ideas.
  5. Innovate. Disney was constantly coming up with innovative new technologies, like the multi-plane animation technique. Although versions of this camera had been used before, Disney was the first to use a 7-layer version. How are you innovating in your craft and business?
  6. Diversify. In the documentary (which remarkably is composed of an audio interview with Disney himself), he talks about the need to diversify. It was that strategy that led to creating live action features like “Mary Poppins” and “The Parent Trap”; starting TV shows like “One Hour in Wonderland” or “Disneyland” on ABC; and it was of course that strategy that led to the creation of Disneyland, the  Disney World, etc. How are you diversifying your business?

What started out as a mouse whistling on a steamboat has grown to become a media empire that includes one of the major film studios, ten major theme parks, ABC, ESPN, Pixar, Marvel Comics, and now Star Wars! How can you apply these lessons to make your own dreams come true? Expand your “empire.”

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