I have finally finished reading Walt Disney. The Triumph of the American Imagination. It was not a small book after all. To the contrary, it was large, dense and fascinating. Author, Neal Gabler, is an enviable writer who pulls back the curtain to reveal Disney as a complex, chain-smoking, reluctant American icon.
What I learned.
I picked up this book because I wanted to understand the formula behind Disney’s magic. I wanted to know how he made all those great movies and cartoons. How he got us to put on those silly mouse-ear hats and think we looked cool. And how he got us to pay $100 a noggin to visit his Land or World.
As Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I am always looking for insights from other great creative businesses. So I’ve been studying organizations like Disney, Pixar, The Wright Brothers Workshop, Andy Warhol’s Factory and North Korea’s Vacation and Tourism Board.
I expected Walt Disney would be a book about creativity. Certainly there is a lot of creativity and imagineering in the book. Walt was a visionary who had a crystal clear picture in his head of everything he set out to create. But the reason everyone should read this book is to see how hard his journey really was.
For almost 500 pages of the biography you wonder when Walt Disney will finally catch a break. Seriously. The classic movies we know and love today were largely box office flops, failing to make enough money to pay for production. Disney was a half-step ahead of the Financial Grim Reaper for what seemed like the bulk of his career. In the 1940s he narrowly avoided bankruptcy thanks to government film contracts during WWII. He just kept doing what he had to do to keep his mouse ears above water.
The next time you are working on unsexy projects for tough clients, take comfort in knowing that Walt Disney did the same thing to keep his dreams alive too.
Saving The Best For Last
But the most fascinating thing about the book was that the greatest achievement of his career didn’t come until the very end. In fact, it wasn’t even mentioned until page 603 of the 633 page book. That’s right, Disney World, the 40 square mile resort the size of San Francisco, was his best and last chapter.
When Walt told his wife about his plans for Disney World she was aghast, asking him, ‘What do you want to do that for?’ He replied,
I would get stagnant if I didn’t do new things.
Today Disney World employs 62,000 people, making it the largest single-site employer in the country.
What it means to you and me.
It is never too late in your career to have your biggest and best chapter. If you are willing to keep growing and pushing and driving yourself, the best is still in front of you. Employ all of your accumulated experiences, insights and know-how to create bigger and better chapters of your own story. Keep doing new things until you are done. Like done, done.
Thanks for reading.
See you real soon.