Disney Legend Ward Kimball observed, “If you want to know the real secret of Walt’s success, it’s that he never tried to make money. He was always trying to make something that he could have fun with or be proud of. He told me once, ‘I plow back everything I make into the company. I look at it this way: If I can’t use the money now, if I can’t have fun with it, I’m not going to be able to take it with me.’ That’s the way he talked. That’s the way he felt.”
It’s really a good article that lays out the cast for how the ‘Spirit of Youth’ drove many of Walt Disney’s projects. Then he compares the Eisner regime’s actions to Walt’s, and we know how that is goint to turn out.
Where once Spirits of Youth — animators, artists, storytellers, Imagineers, designers and futurists — contributed the guiding light to Disney’s name and image, providing the very essence of the public perception of the company — now their laughter has grown silent, quashed by the practical crunching of numbers and the sensible questions of predetermined surveys (if not the ringing of a cash register).
Innovation has been replaced by templates, imagination by projections, inspiration by management structure.
This is not to say that Walt didn’t do research, draw on templates, and insist on a firm management structure (always with him having the final decision). Disneyland’s location was chosen with help from an outside firm. Tomorrowland in 1955 was formed from pre-fab buildings and rehashed corporate exhibits. But Walt was always looking at things from beneath that famous arched eyebrow of his. And his acceptance meant you’d captured the Spirit of Youth. Something children will enjoy, something that will challenge their intelligence, and still entertain the adults by appealing to their sense of youthfulness.
Walt knew this was no easy task to continually churn out products with this mix of sensability. So he surrounded himself with the best and the brightest and pushed them to make good product. He was doing it out of love. Which is why he was so hurt when ever someone turned coat and joined the other side (his early animators, the red-scare at the studios).
Having turned his eye toward the future of communities (EPCOT) as the end of his life drew near, Walt’s greatest vision was cut short before it could be tested and refined. Now, as we approach the 5th decade after Walt passed on, we are having to watch as many of his other acheivements are being cut or left in shambles. What can we do to recapture Walt’s spirit of youth, creativity, and freedom?