It wasn’t until the second half of our last day at Disneyland that I realized I had to share about my observations of the “happiest place on earth”. My family could arguably be the #1 Disney-loving family of the Pacific Northwest and we would rival any other. Put us on Disney’s version of the that ‘millionaire show’ and we’d never use our lifeline. I have personally been to Disneyland twelve times and I marvel and revel in each experience, usually running first to Pirates of the Caribbean or Splash Mountain and moving on to Haunted Mansion or Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Enter my niece; the human that changed everything for me, starting with the realization of how much one human could love another. Yes, because I don’t have children yet, I never knew what this feeling, this completely overwhelming heart explosion, was. So, when my brother and sister-in-law decided it was time to take Hudson to visit the mouse for the first time, wild horses couldn’t keep me from joining them. And my parents had to be part of the adventure as well. (If you think I’m joking about the Disney-loving Smith’s, just check out my dad’s professional connection to Walt.)
So, we set out to experience Disney’s magic through the eyes of an (almost) 3-year old, for the first time, and it was wonderful. I’ve got pictures and stories and videos to prove it.
But what I learned about myself and how I saw Disney during this trip was just as extraordinary…
People who ask me how I became an entrepreneur will hear me tell the story of how my parents have been small business owners since I was very little. How, from a very young age, I was involved in many aspects of their businesses and I learned about the value of not only hard work, but customer service and quality of product and service delivery. At the tender age of 10, I was already learning the skill of communication and the importance of every detail, area and hat of a business. I was mentored (by my father) and went through a second elementary school during my young ages. The school of entrepreneurship.
Now that I’ve painted the back-story, let’s get back to Disneyland, because no matter how much I love the thrill of the rides, the giggle that inevitably bubbles up after the drop of the briar patch fall or the magic of the “other world” you’re transported to on each and every ride, this visit in December of 2015 showed me oh, so much more. And it all leads back to my analyzing strength and the attention I pay to the details – what has been instilled or built into me. And ultimately, with my mentorship and being in the thick of business for over 22 years, it inevitably leads to the business of Disney.
No matter where I go, no matter how badly I want to be on vacation, no matter who I’m with or how fun it’s supposed to be, my eye always finds the hidden corners of brilliance, or conversely, the missed opportunities – the places where a business had a chance to be great, but missed the mark.
Interested in what I noticed about the Disney empire and how it relates to every day business? Here’s where it gets juicy…
Lessons I learned (again) from Walt’s magic kingdom:
Customer Service really is everything
Disney has got customer service down. It appears in different ways throughout the park, but you’ll notice the employees are all about you. There is nothing better than experiencing friendly care and to feel valued when you are working with a small company or a corporation. In fact, corporations often have a harder time serving with consistency due to the sheer volume of places where it needs to be trained, monitored and held accountable. But it always matters when a large business pays attention to you and expresses interest in your needs, your opinions or the reason you’re shopping with them.
Apply it: Customer service isn’t just about taking a return what a product doesn’t work out. Find one place where you can add a personal touch that will make your customer feel welcome and valued. It could be a thank you note, a feedback request that shows your customer their opinion matters, or it could be an unplanned phone call or a simply “good afternoon” greeting when they come through the door of your establishment. Remember that impressions are lasting – whether good, or bad.
Cleanliness IS next to Godliness
If you’ve ever visited the mouse in Anaheim, you can’t help but notice the “sweepers” who walk the streets cleaning up trash constantly. You might also notice that garbage cans are consistently emptied, bathrooms are stocked and clean, and not a tree branch is out of place. While there is always the exception and not everyone will have the perfect experience, Disney places value on stewarding their park and keeping it clean – constantly.
Apply it: There are quite a few different areas of business that this concept can be applied to. If you have a physical space, cleanliness could be taken literally. If you work from home, it could mean it’s time to get your paper files organized, or your accounting records in order.
Being detail-oriented is the bees knees
My eyes are trained to look for flaws. I know, I know – it’s a curse. But really, I am always looking for the “extra mile”, and usually you’d find the places where a business or individual could have cut corners. When I consistently find greatness or excellent effort I seem to translate that into trust. When you’re standing in line for one of the ever-popular attractions, what is the easiest way Disney can make the waiting less painful? To keep your attention. Entering any ride is part of the experience and no detail goes un-noticed. Air vents, speakers and cameras are painted or decorated to match the atmosphere. They blend in. And, you rarely see the back of one of the animatronic characters, but if you do, their costume is complete. It even shows up in the cast member’s one-liners, as proven while waiting for the ferris wheel in Disney’s California Adventure where you hear the ride attendant say “We hope you’ll have fun on Mickey’s Fun Wheel, where fun is our middle name.” Disney has people thinking this stuff up – all the time! How fun to brainstorm the cute and clever wording, the character’s costumes and every detail of a a ride’s experience. The detail and time they spend creating these environments is simply mind-blowing, and let’s not lie – I’m impressed by it
Apply it: Every day, take an opportunity to find one way you can improve whatever your schedule has you doing. If you’re preparing a presentation, add the extra touch that you might not feel you have time to do. If you have a meeting with a team member or coffee with an associate, take 5-10 minutes before the meeting to review their Linkedin profile or prep questions or conversation points. The details make all the difference in your confidence level and in the trust you build.
Imagination will take you places
Entrepreneurs are visionaries. They look out into the unknown and create. When a vision grows legs (or a tail) there is opportunity to learn, build, adapt and grow it into something amazing. Walt Disney’s story started when he was a boy. His imagination was vivid and he ran with it. Imagination is the helium in your balloon. Have fun with it. Let yourself go wild and see what unfolds.
Apply it: Maybe you’ve been thinking about an “add-on” service or product you could create. Let your idea flow. Start brainstorming it and writing it out and see where it goes. Another way to apply this lesson is to think about something you don’t have now that you know you really want. It could be a physical office away from the home, or a team of 1 or 5 employees. Begin visualizing what you want and your mind will begin helping you get it.
Do not despise small beginnings
Next time you feel less than confident about your past, your less-than-expert status or you’re frustrated that your business isn’t where you want it to be, remember that the empire that the entire world knows today started with a tiny little, hand-drawn mouse. As of 2014, Walt’s small beginning can boast (54) feature films, (7) destination sites around the world, operations in more than (40) countries, and over (166,000) employees worldwide.
Apply it: Practice gratitude on a daily basis. Period. Wherever you are now, you have come a long way since the place you started. Your personal growth will feed your professional growth, so be sure it’s a priority and then remember the lessons and opportunities you’ve been given.
Disneyland is a magical place. Before my last trip, I had a conversation with a client who is not a fan of the consumerism, crowds, prices and more. I can absolutely see that perspective. My perspective though, is one of wonder, that a simple man with a simple cartoon had one simple idea that led to another and another and soon he was physically building his legacy. Today, that legacy serves as a playground for millions, employment for millions, a place where joy can be found any day of the week, around every corner, and a place where imagination launches and runs free.
References: Disney Careers – http://disneycareers.com/en/about-disney/global-footprint/