I’ve been immersed in Walt Disney recently. I’m reading a biography which is giving me a better appreciation of the impact one dynamic person can have on an organization and ultimately on society.
And then today I found this article linked from ToolsAndToys.net. It’s a piece by Rolly Crump, a former Disney Imagineer who worked on Disneyland projects like the original concepts for It’s A Small World and The Enchanted Tiki Room. He shares some great insights about what it was like to work with Walt. (Disney refused to let employees, or anyone, call him “Mr. Disney.” He insisted on being addressed by just his first name.)
In all the stories I’m reading about Walt, he comes across to me as a kinder, gentler Steve Jobs. Both men had charismatic personalities that could bring out the best work in others. No one could out-dream them. Their ideas were bigger and bolder than anyone else’s.
Walt was not actually an artist. (He didn’t even draw the original Mickey Mouse. He just came up with the concept and the personality and the voice and got Ub Iwerks to do the drawing.) And Steve was not a computer engineer or a designer. (It was Woz who made the original Apple computers. Steve just figured out how to sell them.) But both men saw possibilities others didn’t. They asked for more, for better, for the seemingly impossible. And they got it more often than not. With their ideas and their drive and their communication skills, they sold their dreams and impressed their high standards on those who worked with them.
Here’s Crump talking about the way Walt would generate and improve ideas:
In designing for Disneyland you definitely worked more as a conduit for Walt’s ideas. He directed what you were doing, and his direction was far superior to your own personal ideas. His ideas were way ahead of yours—you had to play catch-up on that, and then you had to kind of read subconsciously what it was that he wanted and the direction to take. Walt would come up with an idea, and that idea would explode inside of him. It would get better and better. So when you showed him something, he would take what you did to another level. And when you gave it back, he’d take it to yet another level.
So many Steve Jobs anecdotes sound like that. His ideas were a few steps ahead. Go bigger. Get it done sooner than anyone thinks possible. Give it more “wow”, more “cool”.
Walt called it “plussing”. He would take an idea and “plus it”, make it a little better. And it was constant for him. He was relentless in plussing everything, from a scene in a movie to the way a cast member interacted with a guest at Disneyland. (Here you can listen to a recording of Walt talking about plussing and why he loved Disneyland more than his movies.)
Jobs and Disney must have had a sharply tuned sense of discontent. What most of us would accept as okay, they would ask for better. And the results are what make Apple and Disney the icons they have become in our culture.
Maybe most of us are too timid, too content with good enough. What if you asked for better from yourself and from those you work with. What if you plussed your life as relentlessly as Walt and Steve plussed their creations?