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On Disney

I spent a couple months reading deliberately on Walt Disney and have attempted to make a distilled “teacher’s reference guide” or cheat sheet which (hopefully) describes the man and his inspiring company in a fun, clear and concise manner. His leadership and vision is legendary and I hope this comes across!

On Disney

*This is clearly my amateur attempt which I’m sure has many points that experts would refute or disapprove of.  I will continue to iterate, add to and improve this document over time but hope the main message is well received.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

  1. Studying some of the most prolific people in history to glean some of their patterns and daily routines to perhaps adopt into your own life
Key Takeaways
  1. “Sooner or later, the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.” – Pritchett
    1. Currey dispels this notion and gives examples of some great minds who were renowned procrastinators, full of self-doubt and prone to torturous blocks and insecurity
  2. “Inspiration is for amateurs” – Chuck Close
  3. “I think in the cracks all the time. I never stop.” – Woody Allen
  4. “I certainly have a routine, but the most important thing, when I look back over my career, has been the ability to change routines.” – Anne Rice
  5. Maria Popova at BrainPickings put together a great visual of many of these artists routines, habits and productivity
What I got out of it
  1. It is interesting to note that there are some major trends but the details differ. Chunks of time between 3-4 hours with no distractions to do deep work (whether morning or night) and addictions of some sort seem prevalent (coffee, food, women, drugs, etc.).

Maxims and Reflections by Johann Wolfgang van Goethe

  1. Goethe is one of Germany’s most famous writers but also specialized in anatomy, geology and botany. This book is a collection of his thoughts and maxims, all of which are meant to provoke reflection
Key Takeaways
  1. Would immediately write down and give form and structure to all creative thoughts
  2. The only way to get absurdities of the day in proportion is to compare them with great masses of world history
  3. Preparation for school is to be found only in the school itself
  4. You ask which form of government is best? The one which teaches us to govern ourselves
  5. Scholarly knowledge is greatly retarded by our preoccupation with what is not worth knowing and what is unknowable
  6. How can we learn self-knowledge? Never by taking thought by rather by action. Try to do your duty and you’ll soon discover what you’re like. But what is your duty? The demands of the day
  7. Tell me with whom you consort and I will tell you who you are. If you know how you spend your time, then I know what might become of you
  8. One who is content to simply experience life and act accordingly has all the truth he needs. This is the wisdom of the growing child
  9. Everything that exists is an analogue of all existing things; that is why existence always and at the same time looks to us both separate and interlocked. If you pursue this analogy too closely, everything coincides identically; if you avoid it, all is scattered into infinity. In both cases contemplation stagnates, either as hyperactive, or else as done to death.
  10. The particular and the general coincide; the particular is the general made manifest under different conditions
  11. Truth is not immediately perceptible
  12. One is never deceived, one deceives oneself
  13. Knowledge is not enough, we have to apply it, wanting is not enough, there has to be action
  14. There are people who ponder about their friends’ shortcomings: there’s nothing to be gained by that. I have always been on the look-out for the merits of my opponents and this has been rewarding
  15. There is no vantage point within an epoch from out of which an epoch can be considered and assessed
What I got out of it
  1. Definitely some good nuggets to think deeply on and come back to time and again

Pixar Storytelling: Rules for Effective Storytelling Based on Pixar’s Greatest Films by Dean Movshovitz

  1. Examines Pixar’s storytelling techniques to uncover the techniques and mechanisms which make them so successful
Key Takeaways
  1. Emotionally committed when characters get out of their comfort zone which forces them to grow and change. Best do this by exploiting existing flaw or problem
  2. Great characters deeply care about something, anything. We care because they care. Strong opinions about things and past experiences amplify the drama
  3. 3 liking levels – external / superficial, deeper, empathy (where their wins equal your wins and the character serves as your proxy for success and emotions)
    1. Put the character in harm’s way and let them fight their way out of it and never give up (unless they have tried absolutely everything!)
  4. Conflict evolves out of something the character stands to lose
  5. ‘Construction’ necessary – character changes some deep part of themselves which helps them achieve their goal
    1. Change is the measuring unit of conflict
  6. No such thing as small characters
  7. Never choose anything over honesty
  8. All villains have a value system that makes them believe their actions are right
  9. Avoid consequences when storytelling
What I got out of it
  1. Quick read with good examples from actual Pixar movies to bring it to life

The Pixar Touch by David Price

  1. A comprehensive overview of Pixar’s history, it’s storytelling process, its relationship with Disney and more
Key Takeaways
  1. Lasseter was at Disney sweeping streets as a teenager and later as a guide on Jungle Cruise
  2. Pixar began as a hardware company but struggled and eventually started selling animation software
  3. Bob Iger’s purchase of Pixar is legendary – Disney brand failing as indicated by mothers trusting Pixar brand more than Disney. Pixar movies also made up 45% of Disney’s operating revenues before being bought
  4. Selling Pixar gave Lasseter freedom to make movies he wanted to make
  5. Ed Catmull helped launch and revolutionize the computer animation industry – first through his work at New York Institute of Technology, then while at Lucasfilm and of course through his time and research at Pixar
    1. Alex Schure was a visionary millionaire who sponsored and brought together one of the finest computer animation teams in the world at NYIT
  6. Jobs bought Pixar from Lucasfilm in 1986 for $5m and put over $50m into it over the next 10+ years but bought into the mission wholly (although he did lose some confidence at points as indicated by his desire to try to sell Pixar to Microsoft and other companies).
  7. Alvy Ray Smith, along with Catmull and Lasseter, is the third founder of Pixar and worked with Catmull while at NYIT
  8. Regardless of how advanced the technology is, story is always the most important.
  9. Fostering a cool place to work always attracts top talent more than money alone
  10. Catmull – animation has to meet people’s experience from everyday life. Sometimes more important to not be 100% realistic if it makes the shot more believable for whatever reason
  11. Lasseter started at Disney during its dormancy phase when the most favored expression of Disney executives was, “As Walt used to say…”
    1. While Lasseter was at Disney, Tron convinced him that computer animation was the next revolution in animation and tried to convince Disney to invest more. Disney was not so sure, promptly fired him and was then hired to Pixar at Lucasfilm
    2. Lasseter’s greatest gift is his ability to give inanimate objects life and personality
    3. George Lucas was skeptical of computer animation at first, as was Frank Thomas at Disney. Lucas eventually spun off Pixar which was a hardware group at that time (although Catmull and Smith always had the vision of creating movies)
      1. Jobs’ vision with Apple was always to bring high-end computing to the masses –  “Our computers were born not out of greed or ego but in the revolutionary spirit of helping common people rise above the most powerful institutions.”
  12. People will always use tools in ways the toolmaker never thought possible
  13. Luxo, Jr. a hit for the actual and emotional realism it was able to portray through an inanimate object. Tin Toy was the first animation to win an Oscar
  14. Jobs and Smith clashed to the point that Smith eventually left to found Altamira. Jobs went overboard and at one point rescinded all employee’s stock options which obviously angered many people
  15. Lasseter has an uncanny ability to shift between the macro level of the entire film and the micro level of whatever detail he was dealing with at the moment. He would always be aware of a frame’s role in the larger context of storytelling
  16. Pixar’s massively successful first release, Toy Story, convinced Jobs and others that there was true potential in computer animation. Jobs decided to give himself and the company some liquidity and soon after Toy Story’s release, Pixar went public
  17. “When Disney gets behind something, look out.” – Steve Jobs
  18. Employee loyalty and bucking normal trends – “Catmull had rejected Hollywood-style run-of-style employment, believing that steady employment relationships would help the company hold on to its invaluable talent.”
What I got out of it
  1. It requires doing something different in order to get results different than the average. Pixar’s leaders, their process, their focus, ability and willingness to be different all help them achieve creative and financial results which have never before been seen in entertainment.

Never Broken: Songs are Only Half the Story by Jewel

  1. Jewel’s background, obstacles overcome, beliefs and values all laid bare for the world to see. She hides nothing in this open account of her life
Key Takeaways
  1. You must know what you want before you can achieve it. Jewel knew early on that what she wanted was happiness and this helped her during difficult times
  2. Strength counter-intuitively comes from vulnerability and not armor
  3. Nobody outruns their pain, they simply add new pain on top
  4. Emotions and instincts are our most sophisticated alarm system
  5. We learn emotional language from our parents and our surroundings. This language is often as important if not more important than regular language in shaping how we think, act and interact with others
  6. Hard wood grows slowly. What doesn’t bend, breaks
  7. Jewel had a tough upbringing in Alaska with a drunk and abusive father and an absent mother. She traveled with her father to sing in bars when she was very young. This was a difficult environment to grow up in but forced her to learn how to deal with people and difficult situations early on
  8. To deal with the abuse from her father and her often dark surroundings, Jewel promised herself to always be honest in her journal and lyrics. This allowed her to cope and deal with her problems and see her behavior as separate from herself – allowing her to grow, mature and improve over time
  9. Emotional honesty create loyalty and connection like nothing else
  10. An artist’s most important asset is their individuality and they must discover this firsthand
  11. Importance of silence in any pursuit cannot be overstated
  12. Greatness is never achieved by trying to imitate the greatness of another. Greatness is achieved by chipping away at everything that does not belong to you and expressing yourself so authentically that everybody else is forced to acknowledge you
  13. Jewel has a type of synesthesia where she can see notes in her mind and sees them overlap when in tune. She started researching physics and found a lot of similarities and correlations between science and art. Fractals exactly matched how she visualized notes
  14. Change doesn’t come from grand gestures but many small, seemingly inconsequential ones. Catching your negativity before it spirals, slowly changing thinking habits
  15. Dove deeply into her own psyche to explore her fear. She found it felt somewhat similar to nervousness before a show and decided to “flip” the fear into excitement
  16. Helping others is ultimately helping yourself
  17. Jewel was homeless for sometime in south California but soon developed a loyal following by singing in a local coffee shop. She eventually got one of her songs played on a radio station, broke into the top 10 and quickly gained wide recognition and an eventual label with Atlantic Records
  18. Knowing that hard wood grows slowly, she turned down a $1m signing bonus but got the biggest back end deal of any artist, effectively betting on herself long term
  19. Very intuitive and feel oriented in her shoes. Would read the crowds to determine what and how to play, never having a preconceived notion. Fan shaped auditoriums were the best to play in as everyone has a similar view and it focuses attention on stage
  20. Fame makes people like a blank canvas where fans project their dreams and fantasies onto. Fame does not change you, it amplifies you
  21. Her mom bankrupted her and it took a long time for Jewel to step up to her and get her out of her life
  22. With her mom gone, Jewel took the difficult step of going within herself and trying to tease apart what was her moms belief which were pushed on her and what she truly believed. What was hers felt peaceful and other’s brought anxiety. L what is hysterical is historical
  23. The goal with pain is to learn from it and let go
  24. Be hyper vigilant and being aware of the voices in your head and how critical or mean they would seem if spoken out loud
  25. Ty and Jewel got divorced a couple years after her son’s birth but remain on good terms. Her father is a big presence on her life now and extremely supportive
  26. Only a closed heart can break
  27. Continuously and ardently search out areas and situations where you feel self hatred and ask why you are feeling that way. Don’t hide from it. Address it and get to the root of it so you can begin healing
  28. She beautifully describes how thoughtful and deliberate she is in raising her son, Case
  29. Last ~20 pages distills Jewel’s lessons and the main points of the book
What I got out of it
  1. Excellent book and inspiring story of a woman from Alaska who goes through many difficult times, goes deep within and overcomes many barriers. So thoughtful and brave and makes me want to better myself and be better at being thankful for all that I have in life

Innovate The Pixar Way by Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson


  1. Quick book describing some of the attitudes, beliefs, practices and more that set Pixar apart and give it the best shot to keep innovating and producing the highest quality movies

Key Takeaways

  1. Ed Catmull’s own hero is Disney himself – collective creativity within a corporate culture is never an accident. It begins with creative leadership that is trustworthy and in turn trusts others to accomplish big dreams. They refuse to take shortcuts and truly embody and live by the ideal that “quality is the best business plan of all”
  2. One of Pixar’s greatest attributes is their ability to view the world through the eyes of a child
    1. Helps create culture which rewards and cherishes imagination. Try new things and don’t fear results that are different from what you expected them to be
    2. Dream. Believe. Dare. Do
    3. Innovate. Don’t imitate!
  3. Childlike dreamers, producers of “good show”, champions of artists and protectors of an innovative culture are characteristics that Walt embedded in Disney and that Pixar also exhibits more than any other studio
  4. Instead of “meeting customer expectations,” start fulfilling their dreams
  5. “Give us the black sheep” – Brad Bird on who he wanted to work with on The Incredibles because they would most likely be the most frustrated and most passionate to make something great
  6. Short-term mindset and need for instant gratification stifles innovation
  7. Ultimate test of success is prosperity in long-term after original leader or founder is gone
  8. Dreams really can come true if you keep a long-term focus
  9. On Leadership – “The ability to establish and manage a creative climate in which individuals and teams are self-motivated to the successful achievement of long-term goals in an environment of mutual respect and trust.” – Walt Disney
  10. Creatives flourish when they unite to forge new frontiers and when they refuse to compromise their values – even if it means pushing back on unyielding, high-ranking bullies
  11. Encourage culture of failure to team
    1. Celebrate failure with the same intensity that you celebrate success
    2. Become a prototype junky
    3. Develop your own “skunk works”
    4. Dream BIG
    5. Don’t cry poor – find ways to be innovative even without a big budget
    6. Planning is OK but don’t be a slave to the plan
    7. Visually track and display progress
    8. Forget about long planning meetings and reports
    9. Easier to ask for forgiveness than permission
    10. You need a soul mate – find customer or supplier who is willing to refine prototypes and ideas
  12. Important of play – can’t get the most out of people long-term without burning out if don’t give enough breaks and have fun DURING the process
  13. Muhammad Ali and the “lonely hours” – the hours put in before sunrise, when no one is around, when you don’t have to train, are the hours that separate you and make you great
  14. Must have dignity and mutual respect from all sides in order to prosper as a firm
  15. Technology inspires art and art challenges technology
  16. Keys to innovation – story is king, displayed thinking techniques (storyboarding), improvise, “plus-ing” (as long as you keep pleasantly surprising the customer, the more they’ll keep coming back. If they ever stop coming, it’ll cost 10x as much to get them back), internal collaboration, external collaboration, prototype. try. learn. try again., work on cool projects (all about selling the dream), extensive training, fun and play, transparency from every level, celebrate (reward excellent failure and punish mediocre successes), establish a brain trust, the most successful are dreamers with deadlines, enact postmortems, quality is the best business plan
  17. Other innovative companies – Google, Griffin Hospital, Nike, Target, Zappos

What I got out of it

  1. Good, short, fun book on what it takes to be innovative

Inside the Magic Kingdom by Tom Connellan


  1. Through a fictional narrative, Connellan describes what makes Disney great and how some of those learnings can be implemented into a variety of different businesses

Key Takeaways

  1. Disney, above all else, is centered around customer satisfaction
  2. Disney is tough business-wise but warm and welcoming with customers
  3. For software, a 1% rise in customer retention leads to 7%+ rise in profits
  4. 7 key lessons
    1. The competition is anyone the customer compares you with – Competition is anyone who raises customer expectations – if they satisfy customers better than you, you suffer by comparison
    2. Pay fantastic attention to detail
    3. Everyone walks the talk
    4. Everything walks the talk
    5. Customers are best heard through many ears
    6. Reward, recognize and celebrate
    7. Xvxryonx makxs a diffxrncx – the idea that if just one employee, or one key on a keyboard, stops working, it can make all the difference
  5. Disney considers customer’s guests, employees cast members and orientation as passing down traditions
  6. Real key is turning common sense to common practice
  7. 5 standards of service – always make eye contact and smile, exceed guest expectations and seek out guest contacts, always give outstanding quality service, greet and welcome each and every guest, maintain a personal standard of quality in your work
  8. 4 guidelines for teamwork – go beyond the call of duty, demonstrate strong team initiative, communicate aggressively with guests and fellow cast members, preserve the magical guest experience
  9. There are definite correlations between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction
  10. Two most common byproducts of great success are arrogance and complacency
  11. Strong correlation between employee training spend and corporate profits
  12. Must consider both share of customer and share of market – more important to acquire customers who count that it is to count the customers you acquire
  13. Quality is not about limited possibilities. Quality is about unlimited possibilities. If you start thinking about quality in terms of unlimited possibilities, it changes the way you think

What I got out of it

  1. A quick read on Disney’s key differentiators put into an engaging narrative

An American Original: Walt Disney by Bob Thomas

  1. Disney was able to entertain billions of people the world over. His background doesn’t point the way to how he achieved this, His parents were plain people, young Walt showed no brilliance as a student, and his drawings were often uninspired but in the end he is one of the most successful entertainers in businessmen in history
Key Takeaways
  1. Didn’t want to be devious unless constructive in some fashion
  2. Disney put his name on everything so that people knew that when they saw ‘Walt Disney’ on a picture, they would know that meant good, family entertainment
  3. Walt was his own best publicist
  4. Very little retrospection, his visionary eye was always set on the future
  5. Mickey and Walt were inextricable – Walt’s personality was completely reflected in Mickey’s
  6. Fair man but little patience for anything bad or weak
  7. “I want Disneyland to be a place where parents can bring their children – or come by themselves and have a good time”
  8. He seemed to consider his time limited, and his impatience to get things done sometimes made him hard to work for. Little patience for those whose thinking was earthbound. When he dropped an idea, he didn’t expect you to pick it up where he left it, you were supposed to move a couple of steps beyond
  9. Disney possessed a remarkable skill for drawing the best from those who worked with him and had an uncanny capacity for reaching the human heart
  10. Had a natural progression, moving the audience from spectators to participants
  11. Ancestors were from France and last name was Isigny
  12. Father Elias had many misadventures in business and was a stern man
  13. Older brothers Herb and Ray left family due to Elias’ tyrannical nature and soon after Roy left too
  14. Customer service instilled during his time as a newspaper boy – father forced him to place the newspaper on people’s porches, even in the middle of freezing winter
  15. Only paid attention to what interested him – animation, magic, trains
  16. He stepped on a nail and this injury gave him time to think of the future and it was then he determined he wanted to go into cartooning
  17. Walt welcomed criticism from a young age
  18. Laugh-O-Gram went bankrupt and Walt left for Hollywood to get out of cartooning and into directing
    1. Felt he was too late to cartooning now and couldn’t catch up to those in New York but soon his deal with Winkler on Alice got him back into it
  19. Had rare powers of persuasion – shown when he convinced Ub to move to Hollywood to join him in the Disney Bros. Studio
  20. “It wasn’t enough to be an original and creative artist, Disney learned; survival in the film business required a jungle toughness
  21. Grew his mustache as a bet and left it because it made him look older
  22. Almost messianic in the leadership of his staff
    1. Got incredible devotion and long hours but encouraged periods of refresh (played baseball during lunch)
  23. Strong, attractive central character is essential and a good storyline is always needed but too much plot can destroy laughter
  24. Loss of Oswald to Mintz solidified view of never working for anyone
  25. Realized quickly the importance of sound and action being in sync and eventually also added color. Those who got in first lead to big advantage if you can work for quality, rather than quantity and quick money
  26. Walt did not believe in holding grudges
  27. Silly Symphonies began to allow Walt to expand creative outlet
  28. Was swindled by Pat Powers of Cinephone of $100,000+
  29. Two years after the creation of Mickey Mouse, the Mickey Mouse Club had more than 1 million members and was known in every civilized country
    1. Licensing revenues were enormous – Ingersoll sold 2.5 million watches in two years
  30. Walt had developed one of the most valuable traits of a leader – the ability to recognize talent and forcing them to reach their potential
  31. Long-term and second order thinking – “Maybe United Artists won’t give us any more dough [to produce color pictures], but the pictures will create so much excitement that we’ll get longer playdates and bigger rentals. That’ll bring the money back eventually.”
  32. Feed during difficult times – “Depression my greatest ally in assembling top flight talent”
  33. Created systematic training courses for young animators in order to develop:
    1. Good draftsmanship
    2. Knowledge of caricature, of action as well as features
    3. Knowledge and appreciation of acting
    4. Ability to think up gags and put over gags
    5. Knowledge of story construction and audience values
    6. Knowledge and understanding of all the mechanical and detailed routine involved in his work, in order that he may be able to apply his other abilities without becoming tied in a knot by lack of technique along these lines
  34. Always challenged himself – “As he discovered each new, unexplored medium, his interested dwindled in the one that he had previously conquered.”
  35. New office predecessor to Disneyland – Walt involved and thoughtful of every detail
  36. Issued stock due to debt
  37. On Unions – “It’s the law of the universe that the strong shall survive and the weak must fall by the way, and I don’t care what idealistic plan is cooked up, nothing can change that.”
    1. Strike had taken away some of Disney’s idealism – creatives at the studio would never again have the same, intimate relationship with Walt
  38. Disney production was pretty much put on hold during WWII and they produced many educational and propaganda films for the government
  39. Walt was a times gruff, not given to intimacy and self-revelation. Rarely issued direct praise for work that had been done well and seemed to expect excellence and did not express gratitude when he received it. Commendation usually came in the form of a bonus check or a remark to a third person, with the realization that the praise would be handed on. He commanded attention – he wouldn’t let go o four eyes, people couldn’t stand up to him if they weren’t pretty confident
  40. Disney soon became synonymous with quality entertainment for the entire family. “Look – Disney is a thing, an image in the public mind. Disney is something they think of as a kind of entertainment, a kind of family thing, and it’s all wrapped up in the name Disney…You see, I’m not Disney anymore. I used to be Disney, but now Disney is something we’ve built up in the public mind over the years  It stands for something, and you don’t have to explain what it is to the public. They know they’re gonna get a certain quality, a certain kind of entertainment. And that’s what Disney is.”
  41. Lillian was no ‘yes-wife’ – she stood up to Walt and would honestly share her opinion on films and other topics Walt asked her about
  42. Considered self religious but no church and respected every religion
  43. Had no Disney items in his own home
  44. “We can lick ’em with product”
  45. Was a tough boss but in times of crisis was especially gentle
  46. Assigned all top talent to Cinderella when success was paramount
  47. Struggle with Alice led to Walt to never mess with a tamper-proof classic again
  48. Race against time – a fortune teller told Walt at a young age that he would die by the age of 35. He was not superstitious but this prediction had a profound effect on him and continued to brood about it long after it had been proven false – instilled a sense of urgency in him
  49. Understood the value of publicity and always made himself available
  50. How Walt thought of himself in some regards – “The last of the benevolent monarchs”
  51. 2 dislikes at work – being interrupted while interpreting a scene and someone arguing a point he had already rejected
  52. Studied amusement parks, fairs, zoos, etc. the world over in order to get inspired for Disneyland. His metric for gaging the success of the park was whether people felt entertained or cheated
  53. TV allowed public to get to know original plots and characters rather than this simply happening through theater productions
  54. With Disneyland, quickly gained deep fluency in architecture and engineering. Was always extremely adept at mastering new things quickly
  55. Faith in people – “We can run Disneyland as well as anyone. All you need are people who are eager, energetic, friendly and willing to learn. They’ll make mistakes, but we can learn from their mistakes.”
  56. From the beginning, he insisted on utter cleanliness at Disneyland. “Remembering the tawdry carnivals he had visited with his daughters, he told the staff that if you keep a place clean, people will respect it; if you let it get dirty, they’ll make it worse. He didn’t want peanut shells strewn on the sidewalks; only shelled nuts were sold. No gum could be purchased inside the park. Young men strolled through the crowds, retrieving trash as soon at it was discarded
  57. On music – “I just want you to remember one thing: if the people can’t go away whistling it, don’t play it.”
  58. Desire for utmost control – studio was almost self-sufficient from the beginning
  59. Opening day of Disneyland was a debacle but, as always, Walt never dwelled on disappointment
  60. TV vision – “we’re not going to talk down to the kids. Let’s aim for 12 year olds. The younger ones will watch because they’ll want to see what their older brothers and sisters are looking at. And if the show is good enough, the teenagers will be interested, and adults too.”
    1. Mouseketeers were normal kids, not Hollywood personalities – produced an audience response that TV had never seen before. With this incredible response and fan devotion, Mickey’s status as a folk hero was guaranteed for another generation
  61. On money – “I’ve always been bored making money. I’ve wanted to do things, I wanted to build things. Get something going. people look at me in different ways. Some of them say, “the guy has no regard for money.” That is not true. I have had regard for money. But I’m not like some people who worship money as something you’ve got to have piled up in a big pile somewhere. I’ve only thought of money in one way, and that is to do something with it, you see? i don’t think there is a thing that I own that I will ever get the benefit of, except through doing things with it.”
  62. On art – “I was a corny kind of guy, so I went for corn…Be commercial. What is art, anyway? It’s what people like. So give them what they like. There’s nothing wrong with being commercial.”
  63. Walt and Ray fought – Walt often cause but also first to apologize
    1. Most empires have a yin/yang leadership situation
  64. Always succeeded with quality and uniqueness, not in following trends
  65. Bought out ABC in 1960 so that they owned Disneyland outright
    1. Moved TV to NBC because they could pursue color with them and Walt determined that was the future
  66. Guests, not customers – we’re selling happiness
    1. If they ever stop caring, it’ll cost 10x to get the guests back
  67. Cartoons designed to be timeless – re-releases were essentially pure profit
  68. Walt did not like to be oversold on anything
  69. Always put self in the position of the public – “At Disneyland, queues were doubled back, so that those in line would have a sense of advancing toward their goal and would see a constantly changing human vista
  70. On time and urgency – “Time is getting on, and I still have things left to do. I don’t want to go back and cover the same ground.”
  71. “I have a theory that if it’s good enough, the public will pay you back for it.”
  72. On Chouinard – students must learn a variety of skills, be multi-disciplinary and have a place where cross-pollinization is possible. “Imagination is an intuitive thing; I think it’s something you’re born with. But it has to be developed.”
  73. Disney World started out with the vision of being the utopian city of tomorrow – EPCOT, “an experimental monarchy”
    1. “When I see things I don’t like, I ask myself, why do they have to be like this and how can I improve them?”
  74. Roy, who is typically the profit-focused financier – “Wait a minute, let’s give them a better deal. They’ve been good to us, and we may have to go back to the well again. Besides, the offering will be oversubscribed  His staff felt that they had lost their negotiating power, but Roy’s strategy proved correct. He had made friends, as well as lenders, of the Eastern banks.” – Understood the power of thinking ahead, of reciprocation and of placing the cue ball for future shots and not just the first shot
What I got out of it
  1. Fascinating biography which had a lot of detail about Walt’s childhood and his personality – quirks and strengths alike. Vision was extraordinary and we can learn a lot from how he thought, dealt with people, issues and decision making

Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler


  1. Disney’s influence is hard to overstate. He completely changed American culture and its consciousness by bringing in a lighter, more fun world during tough times. He completely changed animation and helped invent graphic design. His concept of a theme park was completely novel too as it was a totally immersive, imaginative experience
New Takeaways
  1. Isn’t actually frozen after passing away as many believe but shows how much Disney was associated with futuristic technology
  2. Disney reinvented the American past by adding nostalgia and patriotism to rural movies. He also garnered enthusiasm for technological advancement through his own films and it even helped NASA gain support
  3. He was able to blend paradoxes such as being a classicist and a futurist through his animation and family values and then through projects like tomorrow world which helped spur American interest in space exploration
  4. He invented the wildlife documentary and helped spread conservationist movements
  5. He created the first modern media corporation by blending TV, movies, action heroes, theme parks and more
  6. Above all his accomplishments however, his greatest achievement may have been instilling a belief of wish fulfillment in people – fantasy can be empowering and sometimes even transform the world
  7. He was able to tap into the essence, the fundamental, the genetic code to truly bring alive any project and make it resonate with people in a timeless way. He had platonic templates in his head for everything and was able to act on it, forming the archetype of anything he took on. This desire for an idyllic world lead him to create his various animations as well as Disney World. He wanted total control and since this ain’t possible in real life, he made a fictional world where he could
  8. Artistic reputation was hurt towards the end of his career and many considered him an Huber capital list which supplanted other countries cultures with Americas. He was also considered an anti-Semite and a racist. Many also thought he had sold out and become to corporate and therefore lost his artistic and creative power
  9. Even for those closest to Walt he was difficult to know intimately and was often moody and tough to work with
  10. Walt’s grandparents were from Ireland and his dad after moving around a bit decided to settle in Kansas which was a rough life at that time. They later moved to Marcilene, Missouri which Walt considered his home and the nature and serenity had a big influence on his creativity and his later animation’s focus on animals, farms and trains
  11. A local doctor named Dr. Sherwood encouraged walk early on to not be nervous about admitting ignorant and annoying her edging him that he was a good artist
  12. His father was a very hard working, frugal, strict and religious man. Elias had Walt deliver papers early in the morning for nearly no pay and he worked so hard he hardly he any free time as a boy. This made him very careful with his time as he grew older. Walt grew up to become extremely different from his father – light hearted, enthusiastic, charming, personable. Walt’s older brother of 8 years, Roy, was more of a surrogate father than brother and they became very close
  13. Walt quickly found that he was attracted to performing, drawing and show business and meticulously studied his idols such as Charlie Chaplin
  14. Walt entered into service for WWI but got influenza and ended up not heading to Europe to fight but was soon sent over to help with the occupation in France. His time in France helped him mature and solidify his desire to be an artist or actor
  15. Walked always had great confidence in his abilities even before he had croup and self or had any experience. When Disney became fascinated with something, he could spend days focusing only on that
  16. Animation was completely new at this time so Walt was not behind anyone although he was young. Him and a couple others would pioneer this field and make huge leaps in the following decades
  17. Even at 20, with little to no experience, Walt was too hard headed to be comfortable with being anyone’s employee and started a company called Laugh-O-Gram and was an incredible salesman getting employees and investors interested in working for him. The company struggled although Walt and his employees loved it and it soon went bankrupt. He then decided to leave Kansas City and went to Hollywood
  18. Walt almost always exaggerated the truth to make himself or his story more dramatic. He was absolutely a happy and extremely determined man with a lot of confidence but he, like everyone, had times of doubt
  19. Walt started up Disney Bros. with his older brother Roy in the early 1920s and began work on the Alice cartoons. From the beginning Walt had a deep need for artistic and creative control over the whole process in order to precisely execute his vision. He was tough on Ub Iwerks and the rest of his employees and often made others miserable and cause resentment until they either improved or left the studio. He soon lost his distribution partner in Winkler and many of his own employees even tried sabotaging him. It was at this point he decided he would never work for anybody ever again
  20. Mickey Mouse was first named Mortimer and the first idea was for Mickey to fly a plane in order to impress a lady mouse which was inspired by Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. Mickey was designed for maximum ease as circles were easier to animate and by subtly changing some features, Mickey could easily become a cat, rabbit, dog, etc.
  21. Mickey struggled to gain a foothold until Roy and Walt brainstormed and determined to add sound to the animation. It was shown as a short reel before movies and became a nationwide hit. Mickey eventually evolved and became more real and proper and he lost popularity because of it. Donald Duck was soon after conceived to be Mickey’s foil, to be rude, offensive, hot tempered and this is exactly what the world wanted at this time
  22. Walt understood early on how important it was to make himself a brand as a producer that the country would recognize. He opened up a sound recording studio in California to gain a foothold in this up and coming area of animation. After the initial trouble with Laugh-O-Gram, Disney wanted a dominant, unassailable position in the animation market and determined to replace Felix the Cat with his own Mickey as worlds most popular cartoon
  23. Although the culture at Disney was casual, work was done with the utmost care and planning and the biggest difference from other animation studios was expectations. Walt would not settle for anything less than the best. He was always this way with all his early cartoons – Alice, Oswald, Mickey, Skeleton Dance and other silly shorts. Disney always took great pride in his informality, he always considered him equal to his employees
  24. Powers, who ran Cinephony Studios, was the man Walt relied on for sound recording and producing. Powers wasn’t a very trustworthy man and took advantage of Walt’s enthusiasm by promising to fulfill his vision as well as Walt’s lack of business acumen by crafting very unfavorable terms. Tensions eventually split the relationship after costly legal action but Powers managed to get Iwerks and Stalling to leave Disney studios
  25. Once Disney and his cartoons started getting a foothold in California, they began expanding nationally with the Mickey Mouse club which eventually reached over 800 chapters and 1m members. Mickey soon became a worldwide phenomenon and one of the most recognized figures in the whole world. Mickey had mass appeal due to his ability to allow people to escape the Great Depression and tyrannical leaders, his simplicity and people’s desire to root for the underdog – ultimate wish fulfillment. Mickey was also modeled after two of that generations most popular actors – Fairbanks and Chaplain. However, Mickey would ultimately evolve and could be considered simply an extension of Walt himself
  26. Walt only hired the best and created a very hard working but fraternal culture. The ethos was that all work had to be better than what was previously made and much better than any competitor
  27. Many of Walt’s colleagues believes that he achieved extraordinary success because his focus was never on money, but on providing the best product to his customers, something he could have fun with and be proud of
  28. His relationship with his wife became strained as he ended up in the office pretty much every night working late which eventually led to an emotional breakdown
  29. Disney avoided much of the pain of the Great Depression by plowing every dollar earned back into his company rather than the stock market. His cartoons were some of the best escapes for people going through tough times. Disney studios thrived during these tough times as they were able to hire some of the best animators in the business from studios that had gone out of business. The Disney short of three little pigs was a sensation and delivered one of the eras anthems with the big bad wolf song
  30. One of biggest contributions to animation was that he gave the cartoons a storyline and the characters life, a personality, embodied emotions, adding color, even taking gravity into consideration
  31. Disney studios entered another inflection point once they began licensing Mickey to distributors to put on lunch boxes, watches, clothing, toys, etc. This eventually became a larger source of profits than the cartoons themselves
  32. Walt played the bashful tycoon in public but this was part of his carefully crafted image which was influenced by Will Rogers. In private, Walt was often moody and sometimes blunt and egomaniacal. Walt stopped drawing and even procuring most of the cartoons but his influence and approval was still felt throughout. He was very instinctive, he a great mind for gags and had a great sense for what the public wanted and needed
  33. One of Walt’s main talents was his ability to bond a group, get the most out of them and always think in “we” terms. He made everyone feel great pride in the work they did and made them truly believe that it was important
  34. Walt took great pride in keeping ahead of the pack and his next step was a full length film, Snow White
  35. After a trip to Europe Walt decided to try to make his cartoons more universal by keeping dialogue to a minimum so that translation errors wouldn’t affect enjoyment
  36. Believed it was easier to train young people with no experience and bad habits that to hire people who did have some experience
  37. Walt was very exacting and demanding of his employees but he paid them extremely well, gave them great benefits and created an exciting and innovative atmosphere people loved. Again, money was always secondary to talent, customer experience and quality
  38. Snow White was an undertaking unlike any other. He got the most out of his people by aligning incentives – their bonuses were tied to the success of the movie. After toiling away for years, Snow White was released and became a huge success – the highest grossing movie ever in the US
  39. Walt was a self absorbed workaholic who had no close friends. He devoted himself entirely to his vision
  40. After Snow White, Disney and his crew began work on Bambi but put it on hold to start work on Pinocchio
  41. The move from the studio in Hyperion to Burbank was necessary but it also removed some of the informality, morale and drastically increased bureaucracy
  42. In 1940, Disney decided to issue shares to the public to raise money for Bambi, Disney shorts and other projects. He never wanted to do this but the company was spending money like crazy
  43. Disney – “Every mistake I made was because I didn’t truly feel it.”
  44. Disney was very loyal to those who stuck with him during the early stages but he later was very callous and cold hearted with firings of newer employees. A union workers strike soon ensued and killed much of the esprit de courts of the studio
  45. Walt got to making educational films for the navy and government during WWII. He often lost money on these and they distracted him from other endeavors. He was totally absorbed with these features for the four years of the war. Competition increased a lot after the war as the other major studios started expanding and focusing on animation – Tom & Jerry and Looney Tunes
  46. Bambi was finally released to mixed reviews. The seriousness of the movie was a little too much for many people in a time which had already seen such devastation. This was a difficult time for the studio as Bambi wasn’t a hit and they were spending most of their time now on war and educational films
  47. Disney was so focused on pushing the boundaries creatively and in other ways that he refused to do sequels even though they were likely to be commercial successes
  48. Disney had a strong aversion to organization and bureaucracy even as the studio grew. If he did decide to manage, he would micromanage everything and everyone. He would never delegate creative decisions
  49. Disney’s do epitome advantages came from the sheer talent of its animators, their dedication, Walt’s vision and fire, their focus on quality and customer experience over profit and always looking to push boundaries
  50. The author does not believe Disney was racist or anti-Semitic but like most white Americans of his generation, he was insensitive
  51. Disney pioneers the nature documentary as we know it today through Seal Island
  52. Disney was apolitical except for his strong aversion to Communism
  53. Disney didn’t spend much time with his family as he was so busy but he spoiled his daughters. They described him as sympathetic but firm
  54. Disney seemed to focus less on his studio and more on miniature cities and trains. These hobbies influenced him greatly in building an amusement park where the whole family could have fun together. Disneyland was Walt’s dream – he was able to exert absolute control and make his vision real. He was able to transport people to a different, better time. The pro was a combination of experience, amusement and Disney’s own values
  55. Disney was one of the few to recognize the power of the television. It was not the enemy of the motion picture but it’s ally. They could recycle old movies, make TV shows out of movies, get new customers and fans, and would launch its own channel using past Disney shorts. He also recognized that this was an incredible tool to promote awareness and interest in Disneyland. Disney partnered with ABC who needed awareness with the growing young family population and Disney needed money to make Disneyland happen. Television made Disney more famous than ever before. It was his animation and movies which were popular before but now it was the man, the man who embodied wholesomeness and decency. He often felt imprisoned by this new persona
    1. “In retrospect, Disney’s greatest creation was Walt Disney.”
    2. Davy Crockett became an immediate, nationwide sensation. He embodied American ideals at a time when tensions with the Soviet Union were growing. Crockett was never profitable for Disney but it did accomplish its goal – publicize Disneyland. The Mickey Mouse Club was another phenomenon which also bolstered Disneyland’s image and its awareness
    3. Imagineers were tasked with designing the parks and every single detail – subliminally making guests feel powerful, calm and have the best experience possible
    4. Disney had a constant focus on creating eternal products
    5. He constantly said that Disneyland would never be finished – there is always someway to improve and expand
  56. Another major milestone in Disney’s history was the formation of its own distribution arm – it now controlled the process end to end
  57. Walt didn’t want anybody with amusement park experience working on Disneyland because he wanted fresh eyes and no preconceived notions or biases. Established Disney university to train all employees in order to give a great, consistent experience. Dress, facial hair, and more were all strictly dictated. Cleanliness was an obsession with Walt and his parks were always meticulous – one of the small ways Disney conceived of to make his parks an escape from reality
  58. Several years later Walt secretly scouted out locations on the East coast and decided to build Disney World in Orlando, Florida. His vision was to build not only a world class amusement park, but a Utopian city – EPCOT
  59. Disney never felt he could rest – he was always working to “stay 25 years ahead of the competition” and was worried he’d die before he’d have time to accomplish everything
  60. Walt went to the hospital for what he thought was a minor surgery when they found lung cancer, he was 64. He was clearly very weak but defiant until his last breath. His focus went almost solely to Disney World and EPCOT at this point. He died about a year later in 1966
  61. One of Disney’s main contributions was a living example of how one could successfully impose their will on the world. Above being a master of fun, animation, reverence or anything else, he was a master of order
  62. First hour and last 10 minutes a very good summary
What I got out of it
  1. Endless enthusiasm, optimism and confidence, the highest standards of quality in the business, fanatical about his work and in pushing the limits to give customers the best experience possible, sole focus on customer experience and not money.