If you're one of more than 150 million people a year who visit a Walt Disney theme park or take a Disney Cruise, then you've experienced the results of Disney's Imagineers--one of the most creative teams on the planet.
Imagineers are the artists, designers, engineers and technical specialists behind the world's most innovative rides and experiences at Disney's 12 theme parks. Walt Disney himself created the team nearly 70 years ago to push the boundaries of creativity.
Disney has pulled back the curtain on the little-known and secretive group in a new six-hour documentary for Disney Plus titled, The Imagineering Story. Since many entrepreneurs run teams of people who must combine imagination and technology to serve their customers, the Imagineers have a lot to teach us.
1. Assemble a diverse team.
Walt Disney envisioned a magical theme park in the middle of what was then an orange grove in Anaheim, California. He hired architects to make the dream a reality. The architects gave him--well, architecture. But Disney wanted more. He wanted to evoke a feeling, a place that would make people feel happy and transport them to another place.
Disney scrapped his plan to build a team of architects and, instead, assembled a team whose diversity sparked their creativity. According to Tony Baxter, the creative director of the Imagineering team from 1989 to 2013, "I don't think any of these people [Imagineers] would ever be hired in a modern company because they were eccentric. It's like casting a great orchestra. You have a tuba player, a bassoonist, a pianist. They complement one other, but they're not all the same. The rubbing of these various personalities really made for the harmony."
Disney was ahead of his time. In a 2014 study, three European business professors concluded that teams assembled from professionals in different fields were more successful in finding new and novel solutions to problems than teams of people with similar skills.
If you want out-of-the-box thinking, then put people together who have built their career in different boxes.
2. Create a culture of excellence.
Walt Disney expected excellence from himself and his team. Good wasn't good enough. "We don't want to do a job that isn't first class," he said. According to one Imagineer, "The attitude of excellence permeated the whole company."
The attitude of excellence continues today. Disney CEO, Bob Iger, says he was inspired by the high standards that Walt expected. Iger calls it the 'relentless pursuit of perfection.' Iger is constantly inspiring the Imagineering team to dream bigger. When Iger first met with the Imagineering team building the new Star Wars Galaxy's Edge experience at Disneyland, he told them, "Do not be ambitious. Be the most ambitious that you have ever been."
According to one Imagineer, "Bob brought a desire for nothing to be ordinary. If it's not great, it's not worth doing.
Encourage teams to pursue excellence in everything they do.
3. Pay obsessive attention to details.
Disney super fans have dedicated entire websites to spotting the countless details that transport Disney theme-park guests into another world.
The details are fascinating--and endless. The suits the characters are wearing in the Hall of Presidents attraction at Walt Disney World use fabrics and sewing techniques from the time period the real presidents lived in. At the Disneyland resort in California, rock designers sculpted, carved and painted every rock in the Cars Land experience. The effect makes it look as though the mountains are miles away even though the entire experience sits on 12 acres.
From the colors of the castles to the footprints in the sidewalks, and from the scents outside the rides to the facial expressions on the characters, no detail is left to chance.
A customer's experience suffers when companies ignore the details. Is your place of business clean, tidy and uncluttered? Walt Disney placed trash cans every 30 feet apart because he estimated a person would walk about that far with a piece of trash before letting it drop to the ground. Again, details matter.
At Disney theme-parks, even the navigation is carefully considered. Disney parks use a 'hub and spoke' layout to help guests find their location relative to the rest of the park and to ease the frustration of feeling lost. When is the last time you thought about the navigation on your website? Is it easy for your visitors to get the information they want quickly and easily? Imagineers stand in line and experience the park as a guest does.
Experience your business or website from the perspective of a visitor. And pay attention to the details.
"It's kind of fun to do the impossible," Disney once said. Find the joy in creating new and exciting experiences for your customers. After all, if you're not innovating, you'll be left behind in this hyper-competitive business climate. Push the envelope. Stretch yourself, grow, and take pride in taking your customer's experience to the next level.