On Sunday, June 25, a map of Disneyland sold for $708,000, the highest price ever paid at auction for a piece of Disney memorabilia. It's worth every penny. This is the map that Walt Disney and his brother Roy used to raise the financing needed to build Disneyland. This map launched the parks and resorts business that swelled the coffers of the Walt Disney Company by $17 billion in fiscal 2016.

I first heard about the map while conducting research for a book about the Disney Company's approach to customer service. It's a great tale of entrepreneurship and innovation and the power of focus in achieving audacious goals.

The map was drawn in September 1953, over a single weekend. As Disney Legend Herb Ryman later recalled, Walt called him on a Saturday morning and asked him to come to the studio. When Herb arrived, Walt explained that he needed $17 million to build Disneyland.

"Gee, that's a lot of money," said Herb. "What's the park going to be like?"

"It's going to have a lot of rides and it's going to have a train," said Walt. "It's going to have a lot of things, a whole lot of things. A lot of people. Very exciting. Roy has got to take a drawing with him on Monday morning to show the bankers. You know the bankers don't have any imagination."

"Well, where are the drawings?" asked Herb. "I'd like to see them."

"Oh, you're going to make them," said Walt.

Over the rest of the weekend, Walt described the first theme park and Herb drew it. On Monday morning, Roy took the rendering to New York, where he used it during investment pitches at the Big Three TV networks. He struck out at CBS and NBC, but Roy got lucky at ABC. In return for a one-hour, weekly TV program from Disney, ABC agreed to provide financing for Disneyland.

Of course, drawings alone--no matter how accomplished--are not enough to build a $17 billion business. As detailed in the Disney Institute book Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service (Disney Editions, 2011), Walt brought Ryman's map to life by integrating three key elements: people, setting, and process. They are the three delivery systems behind the magical guest experience that has made a vacation at Disney's parks and resorts a must for families around the world.

The Magic of People

"You can dream, create, design, and build the most wonderful place in the world," said Walt, "but it requires people to make the dream a reality." He knew that to consistently make magic the members of Disneyland's cast (as the employees are known) would need to share a common purpose and quality standards.

To that end, Walt hired Disney Legend Van France to create a training program that is now known as Traditions. Every Disney cast member--from CEO Bob Iger to the Magical Express drivers--attends Traditions on their first day. The class is taught by veteran cast members, who volunteer for the honor. As a Disney Institute facilitator told me, "We don't put people in Disney. We put Disney in people."

The Magic of Setting

Walt knew that every element of setting--whether that setting is an animator's cel or a land in a theme park--plays a role in the customer experience. To ensure the cleanliness of the park, for instance, he figured out that the average person will carry a piece of trash about 30 steps and so, had the park's trash cans installed accordingly. He also had each can designed in accordance with the theme of the section of the park in which it was located.

To this day, Disney's Imagineers live by the precept, "Everything speaks." That's why everything from the doorknobs to the swimming pool in DisneyWorld's Animal Kingdom Lodge is designed to support and further its African safari theme.

The Magic of Process

Walt liked to show up unannounced at Disneyland on a Saturday morning and go on rides like the Jungle Cruise just like any other guest. Except Walt was timing the rides--and woe to the cast member who was running them too fast, because Walt knew that process was an essential element of experience.

Walt also knew that processes could continually be improved, and he was always looking for ways to 'plus' them. "I want something that will live, something that would grow. The park is that," Walt told a reporter. "And it will get better as I find out what the public wants."

And so the Disney parks and resorts have.

Published on: Jun 26, 2017