10 Things I Learned from Disney – #1: Dreams Make a Difference

waltdisneyMy friend and fellow Search Insider columnist, Aaron Goldman, has gained a lot of mileage from one column. Sometime ago, he wrote a column entitled “Everything I Need to Know about Marketing I Learned from Google”. Since then, he’s managed to stretch that out into dozens of columns and an upcoming book. For the next few weeks, I’d like to take inspiration from Aaron and share a few things that Disney has taught me. I don’t expect to get nearly the same mileage that Aaron did (possibly because I don’t have the same attention span) but it’s certainly not because Disney is any less inspirational than Google. For me, Disney presents one of the great corporate histories of the 20th century and Walt has always been one of my personal heroes. But, I will restrict myself to 10 blog posts, one for each of the lessons that Disney has taught me about life and business success. So, let’s start with Lesson One:

Dreams Make a Difference

Walt Disney was possibly the biggest dreamer of the 20th century. Walt always had his gaze firmly focused not the future, quickly moving on from past successes. The next “thing” was always the most important “thing.”  He knew if you spent too much time patting yourself on the back, you’d have your sights focused on where you’ve been, not where you’re going.

In behavioural economics, there’s a saying, “Loss looms larger than gain.” Most of us, faced with a decision of protecting what we have vs. risking it all for a potential future gain tend to circle the wagons and protect the piggy bank. Not Walt. Walt drove his brother Roy crazy by constantly betting it all on a bigger and better dream. For much of it’s history, Disney rode a roller coaster that came frighteningly close to bankruptcy on more than one occasion.

Walt knew that dreams are the fuel that drive us forward. Dreams that focus forward can be achieved with passion and purpose. Dreams that look backward are just one step away from regret. We can do nothing about the past, but we can do something about the future.

Walt was much more than a dreamer, however. Unrealized dreams have not influence on the world beyond the holder of the dream. And that was the magic of Walt. Somehow, he was able to make dreams come true. He knew how to sell dreams, infusing them in others and thereby inspiring them. His dreams were highly contagious, spreading from him (and eventually his brother) through his company outwards to a circle of financiers and partners. Eventually, his dreams reached far enough to touch each one of us.

Disney has not dreamed quite as big or successfully since Walt’s passing, but it’s still a corporation that knows the power of a dream. It has a history of recognizing dreamers and providing the superstructure required to lift those dreams up to the heights.

In Disneyland there is a plaque that says, “It all started with a mouse.” But really, it started with a dream. Walt Disney knew how to take a dream and leverage it to move the world. Powerful stuff indeed!

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