10 Things I Learned from Disney – #8: Adversity is the Sharpening Stone of Success

evil-queen_lIn a previous post, I cataloged the many challenges of Walt Disney’s career. It seemed to everyone, including his brother Roy, that just when things were going smoothly, Walt would find a way to court disaster yet again. Adversity became a way of life for Disney studio’s. It they weren’t struggling, they (and I use the collective team advisedly – I actually mean Walt) weren’t happy.

This is not exclusive to the Disney organization. Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, used to say: “As long as you’re green, you’re growing. As soon as you’re ripe, you start to rot”. Kroc also said, “If you’re not a risk taker, you should get the hell out of business”. And as any good Darwinist would tell you, there’s nothing like environmental adversity to speed up the pace of evolution. Adversity brokers no maybes. Almost good enough isn’t nearly good enough to succeed when the chips are down. You either win or you lose. You either succeed or you fail. Judgment is swift and ruthlessly accurate.

What this means, in the hands of a nimble and bold leader, is an incredible opportunity to hone the edge of a successful company. Employees can rally against a common challenge, and the bigger the challenge, the faster and more effectively they’ll rally. Great accomplishments come in the face of great adversity.

I suspect Walt knew this at a fundamental level. This is probably why he assiduously avoided comfort and complacency, seeking instead to lead his company balanced on the ragged edge of disaster. He embraced challenge and courted adversity. He thrived on it.

So Lesson # 8 is this – Don’t be afraid of adversity. Find the opportunities that lie within. And, in the words of Rahm Emanuel, never let a serious crisis go to waste. Those that live their entire lives in their comfort zones live very small lives indeed. Those that flaunt boundaries and incite challenge live big and leave huge footprints.

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