Mickey Mouse’s Father – An Amazing Entrepreneur

I recently re-read a terrific biography by Bob Thomas called Walt Disney: An American Original. Thomas was a reporter and biographer who authored multiple biographies focusing on Hollywood celebrities. The Disney story is fascinating and is packed with incredible entrepreneurial anecdotes. As a kid in the 1950s and 1960s, I watched Walt Disney Presents and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color on ABC and NBC. I remember attending the Disney movie Babes in Toyland in early 1962 at the local theater. And then of course there was Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in 1964. The pièce de résistance was a visit to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, with my family. Of course as a boy I had no idea what entrepreneurship was all about.

Roll the tape forward several decades and I find myself in awe of this amazing man. He epitomizes so many positive traits of a successful entrepreneur. For starters, he was one of the most optimistic individuals I’ve ever studied. Walt Disney was born in 1901 and began his career at age 18, and in the 1920s moved to California and launched Disney Studios with his older brother, Roy. The early days were lean – sometimes very lean. There were many weeks when the Disneys were scrounging for enough money to make the payroll. Roy took this very seriously and fretted considerably over their plight. But Walt was the eternal optimist. He would smile and say he never worried about money. He believed they would always figure out a way to survive. And he was right! Somehow the studio inevitably pulled a rabbit out of a hat and came up with the cash. Without Walt’s optimism and positive mindset, there would be no Disney legend that we know today.

Walt understood grit and perseverance better than anyone else. The Disney organization was just starting to come into its own when the Great Depression came crashing down upon the country. And yet Walt continued fine tuning his craft and creating cartoons that were well received by theater audiences everywhere. His optimism fueled this perseverance and every time he was knocked down, he was able to pick himself up, dust himself off and go back at it. This resilience combined with perseverance and a positive attitude was the key to surviving the dark days of the 1930s.

Creativity was another Disney hallmark. Walt got the idea to create a feature-length animated movie and introduced the world to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. No one in the film industry had every produced a feature-length animated movie and everyone doubted that such a production could succeed. Walt Disney proved the skeptics wrong and followed with additional masterpieces such as Pinnochio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942). When World War II took away many of his talented animators, he made movies under a contract with the federal government. While not nearly as profitable, the Disney organization was able to endure the war and remain in business. Walt’s creativity and ability to adapt to his circumstances were more entrepreneurial characteristics that led to his success.

He was a true visionary in every sense of the word. After succeeding with motion pictures, Walt foresaw the opportunity to create an amusement park that embodied the magic he had been delivering through his animated films. I can still remember that trip to Disneyland when I was five or six years old. I was overwhelmed by such an amazing experience. After Disneyland came his ideas for Disney World and Epcot in central Florida. Unfortunately, Walt Disney died from lung cancer in 1966 at the age of 65. The tragedy of this was the fact that he never witnessed the finished product of the Florida projects.

Walt was obsessed with detail and would often snoop after hours and look at the animator boards to see what his team was producing. Often the animators would arrive the next morning to find notes from Walt suggesting changes that would improve their work – and he was usually right about what he wanted. He demanded the highest level of quality for everything that bore the Disney brand. This was one of the major differentiators that enabled the Disney organization to consistently outpace the competition.

We entrepreneurs would be well-served to use Walt Disney as a role model. Wrapped into a single human being are the entrepreneurial traits of optimism and positivity; grit, perseverance and resilience; adaptability; creativity; vision; attention to detail and demand for quality. The impact he has had on our culture is indelible. The impact he has had in blazing a trail for entrepreneurs is profound.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 114 – Exactly What is Accountability?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Curveballs and Changeups

Major league baseball pitchers throw some amazing pitches. Their repertoire includes the breaking ball, changeup, forkball, screwball, slider, curveball, knuckleball, four-seam fastball, split-finger fastball, cutter, sinker, two-seam fastball and probably some other customized versions of all of the above. These pitches range in speed from 70+ to over 100 miles-per-hour. How a batter can even see a pitch that is screaming in at speeds above 90 and dancing all over the place is an incredible feat. And the fact that such pitches can be hit for home runs is even more stupefying. How do they do it?

Major league batters expect to adapt. They know that they are going to see a wide array of pitches that are surgically placed in different locations in the general area of home plate. Thus, every at-bat requires them to adapt to a host of variables. Top-flight big leaguers have an uncanny knack for successfully adapting their vision and their swing to hit the ball and get on base. They go to the plate knowing with absolute certainty that they must be able to adapt or they will strike out, fly out or ground out.

As entrepreneurs we would be well-served to study successful major league baseball players and observe how they adapt. Sometimes they shorten their swing. At other times they become supremely patient. They may try and push the ball to the opposite field; they may bunt, and they might also time their swing in order to pull the ball. All of this happens within a split second.

We entrepreneurs often work hard to create elaborate strategies and backfill with a host of tactics. We plan and we create extensive systems and processes. All are absolutely necessary to succeed. But sometimes we forget that we must expect to adapt. There is nothing negative about holding this expectation. The game plan provides a roadmap for us to follow, but it doesn’t account for every possible instance where we may need to be flexible. Over the years I’ve tried to muscle my way through a plan that I was convinced was the only way to go. Most of the time it led to failure or at least results that were less than stellar. I realize that I was being resistant to adaptation.

What I wish I had understood at the time is that the need to adapt can offer some incredible opportunities. And my resistance caused me to miss those opportunities. It’s easy to say, “OK, I have a plan and undoubtedly something will knock me off-course.” What goes unsaid is the thought that, “Then I’ll do whatever it takes to get back on-course.” But what if we had a mindset of expecting the need to adapt and actually turning it into a desire?” Think about all of the wonderful inventions that have occurred in the past. If you’ve ever read the story of Steve Jobs, you’ll know that he was a master of adaptation. Through his flexible nature he embraced the chance to make changes to the iPhone and the end result was, “WOW!” It’s well-documented that the initial vision for this technology would not have been nearly as phenomenally functional as what was eventually developed.

When we rejoice at the prospects of adapting our ideas, our creativity increases exponentially. Then we are positioned to achieve greatness in whatever we choose to do.

 This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

willie mays

Transformers

Question: Some entrepreneurs seem to be able to take an unexpected and difficult situation and turn it into success. How do they do it?

Answer: The skill to which you are referring is very simply the ability to adapt to a particular situation. And as with so many other things in life, it all starts with mindset. Have you ever created a plan that didn’t work perfectly when implemented? How did you feel? I can remember times in the past when I would become very upset and frustrated when my carefully crafted plan seemed to go up in flames. Other people always messed things up for one reason or another.

Recently we had an historic building we wanted to develop but needed a state agency to approve affordable housing tax credits in order to move forward. We submitted the project twice to the state agency and both times did not win an award. Of course this was immensely frustrating and we very easily could have given up and moved on to another project. Instead, we figured out a different (and even more complicated) structure for the deal and have been able to put the train back on the track, so to speak.

Being adaptable means having a mindset of flexibility. But there’s one more element that really unlocks the secret. It requires being able to anticipate that when something goes awry, it’s an opportunity. An opportunity to be creative, change direction – slightly or a lot – and make things even better than originally foreseen. I’ve reached the point where I expect to have such opportunities. This isn’t negative thinking by any stretch. Instead it’s a mindset of looking for ways to improve upon a situation. When something isn’t working quite right that’s a signal to me that there’s a better way.

You’ve probably seen the kids’ toys called Transformers. The basic premise is a toy that transforms from a seemingly mundane robot into a much more powerful object. Optimus Prime was the original hero in the Transformers franchise – a robot that transforms into a Kenworth truck cab containing a powerful ion blaster. Sounds silly, right? But that’s exactly what we entrepreneurs want to have happen. We want our good ideas to transform into great ideas. Sometimes this takes some twisting and turning, but eventually we prevail.

Problems lead to solutions. But be careful what you believe for what you believe creates the world in which you live. If you believe that problems are an opportunity to adapt and improve, your world will be filled with outcomes that are better than you ever imagined.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Optimus Prime