Brave New Disney World

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to go on a deluxe Disney World vacation in Orlando, see the four major theme parks and stay at Old Key West Resort. It’s not surprising I had a magical time with great family memories of seeing my 11-year-old daughter soak and absorb it in.

Like most people who work and have “planners” in their family I stayed away from the logistics and anticipation. I didn’t go with preconceived ideas or expectations. I was just glad I was able to see it and experience it with my family. I returned intrigued and inspired in ways not expected.

I need to read this book Designing Disney’s Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance before I get really into this discourse and perhaps will follow-up with a post.

Epoxy Coated Structures

The iconic buildings of Disney World, particularly Magic Kingdom and Epcot, left me feeling inspired and transfixed. Often when we go somewhere designed to replicate or pay homage to some other space it comes off as tacky and cheap. Think any Mexican or Chinese restaurant. The temporal space of Disney World doesn’t replace actual experience but transports the participant into some sort of world citizen consciousness. I was fascinated artificial structures of plastic and fiberglass created an atmosphere of global brotherhood and an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). I see why Walt Disney World is the benchmark. Cedar Point now seems like a dump.

My father is an architect and spent most of his career in facilities maintenance. Repeatedly throughout the week he’d say, “Epoxy Coated”.

One criticism was lack of focus on recycling in the hotels, bathrooms, and restaurants. A place like Epcot celebrates the environment with one building called “The Land” but I didn’t feel this was the forefront of the overall Disney Experience. Organizing and training the 100s of thousands daily guests in being environmentally conscious is a daunting task. I anticipate Disney will step up in the near future and will likely be game changers in that space.

An Impressed Architect

“The People In The Place

Much has been written in business discourses about the Disney business model and the people who make up their workforce. They even have their own school, The Disney Institute, to train other businesses. I was blown away by the attitude and efficiency of the Disney people from the bus driver that greets you at the airport, the bellman at the resort, the Haunted Mansion greeter, and even the smiles from the cleaning crew and grounds keepers. Once is a nice anomaly which can restore your faith in humanity. A noticeable and consistent vibe tells and teaches one that We (and I) are capable of greatness. Throughout the week I noticed the cordialness and attentiveness of the staff transcended to the guests and participants “on the stage.” Sure, there was an occasional rude person in a gift shop, but it was outside the norm considering the volume of people there. People seemed to get along all over and the world did seem to be a better place that week I was there.

In The Beginning A Structured Tribe

I have been fortunate to take some of the Disney Institute’s training. Experiencing the product firsthand was invaluable and made me ponder further the role and possibilities of large organizations. In a previous post titled Lone Wolf, Family Owned Business, or Corporate Jock I discussed my epiphany of large corporations striving for greatness for the company and the individual. In some ways the evolution of my identity has been from an idealistic poet to a digital marketer/storyteller in a large organization. Years ago I had a common college aged healthy skepticism and even cynicism to multi-national corporations. However, having worked for large organizations the past three years I’ve seen how they’ve helped me evolve as an individual and provide opportunity for me and my family. Despite inherent politics and questioning direction nothing has rubbed me the wrong way ethically.

At places like Epcot and Disney Institute training there is something possibly much richer and deeper than the bottom line and making a profit. With work comes reward. It is how the work is structured that matters and the root of an organization’s sustainability. Teaching, setting expectations, and relentlessly focusing on culture from the beginning is what Disney has seemed to master for its employees. It has created a culture and arguably an expectation of its customers to be a part of that experience.

There is a vast discourse and much to study when it comes to corporate structure, political economies, and global sustainability but I do think we can learn from an organization and experience like EPCOT. People are attracted to groups and seek structure, repetition, and respect. Of course this is a generalization, there are lone wolves and those against the grains, but we live in a universe where we need one another for survival. EPCOT celebrates these groups as nations and does it in a somewhat respectful and non-tacky way. The consumerism associated with it, the fact Disney is a for-profit company, did not come across as aggressive or intrusive in that environment. I understood it’s what needs to be done in order to make that experience for me and my family come alive.

It’s a cliché now to talk about the great Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times“. (Wikipedia showing not actually Chinese). These are interesting times when it comes to globalization, technology, and the concept of company. Small idealized entrepreneurial companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter have skyrocketed into behemoth corporations with billions in revenue in a decade. For some this is utterly frightening with dystopian and Orwellian undertones. And for others, maybe an idealized poet, it has the consciousness to celebrate diversity, the magic of family, and make the world a better place by the way we treat one another. It is after all… a small world.

Written by, Tim Aten

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