By Mel McGowan
Whatever success I have had in bringing clean, informative entertainment to people of all ages, I attribute in great part to my Congregational upbringing and my lifelong habit of prayer. To me, today, at age sixty-one, all prayer, by the humble or highly placed, has one thing in common: supplication for strength and inspiration to carry on the best human impulses which should bind us together for a better world.
– Walt Disney
Several of our Visioneering leaders came together during our stint at the Walt Disney Company and Imagineering, learning to tell stories outside of theaters and in places and spaces that connect. Although much has been written about Disney’s lessons in leadership, creativity, and design, here are some personal takeaways that have influenced our global ministry.
1) Bigger Canvases: Walt was always looking for a bigger sheet of paper, palette, or “canvas.” Throughout his artistic career he went from cartoon strips to motion pictures to mixing live action with animation to sound to color to large format/enhanced sound to theme parks to entire planned communities. Apple has a consistent brand experience that flows from an iPod Nano to the Apple Store to its new flying saucer headquarters.
2) The Motley Crew: One of Walt Disney’s greatest gifts was recognizing pretty early on that he could find better artists, architects, and designers than himself. In the earliest studio days, he hired Ub Iwerks to draw Mickey, while Walt performed the “falsetto” voice recording. When he had to find the funding for his decades long dream of building a place where a daddy could hang out with his daughters, he went outside of his animation studio to production designers from 20th Century Fox.
Today, just the Imagineering division of the Walt Disney Company encompasses 140 disciplines in the arts, sciences and technical fields.Similarly, within Visioneering, we have assembled a national team of full time architects, accountants, MBAs, planners, General Contractors, interior designers, real estate brokers, and developers in order to tell stories in space. Our extended team of strategic partners includes branding consultants, Audio-Video-Lighting engineers, strategic planners, ministry analysts, and financial gurus.
3) Both sides of the Brain: The Walt Disney Company started off as Disney Brothers Studio because throughout and beyond his life, Walt’s imagination would not have happened if it wasn’t for the financial engineering of his brother Roy. Often, creatives like Walt are categorized as dreamers. However, this ignores the very real strategic, leadership, and business acumen he displayed. For example, he understood the very power of his personal name and brand and was able to fund many of his most cash-intensive dreams with outside corporate funding (by ABC, Ford, Pepsi, GE). Rather than just building Disneyland on a vacant lot he owned across from his studio, he hired Stanford Research Institute guru “Buzz” Price to perform the feasibility and locational studies, launching an entire industry in leisure consulting. This is such a big deal that the Themed Entertainment Association’s annual lifetime achievement award is named after Buzz Price.
At Visioneering, we’ve learned that we need to follow Jesus’ advice to “count the cost” before we start building (or even drawing) any towers, by performing a strategic feasibility analysis. The lack of this is why 75% of church building plans get thrown away and remain unbuilt.
4) The Hunger for Connection & Community: Throughout his life, Walt maintained a fondness for his hometown of Marceline, Missouri. The connection with nature and neighbors that he experienced resonated with him, in contrast to the urban ills of Chicago, Kansas City, and Los Angeles. This vertical connection with God’s creation, as well as the horizontal connection with family and neighbors led Walt to share his experience with others in the suburban sprawl of mid-century America by recreating “Main Street USA” in the midst of orange groves.His dying passion was to create an ever-changing ancient-future “city on a hill” which he called Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT. This ultimately came to fruition in the creation of two of the most influential “new towns” in the world: Celebration, Florida and Val d’ Europe outside of Paris, which have demonstrated that the general public will pay a premium for a smaller home/lot if it comes with a walkable, “neighborly” environment.
At Visioneering have based our mission on meeting the “herd species” wiring of humans to seek out “destinations that lift the spirit, now and forever.”
5) The Power of Story: Since the earliest humans gathered around fires, story has been the glue that has connected generations, transferred culture, and has carried the power to form and transform lives. Jesus’ strategy was to pour story into a small group of disciples, who could then use their unique gifting to share that story with the rest of the world. Walt employed this same strategy, surrounding himself with artists and architects that could draw better than him and move his stories beyond two-dimensions into the third dimension of place and community.
We have been blessed with the opportunity to partner with some of the premier storytellers of our generation, from George Lucas to Rick Warren to Max Lucado and help them figure out how to tell their stories beyond a stage or screen.