Life-Changing Lessons From Walt Disney About Leadership & Business
As you surely know, Walt Disney is the founder of the multinational mass media corporation that shaped childhoods and pop culture of millions of people. It is probably the most famous company ever in the whole world. Today I’m going to share with you life-changing lessons from Walt Disney, whether about leadership or business.
Walt Disney built an empire starting from a scratch.
When he started, he wasn’t the man we think of today. He was struggling, he was working as an animator and had very little money. By devoting himself to his dream he became the great animator we all love today. His journey should serve as an inspiration for all of us.
Nonetheless, I think in some ways people know more about Disney, fewer people about Disney the man.
Actually, it’s interesting to study Walt Disney’s successful life as an artist and a businessman to learn how to follow your dreams, embrace your inner child, and do more of what you love.
Think Walt Disney only drew mice and princesses? Think again.
Here’s a man recognized as one of history’s best storytellers, one of American’s greatest showmen, and one of animation’s greatest innovators. And straight from the horse’s mouse’s mouth, Walt Disney says his greatest accomplishment was rallying people around big goals.
Walt Disney had humble beginnings; he was not born a success, instead he made his own success.
The Father of Mickey Mouse teaches us valuable lessons about creativity, perseverance and believing in yourself and fighting for your ideas. Let’s look at some life-changing lessons that Walt Disney had to say about business & leadership and see what we can learn from them.
Lesson #1: Do What You Love
Walt Disney loved drawing more than anything. In fact, he dedicated most of his time doing it. He was drawing both as a job and as a hobby in his spare time. He devoted his own life to art, and he was even willing to work other jobs just to fund his passion.
What you can learn from Walt Disney is, if you think your dream is impossible to achieve, don’t give up.
Make sacrifices, take other jobs and save money in order to pursue your dream. Again, study, get prepared, work hard and get what you want. It will be hard but once you achieve it, you won’t regret all you’ve done. Just imagine how fun it would be for him to wake up everyday to go to his studio and do what he loves to do. That scenario is a lot more enticing compared to waking up everyday and going to a job that drains the life out of you.
The journey to success is hard enough by itself, but it’s much harder when you go down a path that doesn’t resonate with you.
Too often, we attempt to garner energy and motivation to pursue a goal that we know deep down inside, isn’t right for us. And so, when adversity strikes, we lose motivation and give up. Unlike most people at the time, Walt Disney passed on working for his father’s factory and followed his heart to pursue his dream of a career in animation, even though the industry was very young and nowhere near as profitable as it is today.
Dreams don’t become a reality on their own. You need to nurture them and make sure you give them the attention they deserve.
You need to have faith in what you want and the courage to take action on your dreams. No one said that living your dreams was easy. If it was, then more people would do it. All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them. Don’t just dream without doing anything about it. That doesn’t help anyone, least of all you.
You must love what you are doing so that you’ll want to hone your craft.
Walt Disney chased a number of dreams — short cartoons, feature-length films, cutting-edge animation technologies, theme parks, and more. Some were successful; others were not. But regardless of whether he was convincing people that he could rebound from bankruptcy or that the world needed a crazy new amusement park, his belief in his vision seemed unwavering. Leadership takes courage. If you don’t believe in your vision of the future, if you don’t believe in the goal at hand, who else will?
Lesson #2: Never Give Up
When Walt Disney first started to work on Snow White, his wife and own brother did all they could to convince him to stop. The Snow White project was even termed as “Disney’s Folly”, and halfway across production he ran out of money to continue the work.
Most people in this situation would just quit and get whatever they can out of what’s left, but for Walt Disney he persevered.
He decided to travel around and show clips of the raw film to producers in hopes of them funding his project; in the end this attempt was what saved his studio and allowed him to finish the classic Snow White film. When Snow White was finally featured it received nothing short of a standing ovation. The success of the film put Disney in the Golden Age of Animation, and allowed him to start on all of his other feature films.
It’s no fun, but everyone has to swallow a healthy dose of rejection.
Rejection strengthens you and forges your character into someone who believes in yourself. You’ll often find that you’re the only one who has any faith in your dream. But that’s OK. Others can laugh at you as much as they want, as long as you deliver on your promise to show up and do the work. Having faith in a project or a cause is both contagious and admirable. It inspires others to take action and follow their dream as well.
Resiliency is the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult circumstances.
Walt Disney faced many difficulties that would have made the average person give up. He was able to keep pushing because he believed in himself and in his dreams, giving him the resiliency to work hard and make them come true. He believed in doing whatever it took to get the job done and, therefore, he got results that far exceeded what anyone else could have imagined.
Walt Disney was delusional. He believed that his crazy dreams would come true, even when his current reality said otherwise.
Yet, today we are enjoying the by-product of his self-delusion, with the legacy of Disney characters, Disney world, Disney movies and much more. The morale of the story is this: if you feel like you’re the only person who believes in your crazy dream, you’re probably on the right track. Because contrary to popular opinion, there isn’t any safety in numbers: if everyone else believes it’s possible, it’s already be done.
Lesson #3: Keep Improving Yourself
After creating Mickey Mouse, Disney didn’t stop at just him. Instead he went on and created Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto and many other iconic characters even for today’s generation. He was never content with what he had done because he always wanted to achieve more and grow with his dreams. He also didn’t stop with just one Mickey Mouse design, he kept redesigning his creation so that it would be better every time.
Whenever Walt Disney made his cartoons he always did so with the focus of a lion stalking his prey.
He always paid attention to every detail and dealt with things with the utmost care. He never took his art and talent for granted. Never would you find Walt Disney in his studio just slacking off and procrastinating on his projects; he always took the lead when it came to doing what he loves and he would never put his passion on the back burner.
Walt Disney was an avid learner, and often spent his evenings after working hours, watching animations and studying films.
As he read more books and learned from his failures, his self-confidence grew, and his incidents of failure diminished. This is no coincidence. Confidence and knowledge go hand in hand. The more knowledgeable you are at something, the more competent you will be at doing it. The more competent you are, the more confidence you will have. And the more confidence you have, the more likely you’ll succeed. And when you enjoy the rewards of success, you’ll gain more self-confidence and motivation to keep going. And then the cycle repeats itself.
After his first successes, Walt Disney could have rested on his laurels, but that wasn’t his style.
Instead, he completely switched gears and set out to build an amusement park where parents and children could have fun together. Once Disneyland opened, Walt would walk around the park, personally testing all the rides, noticing if anything was out of place and asking the guests their opinions. If he noticed something was wrong, he would personally see that it was fixed. As his animators could attest, good enough was never good enough for Walt Disney.
Remember: The movies, the characters, Disneyland all came true because of one small mouse.
Walt Disney planted one small seed with his mouse and it truly came a long way. One seed can make a big difference. The world of Walt Disney would have been lost if it wasn’t for a simple mouse sketch. This explains his utter love and devotion for his little creation. Get your ass in the chair and do the work. That’s what Disney did and that’s what all successful people do because it’s the only way to turn a dream into reality. Come back when you have something worth talking about.
Lesson #4: Think About Others
Whenever Walt Disney created animated shorts back then he never did it just for himself; he never hid his creations from the world, but instead he would always find ways in which he could share his work with others.
Walt Disney had a lot of comics back in the day and he would always find ways to share it with the public.
He joined his school’s publications as a comic artist, and he even took a job in a local newspaper as none other than a comic artist. Walt Disney’s works teach us a lot of things, such as the value of love for friends and family, hope for the good and his most important lesson: good will always triumph over evil.
Walt Disney was convinced that the only way to run a successful business was to understand what made your customers happy and do more of it and understand what they disliked and fix it.
But unlike the modern day, where everyone does this in a detached manner, with online surveys and the like, Walt Disney believed the best way to get true customer insights was through direct interaction and observation and he didn’t just mean the customer service person, getting feedback from customers. He wanted all of his people to understand customer experience. He even went so far as to construct a personal apartment inside Disneyland, above the Fire Station and overlooking Town Square, from where he could watch guests (customers) as they got their first impressions of the park.
For your product to be successful you need to make it for the people and not for yourself.
Likewise, Walt Disney didn’t draw animations for himself. He did it for his public. In a time where the Great Depression was running, he provided people with an escape from the crushing poverty and hopelessness they were living. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs earned 1.5 million dollars when it was released. Also, it happened during a time of crisis. Paying attention to people’s needs will give you the key for success.
Walt Disney was the consummate problem solver.
He was very observant and was always looking for ways to solve a problem and how it could be an opportunity in the marketplace. He took his daughter to a park to ride some rides, and he noticed the rides were dirty and in bad shape, and the people operating the rides were rude. Walt thought about this problem — and it became Disneyland. He wanted a place that was safe and clean, where parents could take their kids.
Lesson #5: Go All In
In the game of poker, when a player goes “all in,” it means the player has committed their entire stack of money, and risks losing it all. Likewise, Walt Disney took the risk and committed his life to achieving his dreams. It’s easy to give up when there’s a plan B. But when our backs are against the wall and there are no other options available, our survival instincts kick in and we follow through on our plans.
Walt Disney was often told he was attempting the impossible.
When he started building Disneyland, nothing like that had ever been attempted. The project was very expensive and it could have made the company go bankrupt. However, Disney’s inventor was quite savvy in terms of branding and marketing. By the time the theme park had opened, there were already many people who just couldn’t wait to go.
Life is too short to spend it doing the possible.
Learn to pursue the impossible, pursue what others say can’t be done, pursue what has never been done before, pursue your dreams, and turn them into a reality. You must believe in the beauty of your dreams. Walt said, “When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.” If you’re going to believe, you might as well believe all the way.
Walt Disney took a lot of risks in his career.
Several times the future of the entire Disney company hung on whether a venture was a success or failure. A few times Walt even had to mortgage or sell his personal possessions. He never did this lightly. He would carefully weigh out both sides and make a decision for bold action and, once decided, never wavered. The lesson? Pivot, don’t panic. Innovate, don’t implode. Be resourceful, don’t retreat.
Walt Disney had the courage to do what he really wanted to. Wasn’t he sacred? Obviously he was!
After all, a bad situation taught him that inspiration can be found everywhere, and that you don’t have to give up even when you’re feeling hopeless. What if it doesn’t work? What if he wouldn’t have tried for the 301st time? He just believed in what if it works, and it actually worked out for him. Even if the magic took 7 years and 300 failures to finally take place; he did make it happen because he believed in himself!
Walt Disney didn’t start out as an animator who wanted to build one of, if not the, biggest brands in the world. He just wanted to carve out his own niche in the world of animation. He continued to dream big and to stay open to new ways of doing things.
There was never a question of if, only a question of when.
He knew what his strengths were and pulled others in to fill in the areas he wasn’t strong in, like securing funding, so he could focus on his job. The biggest lesson we can all learn is that your path is truly limitless. When you hit bumps in the road don’t give up, but don’t keep pushing either. Taking time to be re-inspired and allowing yourself to re-imagine things is crucial.
What we can learn from this extraordinary man is to never give up, pursue your dreams even when they seem impossible to reach.
Do not listen to people telling you that you are out of your mind and you’re never going to make it. If you really love something go for it, fight for your ideas and get what you want. If you fail you will learn something and get inspiration for something new. Sometimes a failure is the beginning of a whole new experience.
If your dreams don’t scare you; they aren’t the right ones to hold on to. The big picture scares us all.
Life is too short to live it for the dreams of others or waste it on what the society terms as perfect. If you know what you love and what you want to achieve; you are extremely lucky. If you know it; never give up on it. Believe in yourself so that you can live what you love and you can achieve what you wish for.
Passion has great power and it can make the tables turn for you, just like it did for Walt Disney.
Let us remember that Walt Disney said, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” What have been some of your ah-ha moments? How did you take those moments and grow from them? Tell me in the comments below!
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.