Tuesday, January 08, 2008

An Interesting Perspective

Not everyone checks the "comments" section on EPCOT Central, so it's worth pointing out a comment made in response to my post "Now THERE'S a Future!" Here's what the anonymous reader, who may very well work for The Walt Disney Company, said:

It's the crazy obsessive fanboy sites like this that convince the Disney number cruncher types that they can comfortably mock all of thier internet fan base. I've seen the discussions and it's pretty painful. When a creative type brings up a fan point of view (which frequently matches their own as well), the first sneering question is a variation on "Did you read that from some nutty fansite?" Do we hate those executives? Usually. Are they and their crappy attitude going anywhere? Dream on. And even the biggest Disney geek imagineer grows weary of sites that traffic in virtually nothing but constant condemnation fueled by nostalgia. I know you think you're presenting passionate, reasoned criticism, but let me clue you in: They wrote you off as a nutjob around the time you were ranting about consumer products utilitarian office building having an employee cafeteria. You are doing more harm than good here. If you are comfortable being part of the problem, keep doing what you are doing. If you want to be a real voice in the conversation, a spoon full of sugar and all that...
Now, I'm not about to get into a war here, but as I pointed out in my response to this reader, hey, this is my blog, and while I appreciate his/her perspective, I think it's a bit, um, whacked. Here is what I wrote in response:

At least you've kept up reading, Anonymous, and based on the tracking, it's clear that others at Disney are, too.

That says something.

Let 'em write me off as a nutjob. I wrote them off as a nutjob a while back, too, so I like to use this to air my thoughts. That's all. Others seem to enjoy it, too.Based on the feedback I've gotten personally, I'd like to suggest this: The MARKETING types at Disney have written this off as the work of a "nutjob," while the Imagineers (or at least a fair number of them, anyway) have been incredibly supportive. I don't have a lot of respect for the marketing types, either. They're the ones who got Disney into this mess. Seen the stock price lately? Sure, if you bought a couple of years back at, say, $13, you're happy as a clam. Bought it at $50 back in '00? Not so much.

Disney was a creative company that offered new ideas. Now it's a company that markets old ones. And builds new campuses for foundering divisions. Yeah, I have a problem with that -- remember, despite what Tom Staggs wants us to think, little guys like us with a couple thousand (or hundred -- or just a couple) shares have ownership in the company, too. We have a voice in this. Your marketing teams may laugh at us, but let 'em -- the gadflys are the ones who often force change.

Some companies respect their "fanboys," court their opinions, involve them in the process. Others mock them. Guess which companies have the best creative track record?

If you work at Disney, it's sad that you call your own employees "geeks." Everyone is a "geek" if they don't share your opinion. If you don't work at Disney, maybe you should. You'd be in good company.

This isn't a war of words. It's my blog, remember -- and I'm not selling shares [in it]. I want your post to stay up here. I want your voice heard. It's an important one to have.It makes us all remember what kind of a company Disney has become.

If Disney employees are "sneering" because of a viewpoint that matches those of a fan, it makes you wonder when the sneering's going to stop ... and the listening is going to start.

Until Disney reverts to private ownership, it's not just my desire to have a voice and give a tiny place on the Internet where everyone can let their own voices be heard ... it's my privilege, my right and, well, I guess my responsibility as a tiny minority owner of The Walt Disney Company.

Thank you, again, for reminding us of just the sort of mentality that exists at Disney. Interestingly, when I worked there back in the 1990s, your mentality was the one that was "sneered" at. Now it's the one that's held up as the model example. I'll let you decide whether Disney's creative downfall just HAPPENS to mirror that timeframe, or whether there's a correlation.

I just want to briefly elaborate on my response.

It genuinely concerns me that Anonymous represents the prevailing viewpoint at The Walt Disney Company, at least among the marketing types. You see, it's exactly the dissenting voice, the "nutjob," the idealist whose ideas have created the most change in the world. I'm not at all trying to compare myself to any great thinker (some would challenge any attempt I'd make to classify myself as a thinker at all!). But there are great thinkers at Disney. There are great creative minds. There are visionary idealists. After one too many meetings with people who share the viewpoint Anonymous has, I can't imagine they'd feel particularly upbeat.

About 20 years ago, screenwriters Arnold Schulman and David Seidler wrote a screenplay for Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas called Tucker: A Man and His Dream. In it, Preston Tucker, played by Jeff Bridges, gives one of the greatest cinema speeches ever. It seems appropriate to quote it, particularly when reflecting on EPCOT.

"When I was a boy I read about Edison, Ford, the Wright brothers. They were my heroes. Rags to riches wasn't just the name of a book. It was what this country was all about.

"We invented the free enterprise system, where anybody, no matter who he was, where he came from, what class he belonged to, if he came up with a better idea for anything, there was no limit to how far he could go.

"But I grew up a generation too late, I guess. The way the system works now, the loner, the crackpot, the dreamer with some damn-fool idea that ends up revolutionizing the world, well, someone like that is squashed by big business before he knows what hit him. The new bureaucrats would rather kill a new idea than let it rock the boat.

"If Benjamin Franklin were alive today, he'd probably get arrested for flying a kite without a license.

"We're all puffed up with ourselves right now because we invented the A-bomb and we beat the daylights out of the Nazis and the Japanese … but if big business closes the door to the little guy--you, me--the little guy with new ideas, we've not only closed the door to progress and hard work, we've sabotaged everything we fought for. We might just as well let the Japanese and the Germans walk in here and tell us what to do. What's the difference? If new ideas can't be allowed to
flourish, then we've just exchanged one set of rulers for another. Right?"

I'd like to think Anonymous doesn't really speak for the cultural mindset at "Team Disney." All evidence, unfortunately, says he does.


Anonymous said...

Great Blog and I agree completely with your thoughts on the subject.

The problem is that the Disney company has forgotten one of the most important things Walt Disney ever said..

Something along the lines of "we didnt go into this with just the idea of making money"

As people have said many times, Walt was an original, I'm sure it's very difficult for anyone in the middle or even higher ranks of the Disney organization to push something not because it will make more profit, but because it's the way Disney should be, the way Walt would have wanted it.

Classic Disney, you either get it or you don't. You either understand why people get passionate about their favorite attractions or you don't.

The people pushing synergy above all else don't.

Anonymous said...

I was the first anonymous post in the last blog entry...talking about evergreen properties. I think Epcot would be a great brand to build, much like how WIRED, Discovery Channel and History Channel have done.

Anyway, back to this disgruntled Disney employee. All I can say is that his/her comments are showing the cracks in the foundation. Letting their resentment manifest into an angry outburst on a blog is not professional at all. Let them call you a nut job. At least they're reading your writing still.

Epcot82 said...

Well, I'd rather it "burst out" here where s/he can be anonymous (assuming, of course, the writer IS a Disney employee), rather than have them burst out to a park guest who is airing complaints.

Oh, wait. I *am* a park guest, aren't I? Last time I recall, I paid an exorbitant sum for entry to the theme parks.

Guess Disney just wants you to shut up and take it. Only THEY know how to make magic!

Greg said...

Concerning the post, well said!

1983horizons1 said...

Disney is an odd ball. It's the only company in the world that mocks its most devoted fans rather than taking advice from them.

Anonymous said...

I hate to say it, but even if Disney went ahead with this awesome idea of an EPCOT brand, it would simply end up like all their other recent endeavors: either a hollow exploitation of their creative legacy; or worse yet, an over-hyped exploitation of rare recent successes. A company that doesn't even understand it's best assets, (the parks), is hardly in the position to undertake developing an esoteric concept like EPCOT.

Epcot82 said...

No, you're probably right, Dean. But if you can't think big, why think? ;-) I know, it's a pipe dream.

Anonymous said...

That's it exactly.....dream BIG!! That's why people like you have such great ideas and those currently in control at Disney are offering such garbage, (all the while mocking those who actually care). Certainly there are some positive things that have come out of Disney lately, but those instances seem to be the rare exception and certainly not produced by anyone considered to be in "control". Most often they are an unanticipated success or produced by the more autonomous Entertainment department. We've all seen what happens when the establishment finally gets their hands on something that has become successful.

BTW - sorry for posting my EPCOT brand comments under the wrong topic.

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