Believing with Walt and Walton

| By Editorial Staff

Fifty years ago, two very different men with big ideas were cashing in on their creativity, backed by a singular thought: Believe.

If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish. -Sam Walton

All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them. -Walt Disney

Both of these men relentlessly pursued their own version of the future and significantly changed their fields in such a way that their vision impacted a wide range of other industries. Here’s a look at some of their common methodologies that can help you become a titan of innovation in an age when it may seem like tomorrow has already arrived…but the truth is you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

  • Build a great team. According to his team of attraction designers, Walt Disney didn’t create or build the theme park industry; he created and managed the team that built the theme park industry. Sam Walton also understood where the magic came from: “We’re all working together. That’s the secret.
  • Appreciate good work. Marc Davis, one of Disney’s early animators remembers, “There is nobody there who could make me feel as good by saying, ‘I like that’ as Walt. There was something about that; you knew he meant what he said.” A company-wide thanks is important too. One of Walton’s much-publicized ten rules for building business is, “Share your profits with your associates and treat them like your partners.”
  • Be receptive. Sam Walton frequently held grass-roots meetings at his stores and in the corporate offices to hear what his associates had to say. He always carried a pad to take notes, so they knew he was listening. Disney was also a seeker of new ideas. According to former Imagineer Bill Justice, “He didn’t want to waste time listening to ‘yes men.’
  • Foster innovation. Davis remembers that Disney continually pushed his staff to learn new things. “Once you learned how to do something very well, you were never asked to do that again. You were asked to do something else.” Marty Sklar agrees. Hired in 1955 to write a tabloid newspaper for Main Street U.S.A., he relates how Disney challenged him continually with new opportunities, ultimately leading to his appointment as president of Walt Disney Imagineering. Sam Walton made it a point to create a workplace in which associates are encouraged to apply for a wide variety of opportunities. The current CEO, Doug McMillon, began his career in a distribution center.
  • Support your people. Imagineer Bob Gurr held a degree in design and was initially hired to design the shells of Disneyland’s Autopia cars. Disney then asked him to design the rest of the cars as long as he was at it. Sadly, by the end of the week only two still worked. When Disney asked what Gurr needed, “I told him we needed mechanics to work on the cars and that we didn’t have any kind of facilities. In less than an hour, here comes this tractor dragging an old building, and the driver says, ‘Here’s your building. Where do you want it?’ We had mechanics the next morning.” In 2009 Gurr summed up the incident: “Walt could see a need and fix it, but he didn’t criticize the situation you found yourself in.”
  • Be a positive person. Science has proven that an upbeat environment fosters creativity. We’re not talking about just adding a bunch of colorful futuristic furniture and hoping it inspires people – be prepared to walk the talk. Disney is remembered as, “a very positive man who focused on making improvements, rather than laying blame.” After a worker criticized a gag in a film the group was working on, he erupted and said, “I don’t care if you don’t like it. Tell me what we can do to make it better.” Walton too believed in being positive. Another of his commandments: Energize your colleagues.

Both Disney and Walton started small and worked hard to get traction in their industries. In fact, the latter was nearly fired as a young man and told he wasn’t cut out for retail work. The key here is to be tough without crushing any dreams. Your goal is to foster the unlikely success stories that come your way and watch great things happen in your team of Imagineers. As Sam Walton said, “One person seeking glory doesn’t accomplish very much.”