Whatever you can do, Walt Disney could do better.
When I went through the Disney exhibition at ACMI a little while ago, I thought it’d be all mermaids and maidens and pre-teen wish fulfilment. Which it was. But it was also something much more interesting: an insight into one of the most powerful creative brands the world has ever seen.
People often fall into the trap of thinking that they (or at least their generation) are doing things never done before. But when you learn about what Walt Disney actually dared to achieve in his lifetime, it’s beyond staggering.
On the wall of the exhibition was a quote of his, and it’s worth taking note of:
“Somehow I can’t believe there are many heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secret of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarised in four C’s. They are Curiosity, Confidence, Courage, and Constancy and the greatest of these is Confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe it all over, implicitly and unquestioningly.” – Walt Disney.
This is a guy who didn’t just make with the words: he lived every bit of it.
Obviously, you need creative curiosity to do things like invent Mickey Mouse and create (not to mention voice) his character. But how much confidence and courage do you need to do the following:
Decide to create the world’s first feature-length animated film. This at a time when no other animated film had ever exceeded a few minutes, and was never aimed at anyone but children. Disney bet everything he had on being able to create a feature-length animated film (Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs) that everyone would want to see.
Everyone was sure it would fail. All the advice he received was to ditch his crazy plan. But he went ahead and did it anyway. You know the rest: massive success, complete game-changer.
Curiosity means never being satisfied with the status quo. So Disney also invented an entirely new camera to make his films with.
But what he did next perfectly summed up his belief in the 4 C’s: Curiosity, Confidence, Courage and Constancy. He decided that the Disney brand didn’t merely have to be something that people saw on the screen… it could and should be something they can engage with, and actually live.
So he decided to build the most incredible theme park the world had ever seen, and in doing so take his brand off the screen and into the real world.
In briefing his architects on the 160 acre Disneyland site, Walt had this to say: “I want it to look like nothing else in the world.”
How’s that for confidence and courage?
Not only that, but he implicitly understood that the entire Disney experience must be perfectly consistent. No half-arsed recreations at Disneyland, every touchpoint needed to be perfect across the entire brand.
People today talk about activation and consumer engagement and consistency of brand experience like they just invented it. Walt mastered this shit before any of us were even born.
Awards? He individually won 22 Academy Awards from 59 nominations. Throw in 4 honorary awards, and that’s one hell of a trophy shelf.
It’s easy to look at Disney today and see it as a monolithic corporate, the antithesis of all that is brave and daring and creative. But have a look at what built this empire which today turns over $35 billion a year:
What you’ll see is commercial creativity in its most perfect form. And what underpinned Disney’s creativity? His 4 C’s: Curiosity, Confidence, Courage and Constancy. You could do worse than make them yours.
*and no, he didn’t have his head cryogenically frozen or any crazy shit like that. Quite the opposite in fact: he was cremated. But he DID testify to Hoover’s anti-American goons, and by all accounts believed that the Screenwriters Guild was a communist front. Which just goes to prove that nobody is perfect.