What I Learned from: Disneyland

In April I went to Southern California with some great pastors on a learning journey where we attended 5 churches in one weekend.  After visiting the churches, we took a fun day to go to Disneyland.  As we entered Disneyland, one of the Youth Pastors mentioned that everything is so expensive, to which a question quickly came.  That question changed the experience for me from one of fun and simply reliving my childhood (though that did occur) to observation, and learning for myself about the “Disney Way.”  The question: “What is Disneyland’s ultimate goal?”

In case you missed it, Disneyland’s ultimate goal is to make money, and they are achieving it.  Since it opened in July of 1955, over 515 million people have paid for tickets, and entered through the wonderful gates of Disneyland.  As I thought about this, I wondered to myself, “What is it that makes Disneyland so successful?”  The answer I found was much more simple and complex than I thought it would be: Excellence.

Disney defines excellence.  They go to great lengths to make sure that your experience is nothing short of magical.  For starters, considering the number of people at Disneyland, it is surprisingly clean.  In fact, whether the people are there or not, it is surprisingly clean.  At one point in the day, I saw a single piece of trash on the ground, being blown by the wind.  I found it odd to see any garbage, then no later than 15 seconds after I saw it, a park employee came out of nowhere and swept it up.  That was the first and last piece of garbage I saw.

They do not want for you to see how things are done.  When you go on a ride, nothing is more disillusioning than seeing the wires stringing the puppets, and projectors projecting images, and the things that really make it work.  Disney goes to great lengths to hide the behind the scenes things.  At one point I saw some wire holding up a ball in the haunted mansion, but only briefly when at the right angle.  I never saw a smoke machine, projector, other wires cables or even where the music came from.  At one point I did see some men painting a set piece on the outside of a ride, but they were even painting behind a screen, which was designed to blend in.  You will never see a push-pin sticking out of a wall holding a poster, or anything they do not want you to see at Disneyland. 

Attention to detail.  When we went into the tower of terror (a dropping elevator set in a hotel), there were lots of old yellow papers and mail at the reception counter.  A friend of mine noted that it was probably real mail, postmarked from when the hotel supposedly was shut down, and the papers too.  The ride operators and greeters are all in character for the ride the work.  Someone once told me that every employee at Disneyland is playing a part street sweepers, ride greeters, shop keepers, baristas, bakers, they are all playing a part and doing their job.  Disney does not overlook any small details in anything.

Marketing. Disneyland does not market to adults, but you see adults there.  They do not market to teens, but lots of teens go, nor do they market to grandparents, but you see them too.  Disney has a target demographic: kids.  I am told that this is power of having a specific target.  If you were to go out bird hunting and looked up at the flock flying by and simply shot at the flock, you would not be known as what is called a successful hunter.  You might go home hungry and frustrated.  However, if you take aim at one bird you will most likely take a bird down-it may not be the one you wanted, but it will be a bird.  The same is true in marketing, aim at nothing and you will hit it every time.  Disney aims at kids and families come.

As I reflect on this experience, I can’t help but to ask myself, where am I not being excellent?  Where can the bar of excellence be raised?  I challenge you to be excellent in all that you do as well, or at least strive to be the best you can with what you have.

I could go on and on about things that I learned at Disneyland, but I will have to leave it there.  This wraps up my series on what I learned from… I hope that you have learned somethings as well as I have.  Continue to be a lifelong learner, and always look for things you can learn from!


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