Friday, January 09, 2009

The New Year with Walt and Tila

(News-Herald, January 8) The down side of Christmas ’08 was that my son’s Hollywood bookstore job kept him from celebrating with my daughter and me. The up side was that my gift was a personally autographed copy of Tila Tequila’s book from a signing at his store.
Ms. Tequila is one of the new brand of celebrity, a young woman who has made herself famous simply by repeatedly insisting, via and other media, that she is famous. It’s emblematic of our age; if you simply insist repeatedly and loudly that you are the greatest waffle juggler in Montana, eventually many people will take your word for it.
I received this treat in person because daughter Barbara and I made the trek west to join up with son Thomas for some family holiday face time. Family holiday gatherings are always fraught, but I have the advantage of two children who love and like each other. And despite the jet lag, busy schedules, and time-squeeze pressure, we had one other secret weapon—Disneyland.
I’ve never been to any kingdom, Magic or otherwise. And like a good curmudgeon, I was fully prepared to poop on Walt’s party, to be unmoved by Disney, the great plasticizer of pop culture product. But I liked it. It was fun. And not just post-modern ironic I’m-too-cool-for-this fun (the kind of fun you have with Tila Tequila’s book).
I’m not going to shill for Disney—they have that covered. But I noticed several lessons that any operation interested in tourism (such as, say, the Oil Heritage Region) can learn from Disney operation.
Total commitment. Nothing in the Magic Kingdom is just good enough to get by. For example, one tiny part of one minor attraction, with a handful of questions, tells you which Disney character you resemble. It is a simple computer program that could be housed on a pedestal next to a water fountain, but Disney puts it in the Beast’s library, a fully realized set from floor to ceiling.
Point is, nobody decided to make something that sort of kind of suggests the idea of the library without trying too hard. It is easy in any job to define “done” as “whenever I’m tired of working on it.” That is not a definition that leads to success. A good excuse is not the same as a good result.
It’s a mistake to do things halfway. The successful festivals in the area (Applefest, First Night) succeed because a group of volunteers makes a commitment to do what it takes. The not-so-great festivals flounder because there’s nobody behind them making that kind of commitment (“Yeah, we can, uh, put a couple of codfish on a card table and call it Codfest”).
Give the people what they want. And not what you want to give them. One of the great banes of small town attractions is people who plan based on what they want people to want. (“So what if people don’t like codfish. They should, so we’re only putting codfish on the table.”)
Simple example: People invariably want to eat. That’s why the combination of Franklin On Ice and a chili competition made sense. Yet there are some local events at which people cannot get food. That’s a mistake. At Disneyland, there is always food.
Details matter. The attention at Disneyland is mind-boggling, right down to artistically coordinated shingle styles on the lovingly constructed faux buildings. Disney’s world may be fake and plastic, but the difference between a cheap cartoon and a real creation is attention to detail. Again, Applefest and First Night are models, with attention paid to getting the little things right. I have heard too many planning processes involving phrases like “Oh, I’m sure someone will take care of that. It will just work itself out.” This is never a good sign. (If you’re a church group, substituting “God” for “someone” doesn’t help.)
People matter. The people doing the work, that is. At Disneyland, every person I dealt with treated me like someone they were glad to see, even people who didn’t have to “notice” me. And local employers-- if employees are grumpy and treat customers poorly, the fault lies not with them, but with management. (Hint: threatening and belittling them will not improve their performance.)
Can Venangoland be Disneyland? Bradensburg Road in an ice storm makes a lousy thrill ride, and the County Commissioners will never pass for Mickey, Donald and Goofy. But we can always learn from people who do the job as well as Disney.


Anonymous said...

In the food-allergy world, Disney is the destination of choice, renowned for it's unbelievable commitment to making your trip easy, fun, and "normal" . They know their customer service, to be sure!


Bethann said...

Exactly the point I've made so many times. Attention to detail, proper management and those who say they will perform a task actually do and the world is a better place for all of it.

Anonymous said...

I haven't done Disney in decades (soon to be remedied, no doubt), but I clearly recall the fanatical attention to detail apparent in all areas of the parks. Anecdotally, my friends who have worked for Disney (either in the parks or in theatrical productions) have often noted the other side of that coin - rigidly strict controls on all aspects of employee appearance, behavior, actions, discourse, etc.

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