I want to talk about something serious. I mean, in the scheme of things it’s not that serious, but if you’re a Disney fan, it is. After entertaining guests for over twelve years, the Hollywood Hotel Tower of Terror has transported its final guests into… the Twilight Zone. Disney has already started converting the iconic Tower of Terror into the resorts first Marvel attraction, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! Check out the picture below to see what it will look like.
If you’re not a Disney Fanatic, you might not understand the significance of the redesign. A simple Google search will reveal just how polarizing this topic was. I’ve linked a petition to save Tower of Terror below. On the surface we’re talking about changing a theme park attraction, but if we dig a level deeper, I think there’s an important lesson to be learned. Hidden somewhere in the subtext of this hotel remodel is a great example of how important change, innovation, and dynamic leadership can be. I know that sounds like a bit of a stretch, but stick with me for a minute. In this blog post I will use the closing of Tower of Terror as a spring board to explore how change and innovation can be a difficult, yet necessary, part of business and success.
It’s always been ironic to me that Disney’s biggest strength, innovation, has often times been a point of contention among its most dedicated fans. The Walt Disney Company is arguably one of the most innovative companies in the world, yet Disney Fanatics complain when parts of the park are reimagined. When it comes to change at Disneyland, and by proxy Disney California Adventure, there are usually two schools of thought. First, keep everything the same - “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Second, innovate and change - “It’s a theme park, not a historical reenactment.” In my twenty-five years of being a Disney fan, I feel like a large majority of Disney-Maniacs subscribe to the first school. For the record, I support change, and I’m not alone, so did Walt Disney:
“Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”
Mr. Disney’s philosophy is still alive in the company today; Tower of Terror is a great example of that. It’s this commitment to change that has made The Walt Disney Company special. It’s often said that a company is growing or dying. Disney continues to grow because it ignores critics and trusts in its ability to evolve and innovate for the betterment of the brand and fans. Like in the Walt Disney example, the best way to become an innovative company is to start at the top. Some of today’s most successful companies have dynamic leaders like Mr. Disney. Tesla has Elon Musk, Disney has Bob Iger, and Virgin Group has Richard Branson.
Disclaimer: If you’re reading this post exclusively for the Disney parts, skip to the end. In the next section I’m going to explore innovative leadership and the risks we could face if we refuse to change and evolve.
Leading Through Change:
In many ways, Mr. Disney’s philosophy on imagination can be applied to our lives and business endeavors. The fear of innovation in a company can be debilitating, and triggered for many reasons. Maybe you fear rejection, or maybe you lack the vision that is necessary to innovate. In Richard Branson’s best-selling book, The Virgin Way, he comments on the pitfalls of near sighted leadership:
“Leaders who spend too much time looking in the rear-view mirror are seldom positioned to navigate the road ahead.”
As leaders we must let the past be the past and continue to innovate. We cannot tout our past success and expect others to give us a pass for creative stagnation. In high school, Ryan and I were the yearbook editor and chiefs. Although cool at the time, that means nothing today. In college we delivered our graduating class’s commencement speech, it was an honor, but so what? Yes, Tower of Terror was great, but Guardians of the Galaxy is new, fresh, and will help grow a very important part of Disney’s business, Marvel.
Can you think of a company that refused to innovate and paid the price? One that jumps to mind is Kodak. Everyone knows that the perfect picture is referred to as a “Kodak Moment.” Kodak has always been synonymous with photography, but when the industry shifted away from film and moved toward digital, Kodak refused to be the industry leader. They feared that growing their digital camera product line would cannibalize Kodak’s film camera product, which was the brands shining star at the time. Kodak refused to innovate which lead to the company filing for bankruptcy. This example demonstrates what can happen when leaders lack vision and refuse to change.
Switching gears, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook teach us a great lesson about trusting your gut and implementing change even after your fan base rejects it.
Do you remember Facebook before it launched the News Feed? If you’re having trouble remembering, it happened ten years ago. Facebook engineers were trying to solve a unique problem. The average user had the opportunity to see up to two thousand stories a day but research showed that that was over kill because the average Facebooker could only process two hundred stories a day. Facebook launched News Feed and almost instantaneously the general public hated it, I know because I was one of them. Some users even called for other Facebookers to boycott the site until News Feed was recalled. Doubt started to creep in, but ultimately Mark Zuckerberg decided to stay the course. Ten years later, I’m glad he didn’t listen to the fans. In the words of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, “Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity.”
Back to Disney:
Disney had a “Kodak Moment” of its own back in the early 2000’s, and I’m not talking about the good type. Under the leadership of CEO Michael Eisner, the company stopped innovating. Instead of creating new stories and attractions, they cut cost and forgot what made them special, innovative storytelling. This resulted in a nose dive of the brands value and an attempted hostile takeover by Comcast in 2004, who reportedly made an unsolicited bid to buy Disney for $54 Billion. Luckily for Disney Fans, Eisner was asked to leave the company in 2005. He was replaced by Bob Iger, a man who recently said he wanted his executives to “have a love affair with technology.” Now that’s a commitment to innovation.
For the Disney Fanatics out there who are disappointed in Disney for replacing Tower of Terror, I want you to remember that it’s that kind of change, innovation, and risk taking that makes the company great. Give them some creative license to do something different. Think about how you can apply Walt Disney’s philosophy to your life. Is there a relationship you are fostering that’s going awry? Are you trying to move up in your company? Are you leading a team? Are you building a business? Think about how you can infuse change, imagination, and innovation into your own life.
Links and additional reading material:
About the Fratzke Brothers:
As Strategic Account Managers at Brandify, a national marketing firm, the Fratzke Brothers work directly with Fortune 500 brands to perfect their digital strategies. As Digital Marketing Experts the Fratzke's share experience, advice, and best practices through engaging content across multiple platforms, including: Videos, Blog Posts, Podcasts, Speaking Engagements & Workshops.
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