10 Lessons From Walt Disney

A man whose name has been immortalized by his legacy, Walt Disney has become one of the world’s most endearing cultural icons.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Coming from humble and tyrannical beginnings, Disney would go on to build one of the world’s most recognizable media empires.
A look at the incredible journey and life of Walt Disney reveals ten amazing lessons that we should all be following. This proves especially true for those of us trying to make it in business

Lesson 1: Imagination Goes A Long Way

Dubbed the “Happiest Place on Earth,” Disneyland is one of the most famous tourist destinations in the United States.
But it didn’t get that way without a reason. This park’s success stems from its ability to build on the wonderful imagination of Walt Disney. With several of his iconic characters filling the park, Disneyland has become a paradise for both children and adults alike.
Disney’s life wasn’t always full of imagination, however. It’s been said that his tyrannical father kept a close watch on the actions of his children and didn’t even allow them to own toys as they grew up.
This got even worse as Disney got older, when he was required to work on his family’s farm and on a paper route—all without compensation.
However, the young Disney managed to keep his imagination fresh by drawing farm animals—his first step in animation. Disney carried this same imagination with him throughout his life, and it led to the creation of some of the most iconic characters and places in the world today. By sticking true to his imaginative vision, Disney was able to become a household name and a worldwide icon—all while building a multi-billion-dollar company. 

Lesson 2: Never Give Up

Walt Disney battled through his oppressive childhood and found ways to circumvent his oppressive father. The first way he managed to do so came when he found a way to purchase extra papers to sell on his route. In this way, Disney was able to start making his own money for the first time.
Undeterred by his father’s oppressive nature, Disney kept his imaginative spark alive while managing to score two jobs. His second came at a local candy shop near his school. Disney worked in this shop only at recess, but it was enough for him to start putting a little more money away.
Already, the young Disney had managed to find innovative ways to make money. He had to be sly about it, too, because his father was known for his particularly-cruel punishments that included beating his children by the family’s barn.
Despite his tough childhood, Disney would go on to pursue his dreams as an animator. 

Lesson 3: Your Greatest Triumphs Comes From Your Biggest Weaknesses

Disney was known for being frank about his failures and his challenges. However, he managed to never let roadblocks stand in his way to success.
Even one of Disney’s greatest accomplishments started out teetering on the verge of failure. During the production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Disney reportedly received backlash from his family and from others who encouraged him to stop making the film.
An adamant Disney, however, decided to continue production—even after his money for it ran out. Undeterred, Disney decided to take the bits of the movie that he had planned out to different producers in the hopes of scoring loans and funding for the project.
And the rest is history.
The breakout success of Snow White not only put Disney on the map, but it also positioned Disney straight at the forefront of the Golden Age of Animation.
With Snow White in the books, Disney was able to gain the funding he needed for the rest of this movies and eventual theme park. Even until his day, Snow White remains one of the most popular and easily-recognizable animated characters in the history of cinema.
This proves that with a bit of hard work and determination, even the greatest of struggles can become a world-changing triumph. 


Lesson 4: Always Think Of The Future

Another way in which Disney managed to reach astronomical levels of success came through his ability to always look to the future.
A man with a troubled past, Disney kept his vision focused forward—both on creating his movies and characters, as well as on a true paradise on Earth. This paradise included Disneyworld in Florida, as well as EPCOT. Designed to be a real-world Utopia, EPCOT looked to bring Disney’s vision to life and represented his commitment to life-changing innovations.
This forward-thinking vision led to the creation of the “Happiest Place on Earth” and the birth of the Disney empire. 

Lesson 5: Hire The Right Team

But for all of his accomplishments, Disney didn’t do it alone. Though he may have had the vision, to be successful, he found a large, talented team of animators, producers, and engineers to build his franchise.
Disney’s efforts to have the right team didn’t always go smoothly, however. Early in his career, while working on production of a new character named Oswald the Rabbit, Disney found his production staff turn against him. With the rights to the character being owned by Universal Studios, Disney was forced to abandon production on his creation.
Undeterred, Disney and his friend Ub Iwerks went on to form a new team—and a new character. Together, the duo produced the highly-successful Mickey Mouse character. From there, Disney and Iweks would go on to hire a new staff—which totaled over 200 employees by the 1960s.
Disney would eventually trust his staff so much that he left the “Big Nine” in control of his animation, while he himself focused more on live-action films. It was a split that helped the Disney Company pull through a debt-ridden decade in the 1950s to make millions of profit starting in the 1960s. 


Lesson 6: Ignore Your Critics

Disney is notorious for not listening to his critics. A man who stopped at nothing to turn his dreams into reality, he made a number of questionable moves during his career.
Moves that we can now see paid off.
Some of Disney’s biggest critics came from his own family and from other animators in the industry. During the 1930s, animation was largely limited to small shorts—something Disney looked to change.
When he began production on Snow White, it was the first full-length animated film of its kind. And not everyone was sold that it would work. Despite going over budget, however, the film brought in nearly $6 million for the company, leading them to begin production on other animated films.
However, because of the war efforts, the following films were not box office successes, and the Disney Company was soon $4 million in debt to Bank of America. Despite this, Disney and his brother were able to convince executives that the company would be a success.
The bank, sold on the quality of Disney’s films—films that critics said would never be successful—decided to continue funding. In this way, Disney’s transcendent vision and body of work managed to prove his critics wrong. With continued funding, the company was soon able to turn the 1960s into an extremely profitable decade—and the rest is history. 

Lesson 7: Pay Attention To What People Want

Disney is notorious for not listening to his critics. A man who stopped at nothing to turn his dreams into reality, he made a number of questionable moves during his career.
Moves that we can now see paid off.
Some of Disney’s biggest critics came from his own family and from other animators in the industry. During the 1930s, animation was largely limited to small shorts—something Disney looked to change.
When he began production on Snow White, it was the first full-length animated film of its kind. And not everyone was sold that it would work. Despite going over budget, however, the film brought in nearly $6 million for the company, leading them to begin production on other animated films.
However, because of the war efforts, the following films were not box office successes, and the Disney Company was soon $4 million in debt to Bank of America. Despite this, Disney and his brother were able to convince executives that the company would be a success.
The bank, sold on the quality of Disney’s films—films that critics said would never be successful—decided to continue funding. In this way, Disney’s transcendent vision and body of work managed to prove his critics wrong. With continued funding, the company was soon able to turn the 1960s into an extremely profitable decade—and the rest is history. 


Lesson 8: Stay True To Your Principles

 Above all else, it may be said that on his road to success, Disney remained true to his principles. First and foremost, the animator looked to push the envelope with increasingly-good animated and live-action films.
This media empire grew to take these family-friendly themes and bring them to life through a series of global theme parks.
But that’s not the only area in which Disney’s principles can be seen through his work. During the 1940s, the nationalistic Disney worked with the US government to produce a series of patriotic shorts. An increasingly-conservative Disney would maintain his family-friendly values throughout his life—so much so that it became part of his brand’s identity.
Even today, Disney remains synonymous with family fun. By living out his brand image, Disney was able to craft an indelible mark in the American cultural landscape. This serves as a lesson to other businesses looking to dominate their own markets. 

Lesson 9: Plan Ahead Take Advantage Of New Technology

Despite his traditional values, however, Disney didn’t achieve his success by relying on outdated technology. Instead, the media giant embraced a number of new technologies as he worked to produce some of the most iconic animated pictures of the twentieth century.
Some of these technological innovations include the first use of CinemaScope in an animated film in Lady and the Tramp, the first use of Technirama 70mm film in Sleeping Beauty, the first use of Xerox cels in an animated film in One Hundred and One Dalmations, and the early mixes of both sound and color with animated shorts and in Snow White.
Though the use of this technology tended to increase the production value of the films—often putting them over budget—Disney didn’t shy away from them. Instead, he focused on producing quality films that would one day cement his legacy and provide an incredible return on investment. 

Lesson 10: Focus On Family

Finally, both Disney’s personal and professional lives reveal a focus on family that helped him become one of the most easily-recognizable figures in the world.
For starters, it must be noted that Disney involved his brother Roy throughout the entire process. The Disney brothers remained in business together throughout Disney’s lifetime, with Roy making decisions for the company through the early to mid-2000s.
Disney’s willingness to work directly with his family, as well as produce family-oriented content, helped him become a leader in the media industry. Remember, it was his desire to do more for his own children that led to the eventual production of Disneyland and Disneyworld.
Furthermore, by having his family with him through the early stages of the business, Disney was able to rebound from losses that might have discouraged others. From losing rights over characters to going millions of dollars in debt in as little as one decade, Disney managed to survive turbulent waters with the help of his brother Roy.
With a similar infrastructure, other businesses can weather similar storms to become more successful in their local markets.  

The Bottom Line

The life of Walt Disney reveals a number of important business lessons that can help young entrepreneurs today. From his humble beginnings as a farm boy to one of the world’s most iconic figures, Disney made a number of innovative business decisions that helped him achieve his success.
By following a similar model, entrepreneurs now can work to achieve similar results in their own markets. For this reason, keep the above information in mind as you work to create and maintain your own business. By taking these ten lessons to heart, you can start to achieve the results that you’ve always wanted—no matter what industry you are currently working in. 

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