What the Disney Business Model Taught Me About Imaginative Parenting

Disney World Magic Kingdom

It really is the most magical place on earth. When my children can come face to face with the manifestation of their imaginations, when they meet the characters that they’ve only known in their favorite movies, when they watch Tinkerbell and Dumbo fly, when they can fight their own battles against Emperor Zurg — I’m telling you, there’s some magic in that pixie dust.  And to be true, I didn’t just take them “for them.” In part, I took them “for me.” We needed some magic in our lives.

I’m sure there are some definite perks to doing Disney Parks with children who are older, children whose legs don’t tire. But there is also something truly unbelievable about taking children who are young enough to absolutely believe in every ounce of it. They never even ask if it’s real; it doesn’t cross their minds that something might be manufactured for their benefit. It’s the real deal. They believe in it all.

I just have one small, teeny tiny philosophical issue with the WDW. The Dub-Dee-Dubs. (I just made up that nickname. Kind of proud of it. Smiling to myself… digressing.) It’s the whole push for every girl to be a princess and every boy to be a pirate.

Sure, there’s a high degree of enchantment when you hand a girl a tiara, a boy a sword. But if I may push the magical envelope, I don’t so much dig the idea that girls should aim to be helpless, pampered, in need of masculine rescue, and — above all else — glittery beautiful and put on display.

And as for boys, by all means, hand them a weapon upon arrival. Let’s set on a pedestal those who steal, rape, pillage, and poke each other’s eyeballs out. That’s definitely the little tourist I want at my dinner table. Especially one who believes it can all come true.

Granted, Disney would lose a lot of revenue if they gave all little boys make-overs to become Prince Charming. But even the prince—what’d he do? He kissed the girl. She fell asleep and he kissed her. Voilà. Hero.

Of all the characters, I think I will forever tip my tiara to Rapunzel. Way to think outside the castle, girlfriend.

Anyway, between the deluge of fireworks and pixie dust here at Walt Disney World, I am also studying (i.e., just reading a book about) the Imagineering Process of this magical place. An artist must never be too “on vacation” to learn from the ideas and success of another.

I am reading The Imagineering Workout: Exercises to Shape Your Creative Muscles, by The Disney Imagineers. If you are a creative component to your industry, or especially if you lead brainstorming sessions with a team of change-makers, or if you just like to read and think creatively, read this book. Disney editor Jody Revenson writes:

Coming up with a new recipe to feed the family, or even putting together a presentation for a new client may not typically be thought of as creative acts, but they are. Creativity is about choices, training, experimentation, inspiration, history, commitment, and fun. Every occupation — from artist to businessperson, teacher to chef — requires us to imagine, create, and execute ideas. No matter what you’re doing, you’re being creative.

Hear that? No matter what you’re doing, you’re being creative. Or you better hope you are. Otherwise it’s the beginning of the end.

I read about the “Yes, if…” method. This is how the early analysts and economists fueled the development of Disneyland and Walt Disney World, particularly how they brought ideas to Walt himself.

‘Yes, if…’ is the language of an enabler.

It pointed to what needed to be done to make the possible plausible.

Walt liked this language.

‘No, because…’ is the language of a deal killer.

‘Yes, if…’ is the approach of a deal maker.

Creative people thrive on ‘Yes, if…’


So, in essence, the conversation could look like, “Could we make this happen?” “Yes, if we had more funding. Or if we hired one more person. Or if we had the executive support we needed. Or if we had some promotional materials. Or if we had a new creative director. Or… you see how this goes.

So then I add these two formulas together, because their definition of creativity is a whole lot like my definition of parenting: “choices, training, experimentation, inspiration, history, commitment, and fun.”

Check, check, check, check, check, check and check.

From a parenting standpoint, let me look closely at this “Yes, if…” method. Especially with regard to the child I have who demands a measure of ingenuity every moment of the livelong day as he endlessly challenges my very God-given authority and questions my common sense as a human being.

Instead of answering, “No, because…” I wonder what it might look like if I train myself to begin with, “Yes, if…”

“Can I [insert anything at all, to any degree of common request or seriously raging atrocity]?”

“Yes, if you’ve washed your hands.”

“Yes, if you wake up early enough.”

“Yes, if you tie your shoes.”

“Yes, if you can stop arguing with me.”

“Yes, if you have read the directions.”

“Yes, if I have pre-approved the ingredients.”

“Yes, if you are 18.”

“Yes, if you don’t mind answering to the police.”

“Yes, if you can pay for it yourself.”

“Yes, if you are okay with the possibility of having only 8 fingers.” Which I am not okay with, so maybe it’s “Yes, if I can agree with the consequences to your life as well.”

Imagine the possibilities. Imagine how his spirit could soar. Yes, if only his mom would give him the chance.

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