Bill Capodagli on “The Disney Way”: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

CapodagliBill Capodagli (pronounced Cap o die) co-authored one of Fortune magazine’s “Best Business Books of 1999,” The Disney Way. Prior to co-founding Capodagli Jackson Consulting in 1993, Bill held managerial positions at the consulting firms of AT Kearney and Ernst & Whinney (now Ernst and Young). From 1991-1993, Bill launched the University of Southern Indiana’s business consulting initiative and began teaching The Disney Way principles to an international client base. His popular speaking engagements on the topics of Disney/Pixar leadership; Pixar innovation; and Disney customer service, are transforming both entrepreneurial and Fortune 500 companies alike.

The Disney Way: Harnessing the Management Secrets of Disney in Your Company, Third Edition, was published by McGraw-Hill Education (April 2016).

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Morris: When and why did you decide on a 3rd Edition?

Capodagli: Our executive editor at McGraw-Hill told us that she regretted not publishing the 2nd edition in hard cover and asked if we were interested in writing a 3rd edition. So, we began planning the book to feature new organizations, including several of our clients, and also a chapter that details a roadmap to implementing a Disney Way culture.

That same week, we received an email from a small startup company in LA explaining that their CEO had read our book  times and was using it as a model for their new company. And, if I would find an opening in my schedule to discuss the book with them, they would love it. At the time I was out of town with various clients, but when I returned to my office, I said to Lynn, “Wasn’t that a flattering email we received from that little west coast company?” She gave me a look of utter disbelief and said, “Are you kidding me? Don’t you know who Tyra Banks is?” When I saw her picture, of course I knew who she was. I think that most Millennials know Tyra is the creator of America’s Next Top Model, but they might not know that she is now the CEO of TYRA Beauty. TYRA Beauty is a cosmetics company that provides an opportunity for independent sales associates called Beautytainers (Tyra is a master at creating new words: Beautytainment is “where beauty and entertainment collide”) to gain financial freedom and self-esteem.

I flew to LA to work with Tyra and her team, and she was impressive beyond what you would imagine a supermodel would be. After spending several days with her, I came to believe that many CEOs could learn a lesson from Tyra on focus and commitment. Like her favorite hero of all time, Walt Disney, she is not interested in popularity, but rather in creating a legacy.

Including TYRA Beauty along with a host of other outstanding clients – Ottawa County, Michigan, Grand Lake, Colorado, Science Center of Iowa, ACTS Retirement-Life Communities and others – was both an honor and a privilege. We continue to receive feedback from our Disney Way readers who are being inspired by these role model organizations.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing The Disney Way? Please explain.

Capodagli: Even before we began writing the 3rd edition, I was contemplating the reasons why organizations that follow the same process and use the same tools to implement a new culture can have dramatically different outcomes. Some can claim good or average results while others sore above the competition. Consider the difference between Universal Studios and Walt Disney World in Orlando. Why is it that Universal Studios, seven miles from Walt Disney World, has only 1/3 the attendance of the Magic Kingdom alone!

I came to the conclusion that it was all about “love” – the subject of Chapter 12: Love – the Real Pixie Dust. Love for coworkers, love for customers, love for the product and love for self. Walt Disney instilled all of these “loves” in his company. Each of these factors is critical to achieving success in any organization.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the new edition differ from the previous editions?

Capodagli: Even though Fortune magazine named The Disney Way as a “best business book”, some critics claimed that Walt’s Dream, Believe, Dare, Do principles work for our clients because of our involvement and assistance. So, in the 2nd edition, we featured several organizations who were not our clients, but that were very successful over the long-term by embracing one or more of Walt’s Dream, Believe, Dare, Do principles. Many have become industry giants – Ernst & Young, The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, The Cheesecake Factory, Men’s Wearhouse and others.

In our new edition, we featured organizations that are either startups or those that have significantly transformed their customer-centric cultures. We have also included a new section called Putting it Together. One of the chapters documents the customer-centric journey of Ottawa County, Michigan, and their phenomenal achievements. A recent government official, outside of Michigan, said to me, “If you can make this work in government, you can make this work anywhere.” There is also a chapter called Producing a Customer-Centric Culture – An Implementation Strategy that will help any organization achieve results.

Morris: The Disney Way is largely based on the principles and values of one person, Walt Disney. Who and what had the greatest influence on his development of those principles and values?

Capodagli: From various historical accounts, three people had the greatest influence on Walt: his mother, Leonardo Da Vinci and Charlie Chaplin. Walt’s mother and Leonardo Da Vinci inspired Walt’s “displayed” thinking which he named “storyboarding.” His mother was constantly posting notes on the refrigerator door to remind her of appointments and groceries she needed to purchase. On a wall, Leonardo Da Vinci posted drawings of a person or animal in different positions that would simulate movement.

Walt’s storyboarding allowed him to see a story unfold before he began the costly effort of cell animation.

Walt said everything he had ever accomplished was a result of Mickey Mouse. Mickey was Walt’s alter ego and he was originally modeled after Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character. So without Chaplin, who knows what Mickey would have become!

My father was a senior partner of Cosgrove & Company (later merged into Marsh & McLennan) and principal “architect” of the multidimensional insurance coverage that Disneyland required. He and the Disney brothers became close friends and he always spoke highly of Walt’s lively imagination and Roy Disney’s struggles to “keep the lights on” and “the howling dogs away from the front door.” Is that a fair assessment? Please explain.

Capodagli: That is a very fair assessment. Walt said he would provide the Dream and his brother Roy would have to figure out how to pay for it. It is interesting that many of Walt’s initial animated feature film releases barely broke even or lost money. But part of Walt and Roy’s long-term genius was they assessed that they had a new market every seven years. So every seven years, they would re-release one of their films to a new generation of seven to ten-year-olds and the revenues were nearly all pure profit.

Morris: In your opinion, to what extent (if any) would Walt Disney disapprove of anything and/or anyone associated with
his company after his illness and death?

Capodagli: I don’t know if Walt would have approved of the proliferation of kiosk merchandising that sometimes compromises the natural beauty of the Parks. On the other hand, I think Walt would be proud of the fact that he inspired the leaders of Pixar to create their iconic studio and most of all, that they are now a valuable part of his namesake organization.

Morris: In your opinion, what is Walt’s legacy?

Capodagli: One of the reasons for The Walt Disney Company’s long- term success is really the first of Dr. Deming’s famous points, “create constancy of purpose.” In his professional career, Walt’s major passion was to provide the finest in family entertainment. For the most part, for nearly a century, the Company has stayed true to that legacy, and has set the standard for the entire entertainment industry.

Morris: These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me. For those who have not as yet read the 3rd edition of The Disney Way, please suggest what you view as the most important point or key take-away in each of these?

First, Innovation (Page 6-7, 36-40, and 137-139)

Capodagli: Innovate, don’t imitate. Set out to create a culture that is right for your organization, then work at making it happen. I also love what Ed Catmull, President of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios said, “”Creativity doesn’t follow titles. It just comes from where it comes from.”

Morris: Dream Retreats: Sparking Teamwork and Creativity (20- 22)

Capodagli: The best ideas can come from anyone within an organization. Leaders must remember that if they want employees to embrace a new organizational “Dream” or strategy, they need to include them and seek their ideas. Creativity is NOT just for the R&D department.

Morris: Good versus poor service (54-58)

Capodagli: In the long run, it costs more to provide poor rather than good service.

“Good show”: mentality (57-58 and 109-110) Capodagli: Always look for ways to improve even the “good show.”

Walt called this “plus-ing.”

Morris: Engagement with customers (60-61 and 218-219)

Capodagli: The results of “engaged” companies vs “disengaged” companies are staggering. Getting workers to be more engaging with their coworkers and customers can produce huge results.

Morris: Millennial generation (88-89)

Capodagli: Recognize that their personal long-term goals may have nothing to do with their organizations’ long-term goals. Discover and facilitate their long-term goals, and they will be more inclined to help their organizations achieve success.

Morris: Oswald the Rabbit and Mickey Mouse (102-103 and 106- 107)

Capodagli: Kissin’ cousins. Oswald was the first big star for the Walt Disney Studios, originally named the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio. After losing Oswald in the 1920’s, Walt vowed to never lose control of his creative content again. But, that loss led to the birth of Mickey Mouse. Fortunately, Bob Iger had the passion and skills to acquire the rights to Oswald, and bring him back to his rightful home.

Morris: Tyra Banks (114-121)

Capodagli: Any leader can learn from Tyra’s focus and long-term  vision.

Morris: Rethinking Human Resources (132-134)

Capodagli: Organizational culture begins in HR. This means to hire for attitude and train for skill. Like Disney’s orientation process, Traditions, the best human resources departments provide a multi- day orientation that communicates and reinforces their organizations’ “Dreams”, values and the codes of conduct. Sadly, far too many orientation processes only feature rules, regulations and policies.

Morris: Habits Required in a Customer-Centric Culture (150-153)

Capodagli: Habits grow from obtaining knowledge, attitude and skills. Knowledge is the understanding of what, how and why we need to do something. Skill is applying that knowledge in a practical situation. Attitude is the desire to transform our knowledge into skills and ultimately into habits.

Morris: Capture the Magic with Storyboards (179-181)

Capodagli: Storyboarding is what I call an “idea landscape” – one that can help unleash creativity, improve communication, and identify practical solutions to complex problems. The beauty of storyboarding is that ideas from an entire team are harnessed, not just those from the extroverts or vocal members.

Morris: Measuring for Success (208-210)

Capodagli: What are the 3-4 things that are most important to your customers? Find a way to measure those elements and report your results.

Morris: Twenty-Seven Ways to Unleash Love in Your Organization (227-229)

Capodagli: In the best organizations, love is the real “pixie dust.” The chapter presents ways to unleash your love for co-workers, customers, your product and yourself. Be creative…this is just a starting point.

Morris: Examples of Outstanding Customer Service Award Winners (248-252)

Capodagli: The chapter on Ottawa County Michigan’s phenomenal customer-centric success highlights some of their early customer service award winners. Traffic officers in the County continue to be nominated for outstanding customer service awards, even after issuing a $200 ticket! This is an outstanding example of treating the customer with respect.

Morris: Customer Centric Culture: The Disney Way Experience (255-261)

Capodagli: Our Disney Way Customer-Centric Culture Model has five components: the Dream or story, the Beliefs or values; the Show (including the Story, the Setting, the Roles and the Backstage Processes); the Reviews or customer service measurement; and the Cast (including Hiring, Orientation and Training, Feedback and Development Planning).

Morris: The History of Leadership at the Walt Disney Company (265-267)

Capodagli: When values are deeply embedded within an organization, they seldom change. For almost 100 years, The Walt Disney Company has had a variety of leaders. Even though it has been hard for some of these leaders to maintain their focus, the Company has been successful in remaining true to Walt’s original direction to create the finest in family entertainment.

Morris: For more than 30 years, it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with the owner/CEOs of hundreds of small companies, those with $20-million or less in annual sales. In your opinion, of all the material you provide in The Disney Way, which do you think will be of greatest value to leaders in small companies? Please explain.

Capodagli: Recently, the book was cited by Entrepreneur magazine as one of the “5 Books to Read Before Starting Your Business.” I would advise any startup to take the time to define their unique culture and work at making it a reality. Walt’s Dream, Believe, Dare, Do success credo is great way to plan that journey. Write down your Dream or story; create your own unique Values, Believe in them, and use them to make all decisions; Dare to take some risks; and Do the planning, revisions and details to realize the Dream.

Morris: Which question had you hoped to be asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it?

Capodagli: “What should be the role of values within an organization?”

My favorite quote in The Disney Way comes from Walt’s big brother Roy, “When values are clear, decisions are easy.” If your values are not used as the constitution of your organization, or if they are compromised, they become just words on paper. Values must be demonstrated through behaviors, but they are truly significant when they represent the beliefs of an entire organization.

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To check out Part 1, please click here.

Bill cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His firm’s website link

Amazon link

Bill Capodagli on The Disney Way: YouTube video link

LinkedIn link

National Seminars Training link

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