Walt Disney famously told his assembled employees, "never forget, it all began with a mouse," which of course was not true.
I spent a lot of time in Disney World this fall. I was privileged to be a participant in the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival and it was an awesome experience. I gave three wine seminars highlighting the wines from B&B's French Wine Club and met some wonderful people. In my free time I wandered the parks and thought about Walt. I wondered if he ever imagined it could be like this.
The Disney Company is a 40 Billion dollar “kingdom” that is a major player in the entertainment industry. We all know Disney. We know the worldwide theme parks, the movies, television networks, and stars the company has produced. Did Walt ever dream it would be like this?
Walt Disney was a man of incredible imagination and creativity. He scribbled the character of Mickey Mouse on a train – just doodling – and originally called him Mortimer Mouse. He was also an incredible risk-taker. He was cash strapped for years, always had more ideas than money to pay for them and leaned heavily on his brother Roy to make the numbers work.
When Walt said, “It all began with a mouse,” what he meant was that the first idea wasn't all that grand but it was a good starting point – and good starting points are important. He wanted to keep the company humble and never let it get too caught up in its own invincibility. But Walt was wrong. The Disney Empire didn't begin with a mouse; it began with a man. It began with Walt. Seems obvious doesn't it? The real starting point was Walt – a man with ideas and courage and bravery – a leader. By focusing on the mouse he affirmed the mistake that has plagued too many organizations; that the product is more important than the people; that the mouse was more important than Walt.
The temptation for us is to think that the thing created is more important that the one who created it. We honor and make icons of the created thing – the mouse -rather than the one who created it – the man.
Yes, the product is important, but the person who creates the product is more important. Yes, the art is important but the person creating the art is more important. Yes, the organization is important (be it a business, church or other organization), but the person who creates, leads and grows the organization is more important than the organization itself.
Every business is a people business. Behind every great idea and every great product is a person who created that product or idea and who had the guts to put it out there for the rest of us to accept or reject.
I had a friend in the advertising business who once told me that "advertising is standing naked before the ruling class." That's what all leaders do. They take their ideas and put them out there for the rest of us to accept or reject. They take the risk that is frightening and humbling and they are not afraid to “stand naked before the ruling class.”
What are you tempted to value over people? What product or process takes precedence over the people in your organization?
It wasn’t a mouse any more than it was a duck or a dog (or whatever Pluto is) that made the Disney Empire what it is today. The Disney Empire is the result of a man who was willing to risk himself and his ideas – and a lot of people who were willing to throw their lives into it with him. The people are always more important than the program. No mouse could have invented Walt.