Tom Morris at Disneyland

Tom Morris at Disneyland

Lessons in Partnering, Plussing & Crediting

We bring you the next section of our podcast with Tom Morris and his multi-decade experience developing attractions for Walt Disney theme parks world wide. In this podcast we are at “The Happiest Place on Earth”. This is the second of a multi-part series. Our last podcast episode was Tom’s experience helping to create Journey Into Imagination. You can find both podcasts here on Podbean and here at iTunes. You can also type in “Disney at Work & Play Podcast” when you visit Spotify.

Partnering With Others

Churro Wagons

Tom talks about the challenges working with operations in making sure that even something like a churro cart was representative of the Disney thematic look and feel expected by guests.

Churros are such a huge part of the snack experience–especially at Disneyland. And while Tom’s first themed carts have since been replaced for bigger, newer models, I can’t help but think that the churro phenomena would have been that successful if Food & Beverage had stuck with generic stands. It takes a team to make something a success, and the bottom line result of that effort was benefited by people working together.

Plaza Inn & John Hench

We shared a story told by Marty Sklar about John Hench being assigned by Walt to redesign the Plaza Inn and not having any experience in restaurants. John’s effort to enroll in a course on restaurant management at UCLA was one way to understand the business of your partners. How do you get into the footprint of the people you partner with?

The Plaza Inn. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge

We see partnering play out in a bigger way recently as Imagineering worked with food & beverage to create a themed dining set of experiences for Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, but one that was identical to two parks.

Oga’s Cantina, Disneyland Photo by J. Jeff Kober

The same was carried out with the retail experience.

Merchant Row at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Plussing–Not Shadowing the Experience

Mary Blair & Tomorrowland

I give Tom a little grief about the Tomorrowland mural covering up the former Mary Blair mosaic creation.

Design for Tomorrowland Mural by Mary Blair

The mural that Mary created is timeless, but it fell into what he referred to as a shadow period, where it seemed out-of-date, or at least irrelevant to new attractions being showcased at that time, such as Star Tours.

Tom developing the new entrance and mural displays on the Star Wars side of Tomorrowland. Photo in possession of Tom Morris.

Most of that mural is still there, underneath the current murals that are in place. Some of the tiles were broken to extend steel rods in place for the new murals. Tom speaks of sending those pieces off to Disneyland Paris to be used in the murals of the Pizzeria Bella Note.

The murals as they are today. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

I should mention that the only thing that has kept the very similar style mosaic (though on a much grander scale) of the Grand Canyon in Disney’s Contemporary Resort is the fact that there is asbestos underneath the tile and can’t be removed without completely shutting down the resort. That has preserved the mural through the shadow experience, and has allowed the work to re-emerge as a great signature piece of art.

The Grand Canyon Mural at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Kim Irvine

In discussing partnering, Tom gives great credit earlier to Kim Irvine who as an early female leader took on the role of partnering better with operations at Disneyland to create a totally better experience. Kim has been at the heart of many improvements at Disneyland, some even controversial at first, but all welcomed at the end of the day. Working with others she has been successful in ultimately creating a better guest experience.

Toy Story addition to “it’s a small world” at Hong Kong Disneyland. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Country Bear Jamboree–Plussing the Experience

Tom talks about his efforts to improve the foyer for the Country Bear Jamboree at Disneyland. While that attraction no longer exists, you can see how the same props and images Tom designed were incorporated into The Country Bear Theater at Tokyo Disneyland.

Backstage door to Trixie’s Dressing Room. Photo by J. Jeff Kober
Sketches of the bears done by Ann Telnaes.

Ann Telnaes

Self caricature by Ann Telnaes.

Tom talks about Ann Telnaes’s work on the bear sketches. Ann is a Pulitzer Prize winner and now works for Washington Post. She got her start at CalArts and did some animation work before joining Disney Imagineering. She talks about how she was up late at night working on Imagineering and/or personal projects when she saw a news flash televising the 1989 Tiananmen Square event. That profound experience ultimately led her to be a cartoonist. She shares that in this video that can be found here.

She has worked to make political cartoons more relevant by utilizing animation. This is important, as other major news carriers, such as the New York Times, have removed editorial cartoons. One thing Ann has done to take political cartooning to the next level is by incorporating animation, See her work below:

Giving Credit to Others

Giving Credit to Others

One of the things I love about chatting with Tom is his crediting others and their contribution to the work being done. Early on in the recording Tom notes Kim Irvine’s ability to work effectively with other teams. He also notes the contribution Ann Telnaes did with respect to creating the final sketches seen of the bears in the foyer of the Country Bear Jamboree. He mentions his father in our episode, and in other podcasts he has noted the influence of his parents. We didn’t get a chance to talk about the Neon Mickey’s at Star Traders, but while Tom created the concept and look, he gives Mark Henn in his podcast with The Sweep Spot for doing the final drawings of Mickey.

Designed by Tom Morris. Perfected by Mark Henn. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

I should also mention that Tom in his “post retirement” is researching the contributions of minor known Imagineers who worked with Disney, particularly in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. I love his passion for crediting others.

In “One Little Spark” Marty Sklar noted the following:

“Ronald Reagan said, ‘it is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.’ Forget about the credit. Leave any desire for notoriety at the door with your ego. Our best attractions have been those that have been delivered by a close-knit team that shared a vision and relied upon each other to deliver the best possible guest experience. When a team inspires and encourages each other and is motivated only by the strength and promise of a great idea, magic happens. One spark plug will not get the car moving. Teamwork is the engine that will get you there.”

Tom with the team on the ground breaking of Cars Land

Souvenirs For Your Organization

Relative to Partnering with Others

  • How important is breaking the silos and partnering with others to give a great guest or customer experience?
  • Who is interfacing with your most difficult partners?
  • What steps can you take to reside in the same space as those you need to partner with?
  • How can you build a tradition of working with other partners?

Relative to Plussing–Not Shadowing the Experience

  • What are you doing to create a timeless experience in the first place?
  • Where do you risk having your products and services fall into the shadows?
  • What steps are you taking to plus the experience?
  • How can you continually make your products and services relevant?

Relative to Giving Credit to Others

  • Who are those who support you in making the magic happen?
  • How are great ideas bringing teams together?
  • How do you acknowledge the contribution of others?

Do you want more stories, ideas and concepts like the ones we’ve presented today? Check out Disney, Leadership and You. It’s filled with stories from over 100 artists, imagineers & pioneers within the Walt Disney Company. You’ll get great ideas for gaining better results by effectively working with others. Check it out on Amazon today.

Disney, Leadership and You
Disney, Leadership and You, written by J. Jeff Kober.

J. Jeff Kober