Disney By Committee

In considering the massive efforts made to create a cruise ship, I’m reminded of a testimony given when the Disney Magic first emerged. When Disney Magic: The Launching of a Dream was published, John Hemmingway spoke of first hearing about the new cruise line through a mutual friend of his, Mike Reininger, of the Disney Institute. It was the kind of vision that brought John to his childhood days when he first experienced the S.S. United States. The possibilities “struck a nerve” with John, and soon he was signed up to be part of the team that unveiled first Disney cruise ships to the world.

John notes that previous to working at Disney he had always “believed a camel to be a horse created by committee.” At Disney, he discovered otherwise. stated he:

One fine camel on retail display in Morocco at Epcot.

“In this environment of collaborative creativity, where good ideas had to endure far beyond the honeymoon,there is a need for consensus. The object is not to realize notions that dazzle on impact, but to fashion concepts that are timeless, forever immune to the vicissitudes of fashion, weather, time and new management teams. After a while, I learned to trust this process. I watched everyone’s ‘brilliant’ notions reduced to essentials, made to conform to a greater Disney plan and then to evolve as threads in a tapestry. Today, most individual contributions to the Disney Magic are invisible.

“…Everything accompanying the birth of the Disney Magic has been an adventure. Here is a ship singular in every way. It defies convention and, in the end, it is the collective dream of many.”

Many people quickly associate the phrase “Death by Committee” to the work most committees do. And at Disney, there are many movies and attractions that are a testimony to the failure of a committee. Disney California Adventure, through a host of charette, and other committee meetings is believed to be a powerfully expensive example of how something may fail when it is left in the hands of committees.

Still, there is power in consensus and in councils. Even Walt Disney, with the singleness of vision that he brought to the company, relied on committees, especially in the latter years when there was too many projects for him to be attentive to all the details. The problem is that too often committees fail to follow the rules that allow them to be successful.

Beyond Disney’s Cruise Line a more successful example could be found in Pixar’s “Brain Trust”. Like Walt Disney, John Lassetter is a great example of someone who brings a single vision to the organization. Yet, there is a senior creative team of individuals who oversee development on all movies created at Pixar. Again, it’s how that committee works that makes it succeed.

The days and weeks that follow will prove whether the Disney Dream was ultimately a success. Meanwhile, for us, we each have a dream. The greatest opportunities for making our biggest and brightest dreams come true is when they can be turned into the collective dream of many.

Ask yourself:

  • Have you been part of a successful committee? if so, why was it successful?
  • Have you been part of a dysfunctional committee? If so, what did you learn about that?
  • If you could build a dream team to help make your visions come true? What characteristics would you look for?