What Your Small Business Can Learn From 60 Years of Disneyland Despite so many societal changes, the founding principles of Disney's first park endure.
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Disneyland is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. This kind of staying power is rare today. I'm certain that you probably know several amusement parks that have opened and closed over the course of your life.
Yet, as anyone who has waited an hour or more in the Pirates of the Caribbean line knows, the popularity of Disneyland is as strong as ever. This is despite shifting demographics, the rise of video games and all the other societal changes that have sunk so many other businesses.
A book or more could be written on how Disneyland has maintained its popularity, but let me just hit some of the highlights that teach us lessons that can be applied to virtually any business.
Disneyland employs cast members
Everyone working at Disneyland is called a cast member. Those two little words immediately – and without any ambiguity – communicate the ultimate objective of the theme park. They are there to create an all-encompassing entertainment experience for the guests.
As a cast member, employees know that their "performance" is being viewed by the "audience" all the time. There is an image that must be maintained. Shakespeare said that all the world's a stage. Walt Disney said that all of the Magic Kingdom is a stage.
Always changing with the times
"Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world," declared Walt Disney on July 17, 1955, the day Disneyland opened.
People who have visited several times over the course of their lives know that this is true. The planners at Disneyland never rest on their laurels and that would have been very easy to do. It takes guts to shut down a popular ride and totally redo or replace it.
I'm writing this 60 years after Walt Disney spoke those words on opening day. It's impressive to note that the concept he communicated then – "Disneyland will never be completed" – is still a central guiding principle of the company. It's just five words and it offers a tremendous amount of direction. It doesn't take 50 pages of detailed bullet points to keep an organization moving forward.
Attention to detail
One of the first things that will impress a visitor to Disneyland is that no detail is overlooked. This extends all the way to the park's commitment to not allow even a single stray piece of garbage to litter the streets. Smartly uniformed cast members armed with brooms and dustbins are constantly on the prowl for any windblown wrapper or kernel of popcorn.
Of course, this attention to detail to the various themes throughout the park is what makes visitors fall in love with the experience. This is a reason employees need to view themselves as cast members rather than "soda stand attendants" or "cashiers."
The magic of the Disneyland experience starts the moment you step onto the tram outside the massive multi-story parking lot and it doesn't stop until you leave the park…usually as near to closing time as you can manage.
The power of branding
Disney is one of the most valuable and powerful brands in the world. When we see a product that carries the official brand, we immediately associate all the good feelings we experienced at Disneyland with whatever is inside the box. We transfer Disneyland's commitment to excellence to any product that carries the same brand name.
Finally, let me note that Disneyland and the Disney empire carry the name of its founders and from what I know the principles that guide it come straight from Walt Disney and his brother/co-founder Roy Disney.
If you have a clear vision and can communicate it so others see it as well, you can just as effectively lead your small business into the future.