Disneyland’s styles of innovation

March 13, 2007

3D model of Finding Nemo ride

The 3D model of the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (above), set to open in June at Disneyland, and the computer model of Space Mountain (below) are just two of the techniques for planning innovations that Walt Disney Co.’s Imagineering division uses.

The changes mostly fall into the category of incremental innovations, but with an occasional conceptual breakthrough.

In most cases, gradual changes are all that’s needed to keep visitors happy, as I discuss in a column about the increasingly prevalent type of entertainment that I call “Welcome to My World.” It’s not new, but it has become increasingly important in modern culture, from the “YouTube” Web site to Blizzard Entertainment’s “World of Warcraft” online games.

It’s the basic format of any endeavor that attracts people by offering interesting variety within a familiar setting, whether that’s the “Second Life” virtual world, the “Grand Theft Auto” game, the “MySpace” online community, a favorite store with new fashions, a familiar newspaper with the day’s news, or even a familiar church service with a new sermon.

This format demands a different type of innovation from what engineers pursue when they develop a new product or find a technical solution to a customer’s problem. To innovate successfully in a “welcome to my world” format, the trick is to add novelty without losing what’s appealingly familiar.

Accompanying that column is my article about Disney Imagineering’s techniques for planning innovation.

Computer model of Space Mountain


Clint Eastwood as inspiration for late bloomers

February 4, 2007

An inspirClint Eastwoodation for late bloomers — that’s one way of thinking about 76-year-old Clint Eastwood, who is currently in the running for best-picture and best-director Oscars.

Economist David Galenson and co-author Joshua Kotin portray Eastwood that way in a recent piece in the L.A. Times, but that’s not all they do.

“Is such creativity in old age rare?” they ask — and give the answer: “No.”

Experimental innovators who make “gradual improvements culminating in late achievements,” they write, “account for many of the most important contributions to the arts. That our society does not generally recognize this fact suggests that we’re missing a key concept about creativity.”

Among the late-blooming experimental innovators that they cite:
Titian, Rembrandt, Monet, Rodin, Cezanne, Jackson Pollock, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, sculptor Louise Bourgeois, Mark Twain, Henry James, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, Virginia Woolf, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Warren Buffett.

For example, “Twain wrote ‘Tom Sawyer’ at 41 and bettered it with ‘Huckleberry Finn’ at 50; Wright completed Fallingwater at 72 and worked on the Guggenheim Museum until his death at 91.” Further: “Sculptor Louise Bourgeois is 95. Later this year, she will be honored with a retrospective at London’s Tate Modern museum. Last November, her “Spider,” a sculpture she made at the age of 87, sold at auction for more than $4 million, the highest price ever paid for her work and among the highest ever paid for the work of a living sculptor.

They don’t dismiss the early-blooming conceptual innovators:
Arthur Rimbaud, Pablo Picasso, T.S. Eliot, Orson Welles, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jasper Johns — who “all revolutionized their artistic disciplines in their teens or 20s — plus Bill Gates. “Picasso, for example, created the first cubist paintings at 25, and Welles made ‘Citizen Kane’ at 25.)” But those are the young geniuses that get the most attention.

“Our society prefers the simplicity and clarity of conceptual innovation. … Yet the conceptual Bill Gateses of the business world do not make the experimental Warren Buffetts less important. Recognizing important experimental work can be difficult; these contributions don’t always come all at once. Experimental innovators often begin inauspiciously, so it’s also dangerously easy to parlay judgments about early work into assumptions about entire careers.”

Their greatest message is for potential late bloomers: “Don’t give up. There’s time to do game-changing work after 30. Great innovators bloom in their 30s (Jackson Pollock), 40s (Virginia Woolf), 50s (Fyodor Dostoevsky), 60s (Cezanne), 70s (Eastwood) and 80s (Bourgeois).”

At least the Disney exhibition’s book will come to the U.S.

January 18, 2007

Disney bookPerhaps the new exhibit of Disney’s conceptually innovative art won’t come to the United States after its run in Paris and Montreal, but at least the catalog for show will — in English. The “Cartoon Brew” blog points out that Prestel Publishing will release the 360-page English-language version next month.

“Once upon a Time: Walt Disney: The Sources of Inspiration for the Disney Studios” costs $47.25 on Amazon.com.

That will let readers delve more deeply into Disney’s conceptual innovation style, as outlined in my post of Jan. 17.

A campaign to bring Disney innovation exhibit to U.S.?

January 17, 2007

My proposal that the the latest Walt Disney exhibit should come to the United States after it completes its run in Paris and Montreal has attracted its first support — from “The Disney Blog.”

I made that suggestion in a short item in my “Morning Eye” blog at the O.C. Register and in a longer post on Disney’s conceptual style of creativity in this “Arts of Innovation” blog.

Endorsing my idea, the “Disney Blog” asked, “Why can’t some US company (hint: The Walt Disney Company) step up to the plate and host a US tour of this exhibit? I’d certainly like to see it here in Orlando.”

Why won’t exhibit of Disney’s conceptual innovations come to the U.S.?

January 16, 2007

Walt Disney’s style of innovation was on display in the “Il était une fois Walt Disney” exhibit that just closed at the Grand Palais museum in Paris, preparing for its March 8-June 24 showing at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Montreal.

Book of Disney exhibit

Unfortunately, the exhibit isn’t scheduled to appear at any museum in the United States, which will deprive native Disney fans of a convenient opportunity to see this analytical display of works of “one of the great geniuses of the 20th century, and the greatest storyteller of the 20th century,” as Parisian curator Bruno Girveau describes him.

It’s unclear why no museum in the U.S. will make room for the show.

The exhibit demonstrates Disney’s use of a typical approach for conceptual innovators — creating innovative new works by building on works of the past. (For comparison, think of conceptual innovator T.S. Eliot’s profuse use of references to past literature in “The Wasteland.”)

Read the rest of this entry »

More Disney: coping with real-world problems of middle age

December 21, 2006

Among Walt Disneythe “Seven Lessons of Walt Disney” that Rich Karlgaard draws from Neal Gabler’s “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination” is one that depicts Disney as a conceptual innovator who successfully coped with the loss of his youthful genius by taking on different challenges:

From his article (via Forbes.com), which calls the biography “the best business book I’ve read in years”:

“Reinvent yourself when necessary. The huge success of Snow White created employee expectations that Walt couldn’t fulfill. In 1941 Disney studio animators went on strike. Walt was shattered. He would never again feel the same passion for cartoons and movies. Thus began his wilderness period, which lasted a decade. Out of that period came Walt’s inspiration for Disneyland, and he threw himself into the theme park. Where did Walt’s second wind come from? Can’t tell you–I’m out of space. Read Neal Gabler’s fine biography on a great American businessman.”

Disney was 53 when Disneyland opened in 1955.

Orson Welles and John Milton

December 14, 2006

Film maker Orson Welles and poet John Milton aren’t usually lumped together, but they both show up in commentary by Jeffery Hodges of the Gypsy Scholar blog. Responding to Daniel Pink’s Wired article on David Galenson, Hodges proposes that Milton was a mixture of experimental and conceptual innovator:

“I wonder if some geniuses might encompass both conceptualist and experimentalist stylesJohn Milton and thus constitute a third category. Milton, for instance (whom, you may recall, I’ve occasionally blogged about), strikes me as fitting both categories. He showed extraordinary ability from an early age and wrote some excellent, groundbreaking poetry as a young man and would have been remembered as a great literary figure even if he had died young, but because he lived on to an old age and wrote the epic Paradise Lost, he’s remembered for that work of genius more than for his youthful ones.”

Hodges also suggests that Galenson’s approach can shed light on a recent dispute about whether film maker Orson Welles was a genius. The debate was triggered by film critic Richard Schickel’s harsh words in an August review of two books about Welles. The review starts:

“If, as the saying goes, genius is defined by an infinite capacity for taking pains, then Orson Welles was no genius. If, as another saying goes, God is in the details, then there was nothing godlike about him, either — despite the worshipful posturings of his many acolytes. … How, people go on wondering, could the man who created ‘Citizen Kane,’ arguably the greatest of all American films, fritter away the rest of his life — nearly half a century — on movies spoiled by his own inattention or by the machinations of others or, worse, simply abandoned with many of their most significant elements lost?”

Hodges notes the problem with Schickel’s position: “Welles … is classed among the conceptualists, which suggests that Richard Schickel is a bit one-sided in his criticism because he faults Welles for not fitting a category of genius that sounds more like Galenson’s experimentalist sort.”