A Disneyesque Lesson: Failure Can Lead to Success!

When you hear the name Disney, the word ‘failure’ doesn’t pop into your mind.  Success, yes.  “The Happiest Place on Earth”—definitely!  What could this uber-profitable company possibly know about failure?

A Disneyesque Lesson!

Like many flourishing organizations, the Walt Disney Company has experienced its share of ups and downs.  In fact, the development of Disney’s California Adventure Park, located right across from the world-famous Disneyland, turned out to be one of its biggest misadventures. During its first year of operation, only about one-third of Disneyland clientele visited the California-themed hodgepodge of rides and attractions, with only 20% of those guests reporting satisfaction with the newly-opened park.  Many LEADon team members had the chance to visit California Adventure during those early days of operation, and all agreed it paled in comparison to the classic features of the fairy-tale amusement park just footsteps away.

While the blame for California Adventure’s struggles could be spread across multiple departments (including overall design—why would anyone ever arrange a site that didn’t allow guests to move easily around the grounds?), the leaders at Disney, including the recently-appointed CEO Bob Iger, took responsibility.  They decided to parley the disenchanting park into a destination that would exceed expectations.  After a five-year plan was developed to change everything from the ground up, teams immediately went to work making the vision become a reality.

Excitement filled the air when the re-imagined park had its second grand opening in June of 2012, and the more cohesive design that connected Disney California Adventure’s eight lands seemed to resonate with park-goers.  Could the leaders at Disney have allowed the floundering to continue?  Possibly.  Was the time, energy, and money (over $1.5 billion) invested into this revitalization worth it?  So far the signs of success are pointing the right direction.

The lesson from this Disneyesque adventure is simple:  failure is bound to happen at some point—whether personally or professionally.  After all, if the “happiest” of organizations experiences downswings, disappointments, and even near-disaster, why would we expect something different?  Yet real magic can occur when leaders face negative circumstances head-on so that failure can be transformed into something no one ever dreamed possible!

*More details on this topic are found in Brian Krosnick’s fantastic article, “How Disney Turned One of its Biggest Failures into a Massive Success in Just Five Years.”