Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Grump's Opinion: Will Quality Always Win Out?

"I knew if this business was ever to get anywhere, if this business was ever to grow, it could never do it by having to answer to someone unsympathetic to its possibilities, by having to answer to someone with only one thought or interest, namely profits. For my idea of how to make profits has differed greatly from those who generally control businesses such as ours. I have blind faith in the policy that quality, tempered with good judgment and showmanship, will win against all odds." —Walt Disney

(Quote obtained from Disney

Does sub-quality work have long term returns?  If you put out not your best but what is best right now, will people stand up and applaud your accomplishments?

These are questions that I always ask myself.  This is a post I have been tumbling around in my brain for a long time.

In the real world, I sometimes feel like an Imagineer.  Unlike the Disney Imagineers, I don't design anything fun and glamorous.  I provide people with solutions to problems that requires a lot of design and building but I do it with programming code. 

Unlike Imagineers, I don't get marching orders from people within my own corporation, but from people that have contracted my employer for services.  So, it's very important that I keep these 3rd parties happy.

I like to let my clients know when I feel they are doing something that will cost them more money than some other solution.  But, one thing I don't like is when I'm asked to do something that is very clearly a cutting of corners in order to keep the cost down.

Over the years, I have observed that when you cut corners to save money now, you'll end up spending a lot more over time to compensate for decisions made in the past to protect bottom lines.

In a way, we, the Disney Guests, are the clients of the Walt Disney Corporation.  We pay them with our hard earned dollars to enter into their parks and stay at their resorts.  We expect a product commiserate with the money we paid.

Just like the people I work with, the paying customer don't want to feel like they didn't get their money's worth.  They don't want to feel like a lot of time was spent working on something and they didn't get a product that matches that effort.  They want to be wowed.  They want to have a reason to brag to others about what they had gotten.

We are the same way.  We want to be wowed when we walk into the parks and resorts.  We want to go home and brag about all the cool stuff we saw and did while at the parks.

So, here we stand and face many new things coming down the pipe from the Disney Imagineers.  We all know that the Imagineers tend to get their marching orders from other people who tend to wear suits and analyze numbers with their 10-key calculators. 

We all know that these Imagineers can often have their hands tied by executives that are more worried about the stock holders.  The day of people investing for long periods of time are gone and stockholders are now fickle and are easily spooked by bad news.  These executives view a costly project as bad news if it doesn't show an immediate promise of quick returns in the form of increased visitor numbers.  I say, these things take time.

This seems to go directly against the quote I provided above from Uncle Walt. 

What we need is a return back to the day when the company will put in the effort to turn out unbelievable attractions and parks.  Where less concern was given to how much it will cost, but how much people will line up to see it.  I want to go back to the day when attractions were built with the hopes that we'll want to bring our children and grandchildren back to experience it many years later instead of rides being quickly removed and replaced.

We have already had a few hits.  Expedition Everest in The Animal Kingdom is definitely a ride worthy of being associated with a mountain.  The Finding Nemo Submarine Ride at Disneyland was fabulous.  The freshly dusted Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom turned out better than I could've ever imagined.

But, there is already tons of concerned commentary about Space Ship Earth following the many eyes that got to sample Disney's sneak peek into the attraction.

We also have the new Toy Story attraction coming to Disney's Hollywood Studios and California Adventure.  This will be one of the major barometers of things to come.

I've heard arguments that some of what we are experiencing is a result of giving the client what they want.  We get shorter rides because people want to do more since they are spending so much money.  I have also heard that the paying public doesn't have attention spans to handle rides of the length of Pirates of the Caribbean or Splash Mountain.

My response is that there was a time when the Disney Theme Parks were educating the public on what it meant to be entertained in a Theme Park.  Before Disneyland there really wasn't anything like it.  We had to be taught how to have fun.  All these years later, we may have started to forget.  Disney needs to step up and show us how to have fun and not cave in and give us what we say we want when the talents men and women of WDI know we are wrong.

As far as the wanting to have shorter rides because the customers want to feel like they've done more because they've spent a lot of money, I say that if you give people attractions that are commiserate with the expense we outlay, it will no longer be about quantity of attractions accomplished.  People will feel like they got their money's worth off doing less.

Don't get me wrong, there is more than the rides and attractions that draws me to parks over and over again.  My trip report about MouseFest proved that I don't need rides to have fun.

Disney's wealth and longevity really comes from the nostalgia that is created.  Each generation has something about the parks and resorts that they think back fondly on when they are older.  You cannot build nostalgia with a product that is just good for now but not for tomorrow.  If you want that, go to an Amusement Park where a new thrill ride needs to be unveiled every couple years or the parks get boring.

So, if you are going to build something then pull out the stops.  Blue Sky Baby!  Trust me, if you pull out the stops, people will come. 

Walt Disney tried his best to let his crack team of Imagineers do what they wanted in order to build the perfect rides and Roy tried to make sure things didn't go too crazy in the finance department (money doesn't grow on trees).  Yes, there were failure, but they just moved on and came up with something new.

But I can say that if you cut corners and you'll end up having to fork out quantities of money that would make Scrooge McDuck faint.

Technorati Tags:


Ryan P. Wilson said...

I also think that sometimes we, as guests, that have grown up in a world where Disney is synonymous with teaching us how to have fun have come to except that what we are given is the new model of fun, as it were.

But, you are exactly right, there will be successes and failures, and failures are okay, because that is how we learn to improve. A toddler does not stand up and walk on its first try, it has to fall a few times in order to gain valuable concepts. Attractions are no different, you take what you know, apply some thought to a next logical step, and put it out there. Disney has never played it safe when it comes to building a sense-defying experience, as cowardice and complacency have been shunned, and I don't see why they should stop now.

I have seen a few things (the aforementioned Everest, Haunted Mansion, Finding Nemo) recently that give me hope for the future. I only hope these spawn new ideas and new directions, rather than serve as fingers in the dyke that bide the powers that be a few more years.

Mrs S said...

Great thoughts there. I think the main problem is that people think they can rock up to a theme park mid-morning and see everything. Then they complain that the rides are too long. We need to educate people that if you arrive before opening you can accomplish so much more - enjoy more attractions - stand in shorter lines - then take the time to understand the stories behind the parks and the attractions - to really see the details.
It's these people who Disney are listening too when they make the attractions much shorter and that will eventually have a poor impact on all of us.
I get so frustrated by the people who complain that they had a rubbish trip and that WDW is over hyped and too expensive - yet if they had a bit of knowledge they would really experience the magic that Walt wanted them too!
Seeing people like this at the parks was why I set up my site: A pocketful of pixie dust