Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Why John Hench is my hero... (a.k.a. What current Disney Management doesn't get)

There is a great new article on Jim Hill today by Wade Sampson entitled Explaining the Disney Theme Show. It really hit home for me, summing up my thoughts on changes at the MK and WDW as a whole (even since my tenure in the early 90's). It's definitely worth a read, especially for the quote from the late, great legend John Hench talking about what makes the Disney parks special, unique, and the industry leader (circa 1975). Here's a small sample of the quote:

Interestingly, for all its success, the Disney theme show is quite a fragile thing. It just takes one contradiction… one out of place stimulus to negate a particular moment’s experience. Take that street car conductor’s costume away and put him in double knit slacks and a golf shirt… replace that old Gay Nineties melody with a rock number… replace the themed merchandise with digital clock radios and electric hair dryers… tack up a felt-tip drawn paper sign that says ‘Keep Out’… place a touch of astro turf here… add a surly employee there… it really doesn’t take much to upset it all.

What’s our success formula? Well, it’s attention to infinite detail… the little things, the minor picky points that other companies just don’t want to take the time, the money, the effort, to do right. As far as our Disney organization is concerned… it’s the only way we’ve ever done it… it’s been our success formula in the past and it will be applied to our future projects as well. We’ll probably still be explaining this to outsiders at the end of our next two decades in this business.

Doesn't it seem that this has been lost in recent years? I can't count on my fingers and toes how many out of place things I have seen on stage in recent visits, usually for the sake of economy. How many of the themed gift shops have generic merchandise now? How many new signs are cheaply made and not themed? How many times are cast members out of theme? How many times have we incrementially lost some of the detailed theming? Maybe I'm just sensitive to it after being in the parks day in and day out, coupled with the fact that I had read so much of the writings of the park designers talking about these issues and completely bought into them even before my hire date.

I think that Bob Iger and the boys and girls in charge could learn a thing or two from Hench and the other legends (especially Walt) regarding good show. They used to talk about these topics in the two-day Traditions new-hire class. I wonder if it's covered in the condensed version offered up today?


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