7 Career Lessons From Walt Disney

Walt Disney World's Magic Kingtom Castle at night.

Growing up, I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Disney World during many summer vacations. From theme park rides to amazing food, it was always a special experience. It was not until I visited Disney again last month, for the first time since graduating and entering my professional career, that I began to look at Disney through a different yet inspiring lens:

Witnessing one man’s dream realized in such a significant way was motivating.

The boldness of Walt Disney’s vision, the focus of his resolve in realizing it, and the sheer magnitude of Disney’s subsequent accomplishments as a corporation offer so many lessons from which young professionals can learn. In this article, we will explore 7 Walt Disney quotes and the lessons they teach. By the time we are finished, you will have the knowledge and confidence to apply Walt Disney’s wisdom to your own career. Let’s get started!

Disney Lesson 1: Innovate

The first Disney wisdom: Innovate!

In today’s Digital Age, Walt Disney’s focus on innovation is even more critical for success. New technologies and new methodologies are born every day. The ambitious and prepared young professional will search for these latest and greatest ideas with excitement! It may be within your team or your department, or it may be among your business or industry, but in every case innovation is key.

Now, let’s be honest: It is hard to imagine being in a new role for less than six months and begin to discover great new ideas that will shape the business. That is absolutely understandable, and it is the same exact mindset that I had when I graduated and entered the professional world.

And yet, while it is absolutely appropriate to acknowledge that you don’t know what you don’t know, young professionals are in the perfect place to be innovators:

  • Young professionals have learned about the latest ideas and ways of thinking during their education
  • Young professionals are entering the professional world without the negativity towards change many “career veterans” might have
  • Young professionals in entry level roles have the opportunity to apply initiative and innovation on a small scale first

Take Walt Disney’s wisdom and apply innovation to your early career! You will recognize the benefits before long.

Disney Lesson 2: Adapt and Improvise

Our second Disney wisdom: Adapt and improvise!

Ultimately, change is one of the few constants in our lives. Even more, it is one of the most important factors in our professional lives. Walt Disney reminds us that in the rapidly changing world of business, adaptability is key. Keep looking ahead!

Now we all know that this is more easily said than done, otherwise we would need neither reminder or coaching. So why is the ability to adapt and improvise so important in your career? What can you do to improve on it?

We can begin with why it is so important:

  • Adaptability helps you to navigate times of high pressure and crisis
  • Adaptability helps you to innovate and bring new solutions to the table
  • Adaptability helps you to stand out to managers and executives in your career

Let’s move on to what steps a young professional can take to improve their adaptability:

You will be shocked at how following simple steps such as these will improve your ability in adapting in your professional world!

Disney Lesson 3: Have a Dream

Disney wisdom 3: Dream!

You don’t have to have read a biography to know that Walt Disney was a man with a dream. Nor do you need to look very far to see that his dream was realized. What is the lesson young professionals should take from Disney’s grand successes? Among the many that there are, here is one: Have a dream!

Realizing your dreams can be one of the most powerful motivators in life, and Walt Disney’s ambition defined is work and helped determine his success. In our professional lives, we will often find ourselves challenged. From difficult projects to strained peer relationships, your career can feel diminished or held back if you do not recognize and focus on a dream.

If you find yourself feeling a bit unsure of what your dreams or goals should be so early in your career, that is okay! I wasn’t able to outline my own without sitting down and making a deliberate effort to write it down.

Here are a few of the questions I asked myself when identifying my own career goals:

  • What do you want to learn and what skills do you want to develop?
  • What do you want to build or change?
  • What legacy do you want to leave behind?
  • Where do you want to go next?

With a bit of reflection and effort, you too can enter your career with the dreams and goals necessary to keep you focused.

Lesson 4: Don’t Stop Moving

Our fourth Disney lesson: Don't stop moving!

Walt Disney was a master of progress, and this progress was often achieved by the happy marriage of motivation and momentum. Disney as a corporation continues to grow today with this mindset. From media to merchandise to parks and resorts, the company refuses to stand still. Young professionals should also realize that progress in their career is hard to come by without momentum behind their ideas.

The truth is, great ideas are not realized without action, no matter how productive the brainstorming session was. Similarly, true change does not take place without hard work even if it does not happen overnight.

The key to achieving your professional dreams requires doing the following:

  • Be agile
  • Be determined
  • Do the work
  • Never stop moving

No, its not easy, and Walt Disney would tell you the same. But with motivation and momentum you can do it!

Lesson 5: Follow Through

Lesson #5: Follow Through!

The worst fate of a good idea is not failure, it’s inaction! Walt Disney recognized his dreams and his vision and he did not let them out of sight. The result of this persistence: The Disney we know and love today.

In your professional life, you will often encounter incredible and innovative ideas. Yet bringing these ideas to life will require a sometimes frightening level of effort and risk. Just remember Walt Disney’s own wisdom: You can accomplish your goals and you can turn your ideas into reality. Begin by following through!

If you are asking what this means, you aren’t alone. In my career I have been fortunate to have managers and mentors who have given me more than one approach to ensure that I am truly following through on ideas, initiatives, and projects.

Let’s take a look below:

  • Outline your plan – Without a plan, you won’t be able to recognize milestones or measure progress
  • Set a cadence – Maybe it’s an initiative you are working on daily, or maybe it’s a project that you reserve one hour a week to make progress on. The most important thing here is that you have time set aside
  • Seek feedback from peers and managers – There is nothing more discouraging than working on a project in a bubble, and so there is nothing wrong with pulling in peers and managers for constructive criticism to help steer you towards the best path

These simple lessons are an easy way to ensure that you are applying a good level of follow through on your big ideas and projects at work, and I have found great success using them myself.

Lesson 6: Respect Deadlines

Our sixth lesson: Respect deadlines!

Deadlines: More often than not, they feel like your worst enemy. Papers, projects, and presentations all weigh on you as each day goes by. And yet because of this pressure, we often forget that deadlines exist for more reasons than simple necessity. Deadlines are a catalyst for creativity and a motivator for progress!

In Walt Disney’s life, the pressure to complete each milestone of progress was also a huge factor in the speed with which his ideas were brought to life. In your own professional life, embrace these deadlines and use them as a motivation to make your ideas become reality more quickly than you might have otherwise.

Let’s look at a few ways you can put this lesson into practice in your career:

  • Acknowledge the deadline (and set a deadline if there isn’t already) – This is the logical first step
  • Create a plan with milestones – I have found that a project becomes much more manageable when broken up into separate segments each with their own deadline
  • Review your progress throughout – Take this extra step to ensure that your current pace will allow you to meet your deadline, and find ways to adjust if necessary

Deadlines will be one of the leading pressures in your career. That is just a fact of professional life. Just remember that deadlines are also one of the biggest sparks of productivity and creativity, and respecting them will help you to achieve the full potential of your ideas.

Lesson 7: Be Confident in Your Ideas

Idea 7: Be confident in your ideas!

Dreams as ambitious and innovative as Walt Disney’s cannot come to life without an absolute confidence in them, a fact that Disney acknowledges in our final lesson. Throughout your own professional career, you will encounter ideas that have the power to change your team, your business, and even your industry. Do not let these sparks of genius fizzle out from a lack of confidence!

When I entered my first role after graduating university, it was hard to find the confidence to speak up during meetings with thoughts or ideas. I did not want to come off as a cocky know-it-all, and I genuinely was not sure if I knew what I was talking about. It was not until I began to meet with managers and mentors that I started to learn how to build confidence in my ideas.

These lessons should serve all young professionals well:

  • Seek feedback early – It will be hard to put the work into a good idea until you have affirmation that it is in fact a good idea, so reach out to peers and managers for feedback. If it is a good idea, then you can bring it to life with confidence
  • Search for inspiration – Even innovative ideas will have things in common with other projects and ideas, and you can often find inspiration by learning about how projects or initiatives in your department or company were made successful
  • Seek feedback after – This is one of the most important way to build confidence in your future ideas! Whenever a project is complete or a new initiative is rolled out, take the feedback from your peers and managers and use it to build your confidence when it’s time to bring your next idea to life

You are part of the next generation of leaders and innovators, so be confident!

Conclusion

These seven lessons above were instrumental in shaping the life and success of Walt Disney. As you begin your career and take your first steps in your professional life, be sure to take this wisdom with you wherever you may go. Walt Disney’s journey began not unlike your own: A young man or woman with a dream.

For more Walt Disney wisdom, you can find a fantastic autobiography written by Neal Gabler on Amazon here:

Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination – By Neal Gabler

Were you inspired by these career lessons from Walt Disney? Have you found inspiration of your own from other famous visionaries? Please share in the comments below!

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