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Six lessons from Disney: Part 1

July 1, 2002
Wouldn't it be great if your dental office could capture part of the Disney magic?

by Nate Booth, DDS

Wouldn't it be great if your dental office could capture part of the Disney magic?

Click here to enlarge image

I don't know about you, but I love going to Disneyland in Anaheim and Disney World in Orlando. The experience is magical! That's why Kodak estimates that 5 percent of all the photographs taken in North America are taken at a Disney theme park. Wouldn't it be great if your dental office could capture part of that magic? I believe it's possible!

This article on Walt Disney and the company he created - and the two articles that will appear in the August and September issues of Dental Economics - will show you how.

The year 2001 marked the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney's birth. He was born in an upstairs bedroom of a small house in Chicago. From these humble beginnings, he went on to build one of the largest entertainment companies in the world - a company that has averaged a 16-percent revenue growth since 1945 and a 24-percent compounded return on its stock over the past 15 years. More importantly, Walt created a company that is admired worldwide and a cast of characters that are beloved.

This is Walt Disney's story … and the six lessons you can learn from him and his company. In this article, we will discuss Lessons 1 and 2. Lessons 3 and 4 will be the topic of my August article, with Lessons 5 and 6 presented in the September issue.

Lesson 1 - Create a compelling dream for your practice

Walt Disney was a dreamer from the very beginning. When he was five, his parents and their five children moved to a farm in Marciline, Mo. Even though Walt only lived on the farm for four years, rural living had a profound effect on his life. On the farm, he was close to many animals that would later become the main characters in his cartoons. He was able to experience the simple life where a child had the time and space to wander and dream. On the farm, it's easy to imagine Walt lying on the grass at night, looking up at the dark, clear heavens to "wish upon a star" - just like the song Jiminy Cricket sang in Pinocchio. Forty years later, when Walt built a barn for his workshop on his estate in California, it was an exact replica of the one he remembered in Marciline. Walt had a way of turning dreams into realities!

When he was in grade school, his fourth-grade teacher instructed the class to draw a picture of the bowl of flowers on her desk. Walt drew the flowers with faces on them and put arms where the leaves were supposed to be! Walt Disney didn't see reality the way it was. He saw a reality that wasn't there … yet! Then, he dedicated his life to making it come true.

Walt Disney's dream from his earliest days as a cartoonist in Kansas City was not to make cartoons for kids. His dream was, "To use imagination to bring happiness to millions." It's a dream that thrives today in the lives of billions of people around the world.

Dreams are magical. They get you off the bench of life and onto the path that leads to the dream. It's vital to be on the right path, because pushing yourself to go harder, faster, and more down the wrong path gets you to where you really don't want to go quicker! I made the "harder, faster, more" mistake in my dental practice. I thought that more patients, more treatment rooms, more hours at work, and more staff would bring me the success I desired. All it brought me was more headaches because I was on the wrong path.

Dreams draw you down your chosen path like a magnet attracts iron. Dreams are like Cinderella's Castle that you see off in the distance as you walk down Main Street in Disneyland or The Magic Kingdom. Dreams also do three other very important things:

•Dreams put you on the path with other dreamers. The achievement of your dream will complement the achievement of some of your fellow travelers' dreams. You will bump into them occasionally. Then, you can work together so you both win. People are naturally attracted to dreamers. Have you ever noticed that the dentists who are actively building the practice of their dreams attract the best team members and the best patients?

•Dreams bring you face-to-face with new opportunities. As you travel down your chosen path, you will run into other paths that branch off from yours. Some of these paths will lead you to your dream quicker and more reliably than the one you initially chose. You never would have encountered the new path if you stayed seated on the bench of life.

•Dreams are catalysts that mobilize the needed resources for their achievement. I often talk to dentists who have a dream for their practice, but they don't take action because they don't have the monetary or skill resources to achieve it. Neither did our country in 1961 when John F. Kennedy proclaimed his dream that we would put a man on the moon and bring him back before the end of the decade. In 1961, we didn't have the materials or the technical know-how to accomplish a dream like that. But what did we discover on the way to the dream? We created the materials and technology. Like alchemy, the iron was turned into gold. The dream was turned into a new reality.

Walt had a small cartoon company in Kansas City that failed. Contrary to popular opinion, dreamers don't have fewer failures. They just learn from the experience and keep on moving. In Walt's case, he decided to start over in Hollywood. To raise money for the train ticket, he went door-to-door photographing babies. He left Kansas City wearing a checkered coat and pants that didn't match. He had $40 in cash. His imitation leather suitcase contained one shirt, two pairs of undershorts, two pairs of socks, and some drawing materials. But when he paid for his fare, he bought a first class ticket. Walt Disney had a dream! He knew where he was going … and he wanted to arrive with style.

In Hollywood, Walt had his share of successes and failures, but his dream to use imagination to bring happiness to millions never died. As a result of that dream, the world received its first talking cartoon, Steamboat Willie, starring Mickey Mouse, and its first full-length feature cartoon, Snow White.

In the early 1950s, Walt's dream began to blossom. He wanted to create an amusement park like no other. His business associates thought he was crazy. They told him, "We're in the movie business, not the amusement park business."

Walt replied, "We're in the happiness business. Disneyland will bring more happiness to millions more people in ways that movies never could." Sometimes dreamers have to ignore the misgivings of those around them. It goes with the territory.

Walt's preliminary drawings for Disneyland were put in a folder with this description:

"The idea of Disneyland is a simple one. It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge. It will be a place for parents and children to share pleasant times in one another's company: a place for teachers and pupils to discover greater ways of understanding and education. Here, the older generation can recapture the nostalgia of days gone by and the younger generation can savor the challenge of the future. Here will be the wonders of Nature and Man for all to see and understand.

"Disneyland will be based upon and dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America. And it will be uniquely equipped to dramatize these dreams and facts and send them forth as a source of courage and inspiration to all the world.

"Disneyland will be a fair, an exhibition, a playground, a community center, a museum of living facts, and a showplace of beauty and magic. It will be filled with the accomplishments, the joys, and the hopes of the world we live in. And it will remind us and show us how to make those wonders a part of our own lives. Sometime in 1955, Walt Disney will present for the people of the world - and children of all ages - a new experience in entertainment."

Wow! How's that for a vivid and compelling description of a dream? Do you see how a dream like that would attract people and resources? Do you see how a dream like that would provide the enthusiasm and commitment to keep going down the path even when things were tough? Do you now see that you need a dream like this for your practice? I hope so!

Let's create a vivid and compelling dream description for your practice right now.

As you answer the following questions, don't be realistic. Being realistic deals with the world as it is right now. That's not where you want to be in 10 years. Instead of being realistic, be futuristic. Be a dreamer!

Now, take all your answers and create a dream description. Let your mind and heart soar! You may even want to have an architect draw up preliminary plans for your dream office.

Very early in the creation of his company, Walt coined the term imagineering - the blending of creative imagination and technical know-how. The imagineering department at Disney now has over 1,600 employees. Their motto is: If you can dream it, you can do it. I hope you agree with their statement and apply it to your practice and life.

Creating a compelling dream for your practice is the first step. After all, "you gotta' have a dream to make a dream come true." Rarely can you make your dream come true without the help of other people. In the case of creating the practice of your dreams, you're going to have to influence your dental team and your family to buy into your dream. If you can't effectively do this, you're setting yourself up for discouragement and failure. When you do this now, you will grease the skids to your success.

In 1952, Walt had to influence his board members to approve the Disneyland project. It wasn't easy. To his board members who complained that Disney was not in the amusement park business, Walt replied that his company was in the entertainment business "and that's what amusement parks are."

He passionately told them, "There's nothing like it in the entire world. I know, because I've looked. That's why it can be great; because it will be unique. A new concept in entertainment, and I think - I know - it can be a success." When he finished, there were tears in his eyes. The members of the board were persuaded.

You've got to do the same with the key people in your life … but you've got to begin with you. To influence other people, you've got to be influenced first. That's why Lesson 1 is so important. The emotion generated every time you think of your dream description will flow into your words and body language, so that people will think, "This person really believes what she's talking about! She's going to make it happen. I want to be on the band wagon."

You need to sit down with your family and your dental team and convincingly convey the following:

Lesson 2 - Influence others to buy into your dream

  1. Exactly what the dream is.
  2. Why the dream is so important to you.
  3. What's in it for the other people. How they will benefit. How helping you achieve your dream will move them closer to their dreams.
  4. What you expect from the people.
  5. A simple plan for the achievement of the dream.

The people will respond in one of three ways:

  1. They will be on board with you. You will be able to see it in their eyes.
  2. They will not be on board with you and will bring up all sorts of objections.
  3. They will be curious, but unconvinced. They will have valid questions.

If any of your dental-team members fall into the second category, they will actively or passively resist changes necessary to move toward the dream. They need to be given a career adjustment as soon as possible! It will be in their and your best interests. This frequently isn't easy to do. After all, they may have been excellent employees up to now.

I was talking with a dentist colleague last year. He said one of the most difficult decisions he ever had to make was to fire his best employee. This employee had been with him for years. She was terrific at her front-desk job. The patients loved her. But she wouldn't buy into his dream, so he had to let her go. He went on to tell me it was one of the best decisions he ever made.

If any team members fall into the third category, you need to get them actively involved in the achievement of the dream. Help them experience a few, easy "wins." Keep the faith for your dream. Most of the time, they will come around. If they don't, they, too, will need a career adjustment.

In this issue, you have learned how to create a compelling dream for your practice and how to influence others to buy into your dream.

Next month, we'll talk about how to be different and better at what you do and how to get to know your guests.

In the meantime, remember: If you don't have a dream for your practice and actively move toward it, you will follow someone else's plan for your practice - someone who may not have your best interests in mind. You need to take control of your practice's destiny. You need to dream like the master, Walt Disney.

Six Lessons from Disney

  1. Create a compelling dream for your practice.
  2. Influence others to buy into your dream.
  3. Be different. Be better.
  4. Know your guests.
  5. Exceed your guests' expectations.
  6. Give your guests memorable experiences.

"When you believe in a thing, believe in it implicitly and unquestionably." Walt Disney

Defining your own dream!

Answer the following questions on paper. You will use your answers a little later to create a portfolio just like Walt did for Disneyland.

  • How will the exterior of your dream practice look? Picture it vividly in your mind.
  • How will the interior of your dream practice look? Picture it vividly in your mind. Walk through the office and see every area.
  • Who will be working with you in the office? How many will be on your team? What will be their responsibilities? What kind of people will they be?
  • What kind of patients/guests will you have in your practice? What kind of dental care will they desire and expect?
  • What type of care will you provide regulary? See your team and yourself providing the care.
  • How many days a week will you work? What will your hours be? How much time will you take off for vacations and continuing education?
  • What will you say to yourself about your dream practice when you walk in the front door each morning?
  • What will your patients/guests tell you about your practice?
  • How will you feel about your dream practice?
  • How will your patients/guests feel about coming to your practice?

Editor's Note: Want to learn more about Walt Disney and The Disney Company? Read: Disney: An American Original, by Bob Thomas, Hyperion, 1976 and 1994 BE OUR GUEST: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service, by The Disney Institute, Disney Editions, 2001. The BE OUR GUEST book is great material for staff meetings.

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