As a high school kid working at Disneyland I was disappointed to learn that not everyone had a passion for Disneyland like I had. Not every other frontline cast member was enthusiastic about their work environment. The kid I trained with was excited about his new job but quit shortly after to work at a movie theater where they would allow him to grow a goatee. (Good news, kid I trained with... you can have hair on your face now! Come back.) Few managers seemed to care about the history of the great park. A decade later I was equally disappointed to discover first-hand that higher management was apathetic (at most) to focus on any part of the grand Disney legacy.
Let me be clear. Not all park employees and managers fall into this category. There are some who do not. There are those who focus time and energy learning about the company and regularly enjoying the parks as guests. It’s been my experience that these people are more rare than you would think.
I’ve not been able understand why someone would (or could) establish a career in Disney park management yet not bother to know park history nor experience its current offerings. It’s been rather baffling that one would be surrounded by this stuff and not partake of it on any non-boardroom level. I’m talking about middle and upper Walt Disney World management who can’t name the Magic Kingdom lands. And managers who haven’t even been the parks unless to attend meetings held there. Then I came up with this analogy.
Hockey. I guess I like hockey. Sort of. I don’t dislike hockey. I went to two NHL games and one minor league hockey game growing up. They were great. I met Wayne Gretzky when I was 14 at an awards ceremony. I played hockey in the street with my florescent-colored rollerblades. I bought a mini hockey stick at the Canada pavilion at EPCOT Center when I was 11. But I've never read a hockey book, learned the history of the teams, or hung hockey memorabilia in my bedroom. I guess you could say I am apathetic about hockey.
Now if I had an opportunity to work for the NHL I imagine the offer would be rather appealing. A big organization. Reputable image. Fun by nature. Some bragging rights attached, perhaps. Say I accepted a management position within one of the teams’ organization. Would I attend a few of their games? Would I learn the team’s history? Would I learn the players’ names and get to know the arena? All of these things would be free of charge of course. The answer is yes. I would do these things. I would do them regardless of how much of this turned into deep, abiding passion. Regardless of how much or how little I really really loved the game, I would make the effort. Chances are..... I would end up really enjoying hockey.
I don’t know how much the hockey management culture encourages its people to go out of their way for such things. I do know that Disney management culture does not encourage similar proactive behavior.
Should every Disney park manager obsess over old park maps, learn the middle names of every dead Imagineer, and Tweet hundreds of obscure park facts. No. Should every Disney manager VISIT THE PARKS WITH THEIR KIDS? Yes. Yes they should. Should they have a basic knowledge of company history? One slightly more detailed than the Traditions orientation curriculum? Yes. Should they know the names of the rides and actually ride the rides? I would say so. This is not unrealistic. Six-year-olds know every ride.
So the hockey thing might help me understand what a non-fan might feel. Hopefully it will help some of you. But sadly, I still come up short-handed when trying to understand and explain why oh so many park leaders are unconcerned about such basic things. Even more curious is the fact that they can advance up the many ladders of company leadership never really knowing the company’s product.
On a happy note.... I’m thrilled to hear from so many people who are passionate about so many great things who are pursuing careers in the parks. To you I suggest reading some pointers from our friend Bob Gurr. And good luck!
Other posts you may enjoy:
Why the Decline in Park Maintenance?
Buena Vista Street Model
Marc Davis and His Early Days at WED
THEN AND NOW: Epcot World Showcase [Part 2]
The Wonders of Nature's Wonderland [ PART 1 ]
Swiss Family Treehouse Model