# 398: BOOK OF THE WEEK — “Walt Disney: An American Original”

Thomas, Bob (1994/1976). Walt Disney: An American Original.

Story behind the Book Choice

This week was an extremely healing one for me. I had an accident with the horse. Nothing major happened but I got injured enough to wake up. Accidents happen when your mind takes control of things and wanders in a direction where there is no light. I bet, if I reviewed my posts from the past months, I would be able to detect the development. But it does not matter what happened in the past. What matters is that this incident brought me back on track. No, it did more, actually. It made me progress in a very fundamental way. Whenever the next step of self-development is near, there usually is a huge backdrop. This has been going on for a while now and until this downward slope reaches its peak or rather the absolute valley, if we use the metaphor of a mountain, the fall becomes almost unbearable. It makes your head burst and the communication line between body and mind is completely interrupted.

What all this has to do with Disney can be explained easily: I had to read the biography because I am going to teach it on Monday. Actually, I have not finished reading the entire book myself yet. But reading the first half already gives you a good idea of how this magical kingdom of Disney originated. And reading it also helped me realize again how wonderful it is to be back on my path — my own path. There is only one for each and every one of us. Some of us decide to follow it. Many of us do not. The answer to why I am writing on this blog is exactly this. I have been raising the question of why I am writing quite often. The answer is so obvious that I was not able to see it during many phases. I did see it at the beginning and it flickered through the dark many times. But the more I left my own path, the more I lost sight of how my writing is an expression of the path. And that is all there is: Walking your own path.

This is also what entrepreneurs like Disney will always stand for.

  1. Saying no

This is a passage from the very early days of Disney. He and his business partner had already been through quite a few financial disasters. But what is so special about this particular situation here is that he already had the courage and the confidence to say “no” to an offer that might have helped him financially and career-wise. The move gives testimony to the fact that he knew what he wanted — what he was destined to do: draw cartoons and follow his artistic passion. This was in no way easy. His father had not seen any value in this neither did the family have the financial means to sponsor the presumably useless career path of their son. But he did not let anybody stop him. He followed his inner voice and that is the only thing that gives you the inner certainty to say no to offers that, under rational circumstances, might sound “right” or “helpful.”

2. Focus

I have written about focus quite often before, probably especially in times when I myself lacked it. That is o.k., you have to accept this. But you also have to know that focus will come back again if you follow your inner voice. Focus is nothing that can be created superficially, neither does it mean that you only do one thing, as many people suggest. No, focus simply means you stay true to your mission. And that mission is the hardest thing to find if you search for it with merely rational tools. You cannot speed up the process by investing all your time or money to thinking about it or hiring expensive consultants to run workshops with you. Your mission is always there but it takes a long time till you see it and even longer to formulate it.

When Thomas is writing about the fact that Walt could invest all his time into cartooning and crafting stories, this is the necessary focus of the creative mind in a business. That does not mean, however, that artists have no talent for business. On the contrary, they do. Otherwise, Disney would not even have gotten to that point in his business story. In the beginning, (almost) every business is a one-man show. You have to do it yourself because you have no money and nobody would do anything for you. This is when your artistic power gives you confidence for selling your product. Walt did that and he had the persuasive powers to be successful, as described above. But then, when the business unfolded and there were more people on board, he also had the guts to face one crucial finding: You cannot do it alone forever.

If you really want to develop, you have to focus on your biggest strength. And even if you are good at so many things, there is one thing that marks your special potential, your genius. In Walt’s case, this was the drawing and the creativity that made him turn simple comics into animated movies that would later have colors and sound — things that were completely unknown in the early 1930s and 40s. That was what really brought the company forward and it was only possible because he devoted his time to focusing on this. The one thing that is required for this is very simple: You have to leave your ego behind and simply be who you are supposed to be. If you hold on to doing everything yourself because you think you can do it all, you are destined to fail or at least not grow — as a company and as a person.

3. Intellectualizing Mickey Mouse

This finding is so brilliant, I cannot waste many words about it. It gives the most accurate picture of how this world, especially academia, works. You turn Mickey Mouse into the object of intellectual and even scientific observation.

How foolish man has become…

“Mickey’s a nice fellow who never does anybody any harm, who gets in scrapes through no fault of his own but always manages to come up grinning.”

Reflection Questions

1) Who/What is your favorite Disney Character?

2) Are you walking your own path?

3) What do you think intellect is good for?

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