Walt Disney Was a Failure (Which Helped Him Succeed)

Disneyland and Disneyworld are the most famous and successful theme parks in the world. The Walt Disney Company is now the third largest entertainment company in the world with 133,000 employees and $60 Billion in revenue. According to Fortune magazine, in 2007, Disney is America’s most admired entertainment company.

According to Newsweek, the Disney brand is the 9th most valuable brand in America, with a value exceeding $29 billion. The Walt Disney Company owns thousands of brands such as: ESPN, ABC, Mickey Mouse, Disney Princesses, The Muppets, Pixar, The Disney Channel, Touchstone, Miramax, Winnie the Pooh, Disney Cruise Line, Pirates of the Caribbean, Mary Poppins, Family.com, Movies.com, Club Penguin, The Lion King, Toy Story, Cars, Peter Pan, High School Musical, and Hanna Montana. Walt Disney has brought happiness to hundreds of millions of people.

With that said, Walt Disney was a failure. I say that with all due respect to the father of family entertainment, one of history’s greatest innovators, and one of my heroes. My point is that when we think of Walt Disney we think of his amazing successes. However, most of us have never even heard of his failures, which tremendously contributed to his phenomenal success.

Here are a few of his failures or challenges which I discovered recently from reading Inside the Dream: The Personal Story of Walt Disney.

  • Walt was laid off from his first job as an animator after only one month.
  • One of Walt’s first business ventures, Laugh-O-grams, was a financial disaster. Walt couldn’t pay his rent, and wound up living in his Laugh-O-grams office. He ate on credit at a little coffee shop. “I was all alone” Walt later said. “It was lonesome. When my credit ran out I was tempted to go into a restaurant and eat, and then tell them I couldn’t pay. But I didn’t have the nerve. I was so [bleep] hungry.” Laugh-O-grams filed bankruptcy.
  • When Walt moved to California he wanted to be a “movie director”. He tried to get any job he could with the studios to get his foot in the door. Walt said, “I went from one studio to another and I went to the personnel departments and it was pretty cold.”
  • Mickey Mouse was not Walt’s first cartoon character. Walt Disney’s company designed a character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and partnered with Charlie Mintz as the distributor. Charlie went behind Walt’s back and signed most of the top Disney artists to come work for him and took control of the Oswald character and brand. Charlie wasn’t the first to underestimate Walt Disney and he certainly wouldn’t be the last.
  • Walt Disney later used another distributor named Pat Powers. Pat began withholding payments and stopped giving Walt any reports. It ended up that Powers, like Charlie Mintz, wanted to take over Walt’s operation, guaranteeing Walt a hearty salary to come work for him. As leverage, Powers hired away Walt’s best animator.
  • Walt and his wife struggled with infertility.
  • After the movie Snow White had been a success, the next three Disney films were not immediate financial successes. Even before the United States entered the Second World War, the studio’s revenues declined 40% with the loss of the overseas market.
  • The Second World War essentially shut down the Disney Animation Studios, except for government projects. In addition to drafting many company employees, the war caught the studios in a financially vulnerable period of growth. In 1941, his employees formed a picket line to strike. This perceived betrayal from his staff was cataclysmic for Walt.

Walt obviously rebounded from each of these challenges or failures. After the Oswald character was seized by his distributor, he created Mickey Mouse, and protected his creative work much better in the future. After struggling with infertility, Walt and his wife were able to adopt. It was on outings with his girls that Walt’s ideas for Disneyland began to develop. After being unable to get any job in a movie studio, Walt eventually became a very successful movie director. After lean years from the war, Walt Disney Studios eventually rebounded began creating even better movies than they had previously.

How often in our lives do we compare our weaknesses, challenges and failures to the successes and strengths of others? How often do we not remember that the people in our idealistic comparisons have weaknesses, challenges and failures of their own? I am guilty of doing this regularly.

After the Laugh-O-grams bankruptcy Walt said, “And I came to Hollywood. I was just free and happy. I was 21 years old. But I’d failed. I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young.”

Roy Disney, Walt’s brother said the following of Walt’s early business skills, “If Walt had gone on like that he never would have gone anyplace.”

We all have to have weaknesses, challenges and failures or we cannot grow. A tree planted in the middle of a clearing grows fat, while the tree planted in a forest grows tall because it has to fight for the sun light. Challenges help us to also grow taller and closer to Heaven. If Walt had not had challenges, he might have retired as an animator in Kansas City. His weaknesses became important catalysts and growing experience to help him achieve the great things he did.

Ether 12:27 teaches, “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

Weaknesses, trials and challenges are part of our mortal existence on this earth, and they are some of the primary ways that God uses to shape us into what he needs us to be. Through these difficult circumstances we can humble ourselves, and receive the divine assistance we need to make those weak things strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 teaches, “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

In this scripture, the Apostle Paul teaches that the Lord’s strength is made perfect in weakness. I believe that this means our weaknesses help us realize how much we need God, and encourage us to turn to Him to receive strength from Him. Paul even rejoices in the weakness, because he knows that this weakness is what makes him strong. God gives us weaknesses so that we can triumph over them, and He wants us to be able to recognize His hand in that victory when it comes.

Walt Disney was a failure at first, but he used those challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. Those failures were some of the most important reasons why he was such a phenomenal success.

Find Inside the Dream: The Personal Story of Walt Disney at Amazon.com.

(Source: Inside the Dream)

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