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Michael Eisner and the Tiger

Kris Murrin of the creativity consultancy ?WhatIf! tells a great story about how one of Disney’s imagineers brought to life a customer experience he was trying to create, but that the Disney board consistently refused to fund.

The imagineer had twice presented to the board a thick, bound proposal for a new park that featured live animals. Twice the proposal was thrown out on the grounds that “people don’t want to see live animals. Where’s the ‘wow’ in that?”

The third time, the imagineer didn’t bring a thick proposal into the boardroom with him. He brought in, on the end of a chain, a six-foot Bengal tiger. “Now do you get it?” he asked. They got it. Disney’s Animal Kingdom was the result.

I traced this story back, and it turns out it was Michael Eisner himself who was on the receiving end of the tiger. The imagineer was Joe Rohde, a senior creative executive at Disney, and an explorer who sports a handlebar moustache and an elongated ear lobe, stretched by a string of shells and bones collected from his visits to tribal villages in Africa, Thailand and Nepal.

“He once brought a tiger on a leash into a meeting with Disney CEO Michael Eisner to illustrate the allure of live animals. Stunned, and no doubt impressed, Eisner gave Rohde the go-ahead for Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World’s fourth theme park”, it says in the Disney on-line talk forum on these pages. It’s fascinating reading.

This story also evidences epiphanies and how direct experience and emotion generate them. I’ll blog a bit more on epiphanies later, as they seem vital in the change process. Have been musing on epiphanies and the part they play in change since Johnnie Moore led me to a paper on leadership and change.

I’m looking forward to Eisner himself coming to talk at the European Customer Management World event in London next May that I’m involved with. He’s widely-demonized by Walt-lovers among the Disney-rati and clearly wasn’t a lot of fun to work for. But I think he has more in common with Walt in his laser-like focus on the pre-eminence of ideas than his detractors give him credit for.

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