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Suspending Skepticism: Ignoring Your Inner Ragdoll

Could it be that the biggest part of learning optimism is just figuring out how to suspend skepticism? Is it that simple?

Suspending skepticism seems like an easy thing — a trite comment, really — but I’ve learned that skepticism is so ingrained in most of us that laying it aside is more difficult than we first imagine. From the first time we hear “You’re too big for that chair!” or “Be careful up there!” or the really insidious “Don’t get your hopes up!”, we start assembling a picture of the world that features a tiny ragdoll at the center (that’s us) surrounded by assorted threats, hazards, and disappointments (everything we think, dream, and wonder about).

I’ve become quite a Disney World supporter over the last few days. I’ve written about the superb customer service, the powerful combination of business and artistic vision, and more than anything, the great experience my kids have had at the various parks. But to be honest, I know enough about Disney that I kind of expected all of those things. I expected to see a fun environment produced by a well-run organization.

What I didn’t expect was the impact that Disney would have on me. I’d find myself passing by a ride or theater or walkway. “Nothing too exciting is back there,” my ragdoll voice would say. And I’d start to walk by when invariably a little child’s hand would grab mine and say, “C’mon Dad — puulllleaaaase?”

The first time I sort of rolled my eyes, re-oriented the stroller, and grudgingly followed. “Okay…” I said, which as everyone knows is Dad Code for “I already know that this is a stupendous waste of time, and soon you will learn that too, and then you will understand my incredible power of divination and will listen to me next time.”

But here’s the thing. It was never a waste of time. The concert with Mickey Mouse, the a cappella American folk singers, the 360-degree movie about China — everything was just, well, surprisingly delightful. Just really wonderful.

And what I noticed is that by the second day I stopped using Dad Code with the kids. “Let’s go!” I’d say. “I bet this is really cool!” And by the third day I stopped listening to my own ragdoll. Frankly, I’m not sure I even would have noticed that until yesterday, when we had three people feeling sick and run-down but had to travel home anyway. I heard the rag doll say “This will be awful. This will be a long and horrible day.” But I heard myself say, “We can do this.” And you know what? All things considered, eight hours of travel with six people went flawlessly.

In my book, the greatest thing about Disney World is that it got me to throw my skepticism into the recycling bin. I stopped looking at doors and saying, “There’s nothing interesting in there.” I stopped looking at people and saying, “They are opposed to me.” And I stopped looking in the mirror and saying, “I need to protect the ragdoll.” Instead I started actively walking towards each walkway, filled with excitement about what was coming next.

How effective would I be if I greeted every single encounter of every single day with that optimism and confidence? If we all did?

This is the biggest memory I hope to keep from Disney World. It could be powerful.

Learning Optimism

Dad says, “That sure looks like a big hill.”
Kids say, “It will be really fun!”
Dad says, “It is pretty cold out here for a water ride.”
Kids say, “We’ll dry off in the sun!”
Dad says, “I’m not sure we have time to do this before lunch.”
Kids say, “The line is really short!”
Dad says, “I don’t think you’re going to like it.”
Kids say, “We’re going to love it!”
Kids say, “Can we go on again?”
Dad says, “Yes!!”

Progress Requires Disruption

A quick post from Orlando, where I’m spending a short, delightful vacation with my family. Using Disney as an example of fantastic customer service is hopelessly overdone. Similarly, using Disney as an example of unparalleled creative vision is just as hackneyed. And yet, the reason Disney is such a tired example of both is that they consistently excel in both areas. And so, I hope you’ll forgive my possible lack of inventiveness as I relate a story from yesterday.

We were at our first real (as in “they will remember it”) visit to the Magic Kingdom. My kids were excited to read about the debut of the new Fantasyland, set to open in 2012. But when we walked past Cinderella’s Castle, we were greeted with a maroon wall. No Dumbo ride, no Toontown Fair. Seems that Fantasyland 2012 isn’t quite ready yet.

I’ve pictured the sign that was posted on the wall.

Now, from my experience there are three ways of explaining construction to customers:

  1. “Under construction.” That’s it. We’re just telling it like it is. No explanation of what we’re doing, or why. Just a confirmation that, yes, your eyes are operating correctly. (Sometimes this explanation is paired with with the disconcerting addition, “Beware of falling debris.”)

  2. “Pardon our dust.” As in, “Oh dear, ahem, whoops, we’re sorry, we didn’t mean it.” The lacking-confidence explanation.

  3. The way Disney does. Disney says, “We’re making something great, and that requires inconvenience, and soon you’re going to be thankful that we inconvenienced you.”

Hear the difference?

I should add two more things. First, this wasn’t the only sign posted. Every twenty feet or so there were quotes from Walt Disney about the future, and progress, and how Disney pursues its goals. Disney took a construction wall and turned it into an exhibit about their culture.

Second, as my kids were standing around embarrassed waiting for their wacky dad to take a picture of a sign, a door we hadn’t noticed opened up in the wall. Two construction workers started to walk out of the walled-in area. They saw my kids watching and held the door open for us. My family got a five-second glimpse of huge earth movers, a massive hole in the ground, a partially-built castle, and lots and lots of busy people. And at the same time all four kids said “WOW!” The two guys smiled at us. Here at a place with wonders around every turn, my kids were amazed by a hole in the ground. From disappointment to amazement.

There’s lots here worth thinking about. The power of culture. The pull of vision. The critical role each person plays. (What makes a worker hold the door open for guests? What makes him even think of onlookers as guests?)

And more than anything, the fact that change is uncomfortable. Progress requires disruption. How do we approach change? How do we discuss it with our constituents? With the enthusiasm that we’re making something great? Or with the fear of falling debris?