Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dear Steve Jobs,

I understand from reading a front-page story in yesterday's New York Times that you're encouraging Disney Consumer Products to "dream bigger" and that you're helping guide a massive overhaul of the Disney Stores.

That's highly commendable. No sarcasm here. It's about time someone tell the Consumer Products division of Disney that its "vision" of the Disney Stores as being "the best 30 minutes of a child's day" is, frankly, not impressive. It's been a long while since Disney Consumer Products was impressive, and now that Dick Cook at the Walt Disney Studios and Ed Grier at Disneyland have been shown the door, it will be interesting to see how long DCP's Andy Mooney lasts, since that division has been languishing for quite a number of years.

But this is a blog about EPCOT, not about Disney Consumer Products, so you must be wondering what the two have to do with each other? Well, a lot.

Because while you're encouraging big thinking and grand ambition for the Disney Stores, the biggest, grandest, most ambitious theme park of any sort, Disney or otherwise, is pretty much languishing.

Many of the people who work for you at Apple and Pixar were -- you might be surprised to hear this -- inspired by EPCOT Center. They were exactly the right age to have their imaginations sparked back in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Disney set a simple-yet-lofty goal: Make sure every man, woman and child in the U.S. had heard of EPCOT. In the pre-Internet, "old media" days, that was not an easy thing to do, and even if people didn't quite know what it was, by the time October 1, 1982, rolled around, they knew that it was.


In its first decade of operation, EPCOT introduced literally hundreds of millions of people to impossibly futuristic technologies like touch-screen computers, video conferencing, fiber optics and hydroponics. It was the first glimpse many people had of a world of the future, one that we knew was likely impossible but, hey, we could dream, couldn't we? And over across the lagoon, there was no "West Germany" and "East Germany," Japan and China weren't filled with people who "all looked the same," and Italy wasn't a formerly fascist country that many people still feared a bit. Nope, World Showcase depicted a planet in which our differences were celebrated, where we worked together to build that idealistic future on Spaceship Earth -- which was almost always visible, no matter where in EPCOT you were, reminding us that we were all in this together.

And through it all, there were hardly any Disney characters to be seen. EPCOT wasn't a place where Disney marketed and merchandised itself, but where a "new Disney era" was coming to life. Perhaps it wasn't as amazing as Walt would have made it, but it was an honorable attempt. More than that, it did exactly, Mr. Jobs, what you are urging Disney executives to do today -- it dreamed bigger.

It's fantastic and wonderful and terrific and very, very cool that you've taken an interest in the Disney Stores, which have been the victim of small thinking and are still trying to recover from having been literally cut away from the rest of the company for several years.

But even as you go about encouraging this laudable renaissance for Disney's retail stores, I'd like to propose that you encourage the same sort of spirit of innovation, creativity and imagination for EPCOT.

As I mentioned earlier, it would be impossible to deny the huge influence EPCOT had on many of the people who have been instrumental in creating the real-world renaissance of the past decade and a half. It's become fashionable and fun to bash EPCOT as "boring," but that simple view undermines the inspiration it brought to people who didn't find it that way, who conversely found it enormously exciting and endlessly inspiring.

At the Apple Store, you've built a retail environment that is all about hands-on interaction, about educating your guests, about letting them see and experience a future that's not just possible ... but possible for them to take home. You've created a retail location that everyone in the retail business said was impossible: One that encourages people to visit, to experience, to think, to imagine, to learn ... not just to buy. The Apple Store shows its guests how their lives can change thanks to technology.

Basically, you've created 273 mini-EPCOTs, albeit with a theme of computers and home technology, but, still ... the idea is the same. Now, take that amazing innovation and creative spirit and apply it to the actual EPCOT concept, and the mind boggles.

If Apple's creative and technological geniuses were to blend with Imagineering, if they were given the canvas of EPCOT and told, "dream bigger" ... well, perhaps you can see how easy it is to get excited about the possibilities.

EPCOT is Disney's diamond in the rough, its pre-existing opportunity to grow its brand in an entirely new direction, to capture the hearts and minds of young people in ways that don't have solely to do with dressing like pirates and princesses or meeting Ariel and Mickey. EPCOT can be so much more than what it has become.

So, Mr. Jobs, it's really great that you've taken such an interest in Disney's mall-based retail locations. There's almost no way that Disney can't benefit from your inspiration and encouragement. Now, there's just one favor to ask of you for your next project: Take a look at EPCOT and ...

Dream bigger.

19 comments:

Jason R. Thompson said...

You should send this to sjobs@apple.com, a direct line to Steve's staff. Hopefully he will take the time to read it and spread the message.

jimmycrackedcorn said...

:Applause: I'll add my signature to that petition.

Future Guy said...

My fondest wish is for Apple to take over sponsorship of the Imagination pavilion. They'd be a natural. Could you imagine an ImageWorks filled with Apple technology?

St. Chris said...

WOW, Future Guy. That would rekindle my enthusiasm for the Imagination pavilion; I might even abandon my dream of gutting it.

Anonymous said...

no doubt. was reading that 'sum of all thrills' is so far a big success. but it seems to me less about showing/imagining what's possible in the FUTURE than exploiting existing (and not very revolutionary) technology.

it's not surprising that EPCOT is languishing... it's essentially followed the same path as the US in general. that is, we may continue to innovate in certain areas (not always good... those fancy financial innovations didn't turn out so good for many people!!), but we seem more interested in presiding over our present and past than imagining what could be our future.

if Jobs or Apple, or anyone, can convince Dis to dream bigger for EPCOT, i'm all for it.

Anonymous said...

Bravo!!

rob said...

1984 was the first time i got to visit EPCOT Center and one of the great things I looked forward to was the touch screen roller coaster building computer program. The flag program wasn't as much fun. Oh, how I loved Communicore.

And the shop where you could go upstairs and EPCOT sold this roller coaster toy where a marble was the roller coaster and you could design it. I went there every time I went to EPCOT. It was such a great store

Anonymous said...

Future Guy, you are a genius!

I am an old school EPCOT guy myself and I was deeply inspired by the park (including the now defunct ImageWorks) as a youth.

I can credit the vision presented at EPCOT with having played no small part in my choice of career which began with broadband multimedia and interactive TV R&D and moved on to internet and mobile device UI design and development.

The current state of the Imagination pavilion is a painful reminder of the decline of my favorite park.

The thought of an Apple sponsored Imagination pavilion just made my day! If anyone reading this has access to anyone at Apple, please, please please, please pass along the suggestion!!!

Airamerica said...

I'm a huge Apple fan and rely entirely on their technology around my home. I think it would be excellent for them to be involved in EPCOT.

However, I'm not convinced that Steve Jobs should be parachuted in to save the park - he's got a stellar track record in retail and innovation but he hasn't been involved with running theme parks and resorts.

Suggesting he's the person to inject new life into EPCOT is a little insulting to the imagineers, who dream up new attractions, only to have them vetoed by the accountants and management who don't want to make an investment.

I don't think the imagineers are a bankrupt collective by any means!

Plus, as an Apple shareholder and follower of Steve Jobs I highly doubt that he should (for health reasons) get involved with a project like rejuvenating EPCOT. I want him to remain focussed on Apple in the medium term. Improving EPCOT could take 10 years...

However, I think it would be prudent to encourage Jobs to apply pressure, at board level to invest in the EPCOT facility. Although, I fear that his agenda could be driven by his association to John Lasseter and Pixar.

Do we want more Pixarfication in EPCOT????

Anonymous said...

Hard to say for certain, but I haven't seen any evidence that Mr. Jobs has tendencies toward Pixarfication. He does have a remarkable track record when it comes to technological innovation and design.

I doubt that he would be out there painting attractions but, rather, using his proven strengths at getting the most out of his teams.

No slight whatsoever to the Imagineers but I don't think that Mr. Jobs could do anything but good. He is exactly the sort of management that Imagineering could benefit from.

Digital Jedi said...

I'm not really a fan of Steve Jobs, per se. I like some things he's done, not too crazy about most Apple products. That said, if can contribute to an infusion of life, energy, leadership and cash in Disney management, I'm all for him.

Angelo721 said...

Totally Awesome!

Steve Jobs shouldn't be on the Board off Directors He should be an Immagineeer.

Welcome back to Blogging, Epcot 82 we missed ya.

Epcot82 said...

Airamerica, there should be no offense to the Imagineers by the suggestion. In fact, if anything, it's quite the opposite -- it's clear that they NEED a champion, someone who actually has the political clout to get their ideas pushed through. Theme park management has been winning out by default; as the team of Walt and Roy Disney proved, artistic vision still needs financial backing and support. It's far too easy to justify a new fairies greeting area or cartoon-based ride because the spreadsheets show existing consumer awareness and a definite return on investment based on the performance of the underlying property. There's absolutely no way The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Adventures Thru Inner Space, The Enchanted Tiki Room or Country Bear Jamboree could be given the green-light in today's pop-culture-driven, numbers-obsessed entertainment industry. Yet they are the attractions that (except in Disneyland, where one was stupidly closed to make way for, um, a "pre-existing property") stand the test of time.

So, someone with vision, daring and chutzpah is needed, someone who can say, "We're not doing this because the financial analysis supports it, we're doing this because it's a good idea. Disney has not had someone like that in a long, long time, and if Steve Jobs wants to step up to the plate to make it happen for the Disney Stores, that's beyond fantastic. It would just be great to see him push his influence even further. And you can bet he has influence! Besides, when is the last time a Disney board member took an active interest of any sort in the business? Robert A.M. Stern? And that's a pretty weak example.

As for Jobs's health issues ... since when has that ever mattered to vision? I've long found it amusing that Wall Street thinks anyone should be concerned about Jobs's health. Being "ill" or being "well" has nothing to do with the quality of your vision and imagination. I seem to recall a particularly potent sales film outlining and extraordinary vision of a city of the future, produced by one of the most influential men who ever lived just a few weeks before he died. You're telling me that his company should have prevented him from serving as its head because he was sick?

Anonymous said...

Disney just lifted its left and farted in your general direction. LOL. Watch this, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wSBvYsZLrc

Epcot82 said...

It's not a bad video -- would be fun to see something with a little more intelligence, but it's certainly not offensive. It's also rare to see World Showcase itself featured prominently, so that's nice.

Digital Jedi said...

Anonymous said:
>>>Disney just lifted its left and farted in your general direction. LOL. Watch this, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wSBvYsZLrc<<<

I don't get it. Why is that a "fart" in anyone's direction? Everyone already knows the Disney Channel isn't interesting.

Dave said...

An incredible letter, and I'm loving the comments from everyone.

The day they open a new attraction based on its entertainment value and inspirational merits and not its synergistic marketing possibilities, I'll be a very happy person indeed.

Steve Hall said...

Old-school EPCOT'r as well here.

In thinking about what inspired EPCOT, what EPCOT came to be in '82, what it was for everyone for about 15 years, and now what it is today...

Here's what I think EPCOT needs as a foundation for its existence:

1. EPCOT's identity back (the original logo/trademark is very recognizable and still quite relevant). This new one is just silly and cannot be taken seriously - the original has a strong presence and asks for your attention. Disney has the talent and the wherewithal to command that kind of attention at all times in all of its parks, and EPCOT can always be an example of leadership and forward-thinking both in parks and in the entertainment industry.

2. Leadership that commands that EPCOT represent the best in imagination and forward-thinking. A "longview" approach that's not ever given up on.

3. Its name returned to "EPCOT". (Hello!! The name is and has always been an acronym, for crying out loud. It will always need to be in all CAPS.)

4. EPCOT's main focus areas: automotive travel, space travel & exploration, health & the body, food & food-bearing technologies, undersea life and exploration, international celebrations, and energy are as much and even far more relevant today as they were in '82. Especially the World of Motion attraction - sad that this attraction ended because it in many ways embodied the feel and pace of discovery at EPCOT (one they've been able to maintain with Spaceship Earth). And don't get me started on Communicore - it was nothing short of amazing, and still should be!

EPCOT was and is a difficult endeavor simply because once it opened, it had to seek to go beyond itself for the rest of its existence. This is why all the "wonder" of EPCOT has subsided - no longview and forward-thinking vision.

Steve Jobs as visionary leader? Not a bad idea, but anyone could lead it effectively if they held by EPCOT's strategy and mission - to inspire thinking into 'tomorrow' and beyond.

Steve Smith said...

A blog for Steve Jobs for being the best of the best god given gift.


My Blog: Remembering Steve Jobs – The Man, The Entrepreneur, The Maverick

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