01: Walt Disney

This series examines imaginative people from different walks of life and attempts to deconstruct what makes them creative, unique and innovative.

Its easy to forget that before there was the juggernaut corporation ‘Disney’ there was Walt Disney. He has become a major influence on me and a constant inspiring force here at Katawave. It is almost impossible to catalogue his immense achievements and for me he is a true master of imagination.

Think about some of his leaps of imagination: Creating the world’s first ‘talking’ animation, Steamboat Willie. Creating the world’s first feature length animation, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Creating a new entertainment paradigm, the Theme Park. Envisioning the prototype city of tomorrow, EPCOT.

These leaps didn’t come from data analytics, deep voice of the customer research or sophisticated corporate processes. They came from an individual supported by a like minded individuals who were empowered to dream and do.

We can glean some insight into Walt Disney’s approach by standing back and understanding how he enabled imagination for the creation of the first theme park:


A separate entity to design Disneyland- separate to the core business- one could argue that he created one of the first Innovation centres/corporate accelerators with this move.



Long before people like Johnny Ive’s waxed lyrical about the product as story, Walt Disney made sure that story was at the centre of every experience created for Disneyland. The park was seen as a stage, the customers as guests and employees as cast members.



At WED they utilised deep empathy, prototyping, visualisation, model making, and constant iteration- in reality embracing design thinking processes long before the term was coined.


Audio-animatronics- an early form of robotics were invented at Disney but with the main goal of creating more immersive experiences and deeper stories.



He combined story tellers, engineers, designers, artists, architects, producers and set designers to imagine and re-imagine everything from thrill rides to retail stores

These principles are not meant to represent a fully comprehensive list but are highlighted to give some pause for thought to leaders attempting to enable a more creative and imaginative firm. It’s worth remembering that Disneyland was being called ‘Walt’s folly’ before it experienced enormous success- all logic said it wouldn’t work- but imagination won the day.

So, what might these principles mean in the context of your business? And is logic always trumping imagination in your firm?

Collaborating with RTE’s The Innovation Show, Katawave’s ‘Masters of Imagination’ is a series where we look at the pillars upon which these interesting built how they work. Learn about their key principles and how to adopt them yourself to create a truly imaginative and innovative organisation. Listen to RTE’s radio 1 on Saturday’s at 3pm. Or download the podcast on iTunes if you missed it