What can Disney’s master storytellers teach us about understanding company culture?
We recently had the chance to spend time with Ron Clements and John Musker, the Disney directors behind such classics as Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and their latest project Moana - their first CGI film.
Moana is an animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who, with the help from demigod Maui, sails out on a daring mission to save her people. Ron and John explained that after pitching their idea to the legendary film-maker and Pixar founder John Lasseter, they realised that to connect with and inspire their audience, they must first know their subject.
They embarked upon a huge research project, aiming to understand the rich histories of the people and cultures of Oceania. Their journey of discovery can be related to the research process of our own working culture and the practices of the businesses we work with.
Reflecting on the great creative minds of Ron and John we pulled together four lessons for a successful business culture:
Don’t Second Guess.
How often do companies second guess, rather than rolling up our sleeves and taking a deeper dive into the culture itself? The Moana team spent months researching and talking to people to understand the culture of the island.
Understanding Creates Authenticity.
Once we understand the truths of our own people we can tackle challenges and improve cultures. The Disney team studied EVERYTHING. From movement of light on the sea, to discovering that grapefruit in Tahiti is different to the what we would expect. All this detail went in to the final movie.
The most important one for us is to empower people to become part of the creative process. Disney set up the Oceanic Story Trust – in which, a group of islanders had regular meetings with Disney to ensure the film was the best representation of their culture and heritage.
Respect Heritage & Culture.
Our culture and heritage is what makes us who we are. In the words of one local, who the Moana film-makers met in Tahiti: ‘Know your mountain, know everything that led to your existence. Because if you don't know who came before you, you don't know who you are.’