Walt Disney’s Magical Strategy for Being Excellent in Everything


Walt Disney Plussing It

Disney is one of history’s greatest innovators. He was the first person to add sound and color to his animated films. While everyone else was making cartoon shorts, he dared to make a full-length animated movie, Snow White, which turned into a massive hit.

When he made Bambi, he took it even further. In order to draw realistic-looking animals, he hired an expert on anatomy to teach the animators. Then he actually created a small zoo on the studio lot so they could observe animals directly.

Still unsatisfied, he paid photographers to go out into the wild to capture scenes of deer and rabbits in their natural habitat.

The results speak for themselves. Compared to earlier animation, Bambi was groundbreaking in its realism.

This story perfectly highlights one of Disney’s pioneering ideas – something he called “plussing”.

When he talked to his imagineers or employees about their projects, he would often tell them to “plus it.”

They knew what he meant; he was asking them to take their ideas or plans to the next level. He knew there was always another notch to move up in order to turn something good into something excellent.

Disney successfully used this idea repeatedly throughout his career. Walt plussed everything from his animation to customer service and even his theme park rides.

With the help of “plussing” Disney created a multi-billion dollar company known for its quality and pursuit of excellence.

There’s an inspiring lesson in Disney’s idea of “plussing”. His constant search for improvement and betterment is something we can all learn from. What if we used it in our everyday lives?

So what exactly does “plussing” mean?

Make Good Details Into Great Ones

One important part of “plussing” was placing a high importance on details.

On many rides, he would spend hours optimizing the tiniest sound effects. On another ride, a mahjong game was set up at the beginning. Rather than have the tiles spread out haphazardly, he hired actual players to play a game and stop half way so it looked authentic.

Any project Disney worked on might have hundreds or thousands of small details to oversee. He knew that an improvement to one wouldn’t mean much, but improving a thousand would mean a huge difference.

Take a look at this graph to see what a 1% improvement to thousands of small details does over time.

Details Matter

Details matter simply because there are so many of them. By taking time to improve as many as possible, Disney would bring out the excellence in any project.

Disney animators even came up with a term for this obsession to details which they called “bumping the lamp.”

It refers to a scene in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (watch it, it’s such a small detail, but makes the scene better) when Roger is bouncing around and interacting with the live objects. The lamp in the scene is constantly bumping and swaying even between cuts.

It was time consuming to keep the continuity of this lamp swinging correctly between shots and hardly anyone in the audience would notice if it wasn’t right, but this detail – along with the other amazing details in the movie – add up to a unique and wonderful experience.

People usually forget about details since they can be easily ignored. But if you think about it, there is a lot of power in them.

For example, imagine plussing your workouts. There are countless small details with your routine, nutrition or form to make slight improvements. Even the smallest improvement to every detail would benefit your workouts dramatically.

Even recently I’ve been plussing my website by focusing on the details – most of them are things people would never notice – such as font size, font type and deleting unnecessary parts to make the reader experience more enjoyable.

Each small change doesn’t mean much alone, but they’ve all added up to a noticeable difference. People are staying longer and more readers are subscribing.

Go Above and Beyond Expectations

Another key component to Walt Disney’s “plussing” is exceeding expectations.

Shortly after Walt Disney opened his theme park, he decided to hold a Christmas parade. When he totaled up the expense, he realized his idea and vision would cost the park roughly $350,000.

His accountants begged him not to spend the money because the people would already be there; nobody would complain if it didn’t happen because no one was expecting it.

Disney’s response was,

We should do it precisely because no one’s expecting it. Our goal at Disneyland is to always give people more than they expect. As long as we keep surprising them, they’ll keep coming back. But if they ever stop coming, it’ll cost us ten times that much to get them to come back”

Here’s the major takeaway from this story: always do more than what’s expected from everyone, including yourself.

If you think about it, meeting expectations means doing the bare minimum. Isn’t the bare minimum another way of saying mediocrity?

Look for ways to go above and beyond by doing what’s NOT expected of you. Just doing that little more can make all the difference between average and outstanding.

If you want a project to get noticed, do more than what’s expected.

For a better chance of getting a promotion at work, you have to go above and beyond your normal duties.

If you want to build muscle in the gym, you have to work harder than normal.

Sometimes it can be something simple.

A few nights ago, I spent a romantic evening with my wife. Instead of doing our usual routine, I “plussed it” by darkening the room and lighting candles.

She wasn’t expecting it and she had no reason to think I’d do it. But that small addition made an otherwise typical romantic evening into something more magical. It actually brightened her day more than I possibly could have imagined.

Plus Everything

I’ve been using Disney’s ideas about “plussing” to improve as many things in my life as possible.

When you keep making small improvements here and there, you start to realize just how much more you could be doing.  There’s always something more to improve to take you beyond what you were doing before.

“Plussing” is just as much a philosophy as it is a mindset.  When you start to see all the improvements you could be making, you start to think and act in ways that will “plus it.”  As Disney once said, “Just do your best work – then try to trump it.”
photo credit: Andy Castro

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  1. I like this idea a lot. In a world where we’re told to ‘fake it ’til you make it’ or to go live when things aren’t perfect – I like the notion of constant improvement.

    I studied Walt Disney as part of a project last year and his attention to customer service was beyond excellent. He spent a lot of time ‘in the field’ to get as close to his customers as possible.

    Great way to lead.

    • Yeah, he’s incredible. He was definitely a “hands on” type of person who liked to know everything that was going on in his business. That’s how he kept such close attention to details.

      One of those details that I didn’t get a chance to mention was something about the park. If you ask an employee there what time the park closes, they’re trained to reply that “the park is OPEN” until nine (or whenever it’s open I don’t know.) By putting it that way, it makes the park seem friendlier. It’s that attention to detail that made his legacy.

  2. Hey Steve
    this is my first visit to your blog and I must say it will not be the last. Superb Post as you have given a great detail on how to achieve success through the life of walt disney.

    Thank You so much for such a wonderful post.

    • I’m glad you like it. There’s a lot to learn from Disney; he had a great work ethic – we could all use it to push ourselves to do more.

  3. Plussing speaks to me. My motto is “progress is my duty,” but details I overlooked.
    Walt was a man on mission. When I focus on my mission I can be as striving for improvement as he was.
    The conclusion is I let myself too often to get distracted from my mission.

    • It’s easy to get distracted from a mission; just online there are countless ways to get off course. But Disney wouldn’t let himself get distracted; he was a man on a mission.

  4. I remember thatvitvis said that what one makes one a genius is his attention to detail which others miss.

    I love the concept of Plussing and I see as this made a difference for Disney.

    Thanks for sharing. It is time to pluss my my life :)

    • Details matter. I can attest to that – I’ve made a lot of small simple changes to this site, but they’ve been adding up. It’s just like the graph shows – each small improvement adds up.

  5. That’s very true it’s all about the details, they matter a lot. All the little details contribute to the bigger picture.

    Exceeding expectations is always great for, anything really. It’s the difference between a good experience and a great one. It’s good to give people what they don’t know they want yet.

    Plussing it worked out wonderfully for Disney so you can’t lose.


  6. The graph above shows excellence better than anything else. In the same way financial investments can grow exponentially, so can investments in yourself.

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