What Walt Disney Didn’t Do

I want to tell you a quick story for all of you building products out there.

As someone who has been building products for more than two decades some lessons need repeating. This is one of them.

The story is about Walt Disney. When people questioned him about building an amusement park, they often highlighted how dirty they were. That was the state of the industry before Walt created DisneyWorld and Disneyland.

He planned to create something different. The happiest place on Earth. And that meant many things to him.

Now the story has been told in many places and it comes with different details depending on where you hear it. I got to do a behind-the-scenes tour at DisneyWorld a few years ago when I heard it.

You may not know this but back then, trash cans were circular cylinders with the top opened. But that meant the smell would come right out.

So he designed a trash can that had a cover with a flap that would keep everything inside – you know, like all the trash cans we see today.

Back then, when he designed them, he tried to get others to use the design but no one wanted them. He even considered patenting the design but everyone told him it was a waste of a design, so he never did protect his invention.

But that’s not the lesson.

What you likely have noticed, if you’ve visited either park, is that there are trash cans every 30 feet. Not 25, not 35. Every 30 feet.

The way I heard it, he gave people candy at the entrance and watched how long people held the wrappers in their hands until they tossed it on the ground. The average? 30 feet.

Other versions of the story is he went to another amusement park and watched people drop trash on the ground.

The point was that he got his magic number and then had trash cans placed every 30 feet across the whole park, to keep everything clean. And it worked.

I told you the story was for product developers. So what’s the lesson I want to highlight?

It’s what he didn’t do.

He didn’t post signs that told people where to place their trash. He didn’t put up messaging that asked people to please place their trash in the trash cans.

He didn’t try to change people’s behavior.

Instead, he designed his product to work alongside people. How they worked.

A lot of times, when I’m designing products, I’m thinking about how to make things better for people, while also expecting them to learn new ways to adopt my products.

A lot of times we spend effort on training and on boarding to help customers learn new behavior.

And that’s what Walt didn’t do.

That’s the lesson I have for you today. Align yourself and your products with how people already work.