Articles: Wisdom Collected from Interviews, Books, and More

This page shares my best articles to read on topics like creativity, decision making, strategy, and more. The central questions I explore are, “How can we learn the best of what others have mastered? And how can we become the best possible version of ourselves?”

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Daniel Scrivner

Who is Walt Disney? Timeless Lessons on Storytelling, Creativity, and Craft from the Founder of Disney

This is part of my profiles on history's greatest innovators, founders, and investors. Check out the profiles of Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Bernard Arnault, Steve Jobs, Rick Rubin, or browse them all.

Walt Disney (Walter Elias Disney) is best known as the founder of Disney and the creator of Disneyland. As a film producer, he holds the record for most Academy Awards earned and nominations by an individual. Disney remains the central figure in the history of animation. This profile contains a collection of my favorite Walt Disney quotes, ideas, frameworks, books, and articles. This page is an attempt to collect all of Walt Disney's best ideas, strategies, and wisdom in one place.

On this page:


My Favorite Walt Disney Quotes

“We are not trying to entertain the critics. I'll take my chances with the public.”

“Somehow I can't believe that there are any heights that can't be scaled by a man who knows the secrets of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four Cs. They are curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy, and the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.”

“I'll tell you what it costs when we're done. We're innovating.”

“In this volatile business of ours… we can ill afford to rest on our laurels, even to pause in retrospect. Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.”

On competition: “I am not influenced by the techniques or fashions of any other motion picture company.”

“The truth of the matter is that by the time we had the studio built, the banks owed me money, thanks to Snow White. And it gave me more personal satisfaction than anything I have ever done. It proved to a lot of sneering critics that a full-length cartoon could make money.”

“We did not know whether the public would go for a cartoon feature. But we were darned sure that audiences would not buy a bad cartoon feature.”

“There's really no secret about our approach. We keep moving forward—opening up new doors and doing new things—because we're curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. We're always exploring and experimenting. At WED we call it Imagineering—the blending of creative imagination with technical know-how.”

“If I were a fatalist, or a mystic, which I decidedly am not, it might be appropriate to say I believe in my lucky star. But I reject 'luck'—I feel every person creates his own 'determinism' by discovering his best aptitudes and following them undeviatingly.”

“I think if there's any part I've played the vital part is coordinating these talents, and encouraging these talents, and carrying them down a certain line. It's like pulling together a big orchestra. They're all individually very talented. I have an organization of people who are really specialists. You can't match them anywhere in the world for what they can do. But they all need to be pulled together, and that's my job.”

“Get a good idea, and stay with it. Dog it, and work at it until it's done, and done right.”

“I could never convince the financiers that Disneyland was feasible, because dreams offer too little collateral.”

“When I make a profit, I don't squander it or hide it away. I immediately plow it back into a fresh project. I have little respect for money as such. I regard it merely as a medium for financing new ideas.”

“When planning a new picture, we don't think of grownups and we don't think of children, but just of that fine, clean, unspoiled spot, down deep in every one of us that maybe the world has made us forget, and that maybe our pictures can help recall.”

“I do not make films primarily for children. I make them for the child in all of us, whether we be six or sixty.”

“It is a curious thing that the more the world shrinks because of electronic communications, the more limitless becomes the province of the storytelling entertainer.”

“Since the beginning of mankind, the fable-tellers have not only given us entertainment but a kind of wisdom, humor, and understanding that, like all true art, remains imperishable through the ages.”

“I can never stand still. I must explore and experiment. I am never satisfied with my work. I resent the limitations of my own imagination.”

“There are fashions in reading, even in thinking. You don't have to follow them unless you want to. On the other hand, watch out! Don't stick too closely to your favorite subject. That would keep you from adventuring into other fields. It's silly to build a wall around your interests.”

“By nature I'm an experimenter. To this day, I don't believe in sequels. I can't follow popular cycles. I have to move on to new things. So with the success of Mickey, I was determined to diversify.”

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

“You don't build it for yourself. You know what the people want, and you build it for them.”

“In order to make good in your chosen task, it's important to have someone you want to do it for. The greatest moments in life are not concerned with selfish achievements but rather with things we do for the people we love and esteem, and whose respect we need.”

“Mickey Mouse, to me, is a symbol of independence. He was a means to an end. He popped out of my mind onto a drawing pad twenty years ago on a train ride from Manhattan to Hollywood at a time when the business fortunes of my brother Roy and myself were at lowest ebb and disaster seemed right around the corner. Born of necessity, the little fellow literally freed us of immediate worry. He provided the means for expanding our organization to its present dimensions and for extending the medium of cartoon animation toward new entertainment levels. He spelled production liberation for us.”

“No man alone can do very much of consequence without the help of others.”

“We developed so many talents as we went along that I lay awake nights figuring out how to use them. That's how we became so diversified. It was a natural branching out.”

“The most important aim of any of the fine arts is to get a purely emotional response from the beholder.”

“I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing—that it was all started by a mouse.”

Read the fully summary for The Official Walt Disney Quote Book →


Walt Disney and the 100/100 Rule

In the early 1930s, a small film studio announced its intention to produce a full-length animated feature. There were many naysayers, including senior executives from the studio and many of the studio’s staff. As production continued, and dragged on for several years, nearly everyone in Hollywood “knew” the undertaking was a huge mistake, and many wrote the studio’s obituary. Up to that point, animated cartoons were limited to 8- to 10-minute gags shown prior to motion pictures. They almost exclusively involved animals because people were too difficult to draw, and it was common knowledge that it was impossible for an animated film to hold one’s attention for more than ten minutes. The $250,000 budget for the audacious studio’s full-length feature was considered absurd for an animated production. The actual production costs would exceed $1.3 million by the end, nearly 50x the cost of a short feature and the project would take nearly four years in the end.

Thirty years prior to this studio’s undertaking, an Italian economist, engineer, and sociologist by the name of Vilfredo Pareto noted when growing peas in his garden that around 80% of the peas were produced by 20% of the pea pods. After finding several other examples of this dynamic, he generalized these findings to what is now called the Pareto Principle which essentially says that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Over the past century, the “80/20 rule” has been widely applied to business: 80% of sales come from 20% of customers, 80% of sales are made by 20% of salespeople, 80% of results generally come from 20% of the effort.

While Pareto’s law has had broad, wide, and significant implications throughout history, its application by Walt Disney in the production of Snow White in 1934—the story referenced above, in case you didn’t guess—was not one of them. When producing Snow White, Walt Disney applied the “100/100 rule.”

The 100/100 Rule

At Alpine, we coined the term “the 100/100 rule” for situations in which we commit to expend 100% (or more) of the work in order to come as close as possible to guaranteeing a 100% chance of success.  We specifically contrast this to the 80/20 rule which focuses on minimizing effort and achieving efficiency. The 100/100 rule refers to maximizing effort and achieving the highest probability of success. Given the intensity of effort required in these situations, we reserved this classification for only the most important tasks.

In 2010 we were applying for a license from the Small Business Administration. After more than a year of work on the application, the final step was a one-hour meeting with the entire SBA executive team, after which we would either have access to capital from the SBA or be denied a license. It was all or nothing.

No amount of time was too much to invest in meeting preparation. We engaged lawyers who specialized in the SBA application process, and we conducted mock interviews and dry runs. We came equipped with every number imaginable and spent nearly 50 hours preparing for this meeting. Our preparation paid off and we were one of the first equity funds to ever qualify for an SBIC license.

Walt Disney and Snow White

While Walt Disney never referenced  “the 100/100 rule” specifically, the process by which he created Snow White embodies its application.

As described in the wonderful biography, “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination” by Neal Gabler, Disney adapted the script for Snow White from a German fairy tale by Brothers Grimm. He recognized that the seven dwarfs offered opportunities to employ dozens of gags, which had become his hallmark in his previous short animated films, “Silly Symphonies.” Disney and his team came up with nearly fifty potential candidates for dwarf characters, including Jumpy, Deafy, Dizzey, Hickey, Wheezy, Baldy, Gabby, Nifty, Sniffy, Swift, Lazy, Puffy, Stuffy, Tubby, Shorty, and Burpy. The animators created hundreds of feet of footage of dozens of potential dwarfs knowing that most of that footage would never be used in final production. The team poured over every detail of the script—from which dwarf would cry upon finding Snow White asleep (Grumpy) to how many frogs would appear in the dwarf’s shoes (one).

Gabler describes Disney’s creation process, “… and always, as he had been doing for years now, [Walt] would recite the story to anyone who would listen. Anything from a short version to the full 3-hour performance… Walt was still telling the story in its entirety at a meeting every cut, every fade out, every line of dialogue. He was telling it all the time.”

Walt would act out every voice, every character and every plot nuance. Many animators estimate they have personally watched Walt act out the full length 3-hour several dozen times and that by the end he had probably performed the movie in whole or in part himself perhaps 100 times. Each time Walt would change a very small detail such as a plot twist or a character’s voice. Each time he would get input from the animators. Each time he would crystalize in his mind—and for the benefit of animators—precisely how the movie would play out.

snow-white-walt.jpeg

Walt Disney was solving for achieving as close to a 100% probability that Snow White would be successful. He was committed to spending 100% (or more) of the energy to achieve this goal. Disney devoted the majority of his studio’s animators to the production of Snow White, despite the fact that it would produce no revenue for the studio for several years. He established a line of credit with Bank of America and set a budget for the picture that ensured he would have ample capital and, most importantly, time, to produce the picture to his exacting standards.

His commitment to the film’s success and the resources he applied to its success never wavered during the four years of its production. Walt Disney and his animators not only willed Snow White to succeed but, through their commitment to the production, they virtually guaranteed it would.

Leaving a Legacy

The world’s first ever, full-length animated feature, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” opened on December 21, 1937 to rave reviews. Snow White did not just introduce the world to a full-length animated film, it revolutionized animation. It was the first animated movie to have full-length original musical scores, multi-dimensional characters, intricate scenes, and nuanced plot development. The film went on to gross more than four times any other film in 1938, and despite being introduced during a horrible economic period in an era where there were a fraction of the movie theatres there are today and no DVDs or Netflix, as of 2019, Snow White ranked as one of the top ten box office performers of all time, adjusted for inflation.

Would the entire industry of full-length animated films exist today had “Snow White” never been produced? Films like “Finding Nemo,” “The Lego Movie,” or “Frozen” stand on the shoulders of “Snow White.” And “Snow White” stands on the shoulders of Walt Disney’s four year commitment to its success.

The 100/100 rule is a commitment to do whatever it takes to achieve a specific goal. The magic of the designation is that it allows crystal clear prioritization for the entire organization and importantly gives people permission to drop less important tasks. It takes intention to recognize which very special goals qualify for this designation, and it takes courage, patience, and discipline to stick with these goals and give your team permission to forgo others in order to hit them.

“The 100/100 rule is a commitment to do whatever it takes to achieve a specific goal. The magic of the designation is that it allows crystal clear prioritization for the entire organization and importantly gives people permission to drop less important tasks.”

Walt Disney demonstrated this process for four years in his studio’s commitment to Snow White. What matters that much to you?

Take it from one of the successful greats, if you are going to attack an inspiring and audacious Genie-inspired goal, you can significantly increase your probability of achieving it by employing the 100/100 rule.

The 80/20 rule is a minimization equation. In this equation, one sets the goal of attaining 80% of a given result and is solving to do so with the least effort. A minimization equation like the 80/20 is designed to create efficiency. Efficiency is defined as the ratio of useful work performed by a machine or process to the total energy expended, so the denominator, total energy expended, matters.

By contrast, the 100/100 rule is a maximization equation. The focus is on attaining 100% of the potential result and doing so with as close to 100% probability as possible. In this equation, we are not concerned with minimizing effort. Conversely, we are almost certainly going to waste energy because conserving energy is not an objective. The 100/100 rule is designed to create an endogenous outcome. An endogenous outcome is an outcome that is not attributable to an external or environmental factor. It is an outcome created by and contained within the endogenous process you will create. In other words, the 100/100 rule is designed to help you create a process which leaves nothing to chance.

To be clear, virtually nothing can be achieved with a 100% probability, particularly an audacious, Genie-inspired goal. But by committing to the 100/100 rule we can get as close as possible to creating endogenous outcomes.

“In other words, the 100/100 rule is designed to help you create a process which leaves nothing to chance.”

Books on Walt Disney and Disney

The Official Walt Disney Quote Book

Walt Disney Archives' The Official Walt Disney Quote Book is a collection of Walt Disney's quotes on everything from storytelling, progress and innovation, building the Disney theme parks, children (young and old), and success. All thoughtfully compiled by the staff of the Walt Disney Archives. It's an incredible compilation of the ideas, values, and principles that guided Walt Disney's work and life. I've often said, the best way to gain insight into anyone is to study their ideas through their own words. This book is a fantastic way to do just that.

Read my book summary and takeaways →

Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination

Walt Disney was a true visionary whose desire for escape, iron determination and obsessive perfectionism transformed animation from a novelty to an art form, first with Mickey Mouse and then with his feature films–most notably Snow White, Fantasia, and Bambi. In his superb biography, Neal Gabler shows us how, over the course of two decades, Disney revolutionized the entertainment industry. In a way that was unprecedented and later widely imitated, he built a synergistic empire that combined film, television, theme parks, music, book publishing, and merchandise. Walt Disney is a revelation of both the work and the man–of both the remarkable accomplishment and the hidden life.

The Imagineering Story: The Official Biography of Walt Disney Imagineering

The highly acclaimed and rated Disney+ documentary series, The Imagineering Story, becomes a book that greatly expands the award-winning filmmaker Leslie Iwerks' narrative of the fascinating history of Walt Disney Imagineering. The entire legacy of WDI is covered from day one through future projects with never-before-seen access and insights from people both on the inside and on the outside. So many stories and details were left on the cutting room floor―this book allows an expanded exploration of the magic of Imagineering.


See Also

For more explore lectures, profiles, interviews, and books related to Walt Disney:

Related Collections

For more, check out my collections of interviews, speeches and lectures, letters and memos, and profiles:

About the author

Daniel Scrivner is an award-winner designer and angel investor. He's led design work at Apple, Square, and now ClassDojo. He's an early investor in Notion, Public.com, and Anduril. He founded Ligature: The Design VC and Outlier Academy. Daniel has interviewed the world’s leading founders and investors including Scott Belsky, Luke Gromen, Kevin Kelly, Gokul Rajaram, and Brian Scudamore.

Last updated
Mar 3, 2024

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