By Craig Donovan
Various health issues have kept me from writing in the past two months. While I cannot recommend the various trials and tribulations I have experienced, they have given me a time of retreat to take stock and reflect on the past, present, and future: something which I recommend.
Flat on my back, I watch a lot of television. Among the many days and nights of streaming shows, I saw the very first episode of Walt Disney’s variety show on television. Created October 1954 and titled “Disneyland,” the series ran for four years before evolving into “Walt Disney Presents” and then Walt Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color.”
The original show was a combination of infomercial for Disney’s grand new idea of a family themed park – the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California – as well as Disney cartoons and original short subjects based on the four lands of Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland and Frontierland. Many of Disney’s classic True-Life nature programs were shown under the Adventureland banner while classic American heroes and legends including Davy Crockett highlighted the Frontierland theme.
Like many others, I was an original convert to the Disney dream of building an entertaining land that not only engaged but inspired guests to celebrate the past, enjoy the present and dream of creating the future. Of course, I had an advantage. I lived in Anaheim and could see the Matterhorn and the nightly fireworks from my backyard. I visited the park at least once a week for many years. When I went to college, I studied a bit of engineering, architecture, design and environmental psychology with a desire to be an “Imagineer” when I graduated.
Hard times, hostile takeovers and more meant bad timing on my part and I was turned away from designing new worlds for Disney and towards designing new places, spaces and services for the country at large through a career in public service. My next decade combined work, teaching, Masters and Doctoral degrees in Business and Public Affairs and a move to full-time teaching, research and writing.
Seeing that original Disney show from decades ago got me to thinking about the vision that Walt Disney had for the future back then, and how it compared to what was going on in the world around him. Of course Walt Disney, a true visionary, died in 1966 and no one will ever replace him, and Disney is a corporation per se while government is not, but we can still look at the two.
In the past five decades Disney built Disneyland, Disneyworld, Euro-Disney, Tokyo Disney and Hong Kong Disney as
well as numerous hotels and resorts; expanded on the original properties and has constantly been renovating and innovating on all fronts. In that same time period, government built the interstates, started the Peace Corps, fought a war on poverty, sent a man or two to the moon, and began to clean the nation’s air and water among other things. But since 1980, it has labored under executive and legislative leadership that has declared government the enemy, anything that government can do, the private sector can do better, and those who choose a career in public service are the least ‘effective’ of those in the American workforce. It is perhaps then no wonder that the share of the federal workforce under the age of 30 dropped to 7 percent this year, the lowest figure in nearly a decade.
Thus, through five decades of ups and downs, Disney, while far from perfect, has continued to grow, expand and innovate, offering a variety of challenging and innovative opportunities in a wide range of fields. At the same time, government has stagnated and no longer offers new solutions for the nation or new ways for people interested in public service to design and achieve their dreams.
Perhaps, just perhaps, we should stop teaching only what government does and how it does it but also about what it did do, what it can do and what it still is doing in other places. Today, it is those who work or want to work in public service that no one imagines anything of, even themselves. “Sometimes it is the people whom no one imagines anything of that do the things that no one can imagine.”
What the public service needs today is a leadership with vision that wants to hire and empower dreamers and imagineers of their own.