Thursday, March 26, 2009

Living Treasures

As we've learned it yesterday, new layoffs happened at WDW - around 450 cast-members will lose their jobs. My sympathy is going to all of them and their families. Unfortunately these layoffs won't be the last one this year. Others should follow and in all departments of the WDC, probably including Walt Disney Imagineering.

In Japan, may be you've heard about it, a "senior" is considered as a "Living Treasure". It's probably the best definition i've heard to define the experience that a human being has gained during all his life. When the WDC layoff Senior Imagineers who worked at WDI since the early 70's or even before it is experiences of inestimable value which disappear. Forever. They are people - in this case Imagineers - who have lived not only the legendary times of Imagineering but also been through the thousands of problems that reality can create - and found the solutions. They know everything: how to do this special effect for a certain amount of money, where to find these props for a land theming, why this colour will be better than another one due to the country's climate, etc, etc, EVERYTHING.

Of course, if you're working at WDI since 35 years your salary is different than the one of a "young" imagineer. And here comes the problem. The suits only see this part, how much money the company will save and not the "inestimable experience" they will lose with the layoff. There are reasons for that: the first one is of course a pragmatic one and if you asked them they'll probably say: "yeah, we know, but i've been asked to do it, we really have to find a way to save money and, hey, i'm only doing my job, okay? nothing personal, blah blah blah...". The second reason is because they don't SEE - i mean: they don't have Vision. They don't even know what the word means. Really. Believe me, there is no vision inside these guys - except of course the one of their paycheck at the end of the month and eventually the little bonus of power they can expect after they've done these layoffs. Don't even try to explain to them this notion of "living treasure", we're not talking about the same kind of "treasure".

But where it becomes pure insanity it's when you realize how destructive it is for the company to lose all these inestimable experiences. And yes, even on a financial point of view. Old imagineers know the best way to do things (anything of their specialty) but also how to do it and save money!

Ultimately, what is the main problem is the usual occidental short term vision. This is really the occidental curse - and by the way one of the main reason - along with oversized cynism - of this economy crisis. If they don't do profit THIS year, it's a tragedy! But losing all these "living treasures" and inestimable experiences that goes with them and would have been precious for the future, that's not a tragedy, that's just business.

For sure WDI costs are known to be more expensive than anywhere else - and i can perfectly understand that they want to reduce the costs, but may be not at any price...The Senior employees are the Jewels who make the company what it is. They are those who make the Guest experience something to remember at a Disney Enterprise, be it a store or a park. They are the foundations. The company should save them, before all falls down.

Do you remember the famous - and perfectly stupid - quote: "nobody is irreplaceable". Well, that's all the difference between Orient and Occident. In Japan they have this notion of "living treasure" and in Occident they think that "nobody is irreplaceable". Do you see the difference between these two worlds? What it means?

In the middle of the 70's between 3000 and 4000 imagineers were working at WDI - including the production teams. Now, how many? 800? 900? And unfortunately we can expect more layoffs... Well, i suppose all we can do is to pray there will be enough imagineers in the future to bring us unique attractions. And that in a flash of lucidity the company won't finally layoff all their "living treasures".


Anonymous said...

This is really sad... Hope they'll find a new nice job

Matt Hunter Ross said...

nicely put

Marco Antonio Garcia- São Paulo, Brasil said...

Very sad indeed, unfortunately the Walt Disney Co. is nowadays just another public company that needs to show better results every quarter to its shareholders, so the executives can earn big bonuses and the value of the shares can go up. Walt's era is long gone, by that time people at the company were moved not only by money, but also by the passion of telling stories and building spectacular things that no one had ever seen before, by reaching new frontiers. It seems that this idealism and love for the company, for its people, for its customers and for its achievements that was shared by Walt and his staff is in extinction. Congratulations Alain for this post, it’s Disney fans like you should be in command of the company!

Anonymous said...

Where would Luke Skywalker have been without Obiwan and Yoda? Who will teach us to trust the "force"?

If knowledge is power, then wisdom is the proper use of it. We just lost a great deal of wisdom.

welcome_to_my_deathlist said...

not even in japan are all "seniors" considered to be "living treasures" (although perhaps they should be). the status of living treasure is reserved for seniors who have made a notable mark in some cultural field.

having said that, i think it`s just an unfortunate and wrong-headed trend of the times to let older people go first...mainly for considerations of cost, because older people have accrued higher pay, but also because there is a mistaken belief that you can`t squeeze much more creativity out of old folks.

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