By Graham Bell
"Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing."
― Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
In a recent newsletter I was reviewing the book ‘The Ride of a Lifetime’ by the CEO of the Disney Corporation, Robert Iger. It is a great business book and Iger tells a great story about his career and the Disney empire.
I particularly enjoyed the sections on Pixar and the Disney Parks, and found myself asking why I am so enthralled by these movies and theme parks – and not just the amazing business story. So why does a (relatively) mature man still love all these ‘childish’ things?
Of course both speak directly to the adult and the child, and that takes a special kind of storytelling and interpretation skill. But how can these stories and characters attract children from across the world, and all cultures and backgrounds? That remains a mystery to me – and makes me ask why these images and memories are still so powerful in my own life.
Now in telling this story I may be lining myself up for the psychiatrist’s chair, but I have a strong suspicion that I am not alone. And I believe that our childhood ‘memories and experiences’ often go with us throughout our adult lives – still influencing and shaping us.
But for me the love of Pixar and Disney is much more complex. Pixar is a new phenomenon – it was the 1990s before the classic ‘Toy Story’ was released. So, it was well past my childhood – although I did love watching these films with my own children and a new Pixar release was always a big family event. Disney was around of course – but I cannot remember watching any Disney film when I was a child. The first two films I remember were ‘How the West was Won’ and ‘The Guns of Navarone’ – great for reinforcing my sense of adventure and fuelling my imagination.
Today, as a grown adult, I can happily sit and watch a Disney film – and my imagination is still fired up.
"I believe that everyone else my age is an adult whereas I am merely in disguise."
― Margaret Atwood
I guess I was what you would call a typical wee boy – I loved playing, exploits and make-believe filled my days, and I seemed to have an unlimited imagination for games of derring-do. I backed up these activities with reading comics and books – always packed with mystery, comedy and adventure.
Now I never became an action hero and didn’t end up playing football for Scotland. I never sailed the seven seas or fought off dragons. And yet I have had a life full of varied and exciting experiences, although none anything like I expected.
"What is a child? An adult blown up by magic."
- Simone de Beauvoir
As you can see from my photo I was ready for anything – always on guard! It was taken at Peasholm Park in Scarborough en route to see the naval warfare that was played out during the summer months in the park pond. What more could I ask for my holidays? And thinking about it, this was probably the first ‘theme’ park I ever visited.
I know I was so fortunate to have such a happy childhood, which no doubt shaped me and helped me in immeasurable ways as I have moved through adulthood. I have also learned that causation is complicated. There is no direct linear connection with how we are brought up and our earlier experiences. And many people thrive despite adverse experiences. But the research shows that stability breeds stability.
"The defining background experiences of our childhood affect our vital adulthood decisions and method of apprehending the world."
― Kilroy J. Oldster
I still believe that Buzz and Woody from Toy Story can tell us so much about management and leadership. But perhaps that is because I secretly wanted to be an astronaut or cowboy?
For in every adult there dwells the child that was, and in every child there lies the adult that will be.
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