A lesson from Disney and An Apple Tree

Even the best plan fails if there is a lack of mastery of the tools that support it. The tools we naturally have and the tools we acquire make up the entirety of the potential we can carve out of our purpose. If you have raw potential but don’t use your tools to bring forth value, then potential is wasted. If it is your purpose to teach people self confidence but you deny yourself access to your natural abilities and instead use external ones because everyone else does, it is obvious that your potential in fulfilling your purpose will be limited.

And yet, access to our abilities, skills and talents is not enough to bring out the true magic of our purpose. We need something that supercharges it: alignment and focus.

These two work hand in hand in bringing an intention to reality. For example, ideas are just words written on a piece of paper; it is the alignment and focus on the intention and realization of an idea that brings the real value.

Bob Iger, the charismatic CEO of the Disney corporation, is a man who is driven with purpose and who has worked hard to transport the mission of this mega-business into the present. He is a man of many abilities, most of which designate an excellent leader. But, above all, he is a man who understands the importance of alignment and focus. Four of his toughest moves- the acquisition of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm, as well as the complete restructuring of a traditional tv/film house into a digital distribution giant- required him to define a new mission, hold on to it with complete focus and align the entire operation to serve only this mission.

He had to fight many battles, most of them against people who either did not understand the mission at hand, or who feared the alignment was going too far and that his focus was getting obsessive. But, when it comes to building success, you can’t compromise alignment and focus. You either align and focus, or you don’t. Bob did. And still does. 

Alignment is the great equalizer: it makes you aware of the things you should not do. For example, with a clear mission in hand, if today you were to align your hiring process with your mission, you may suddenly realize how wrong your hiring process has been. If you were to align your offering and marketing strategy with your mission, you may realize you chose the wrong products or service to offer, created manipulative marketing messages, told the wrong stories, allowed for a toxic culture and built the wrong business.

And even with alignment, you are likely to waste energy if you don’t do it with focus. Focusing on serving your mission will ensure that every ounce of your sweat will be used to build something you can be proud of.

The sole focus of an apple tree is to create as many healthy apples as possible. This focus means that no energy is wasted at doing anything else, and that every element of the tree is aligned to serve this focus. Nothing is in it to celebrate itself. The bark does not try to be the best bark of all barks, it wants to serve healthy apples in the best way. The root doesn’t just want to be the strongest root, it wants to be the best root for many healthy apples to grow out of the branches, and so on. 

If an apple tree had a marketing team, it would not work towards being “the best marketing team of all time.” It would focus on being the right marketing team for the mission at hand- creating many healthy apples (value).

This is what’s wrong with advertising awards (and most advertising in general). This is why celebrating the best marketing strategy is a counterproductive thing. This is why we don’t need company rankings and best employee plaques on our walls. It is not about celebrating ourselves.

It scares and baffles me to see that most organizations still practice silo thinking; they have compartmentalized mindsets and players that just focus on their own 15 minutes of fame. If nature was built the same way, without unilateral alignment and common focus, it would waste its tools and create monstrosities that would fail all the time- no fruit, no vegetable, no life would be possible.


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