See You Real Soon

“A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” – John A. Shedd

All lands, all attractions! With last week’s Disneyland Paris re-opening, once again the sun no longer sets on the Magic Kingdom. It’s hard to believe it has been over a year (17 months) since we could say that. And, as vaccination coverage increases and the COVID numbers improve, we are starting to see more restrictions lifted and some levels of “return to normal.”

My youngest is the last one in our family to be fully vaccinated. Tomorrow marks two weeks after her 2nd shot and we feel the relief and freedom that can bring. We are looking forward to traveling again and seeing more friends and family in person. While required safety measures at times, quarantining and isolation is not what humans are built for. It is amazing how well we adapted to make things work. We successfully deployed fully remote work. We adopted safe, masked and social distanced ways to safely and caringly pick up necessities. Things like Zoom and FaceTime became brilliant and sometimes lamented tools to stay connected with family and friends as well as work. But in the end, we all felt that missing part that even those of us who are introverted suddenly discovered we needed… in-person social interaction.

Humans are made to be with other humans. As a family of all sorts, strengths and sizes, as intelligent beings with our unique perspectives, personalities and pet-peeves, it turns out, we all need each other. I’m looking forward to setting sail once again on many more in-person voyages.

Hope to see you all real soon!

Words Matter

“In diversity there is beauty and there is strength. We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of that tapestry are equal in value no matter their color.” —Maya Angelou

How do you visualize?  If you close your eyes and think about home, family and friends, can you see them in your mind’s eye?  I remember having an in-depth conversation with Ed Catmull who confessed that he can’t visualize mental images at all.  Most people can close their eyes and conjure up images.  But that’s right, Ed Catmull, the scientist who revolutionized computer 3D graphics and co-founded Pixar, has a blind mind’s eye.  It’s a condition called aphantasia.  Ed conducted a survey of artist and production teams across the studio and discovered he was not alone.  In fact, some of the world’s best animators have aphantasia as well.  Glen Keane, who created Ariel (The Little Mermaid), also has no visual imagery.  

How we represent our world in our minds does vary, person to person.  Some of us visualize, some of us don’t.  But we all model the world around us in a way that helps us interact with each other, relate to things and make decisions.  Over time, we construct mental models that help us filter what we see, hear and feel. We build synaptic short cuts that prevent us from being overwhelmed with sensory experiences and our daily work.  We enter our mind palace, even if it can’t be seen, and think about concepts, plan projects, solve problems and even practice interactions with each other.  How do we do that?  Have you noticed?  Well, similar to you reading this today, we do that through “words”.  Now maybe those words are symbols, lists or concepts, but they are a collection of mental Lego blocks that we use to construct our mental reality. How many of those atomic units we have collected and what they are, makes up our mental vocabulary. 

When I was learning Spanish in high school, I remember the moment when I had gained enough understanding of the language to begin creating mental models in Spanish. Up till that point, I realized my mental models were all in English and I was passing all of those models through a “translation function” in my mind instead of thinking natively in Spanish.  “Gran mesa roja” became atomic in my representation of a big red table. I never achieved full model (immersive thinking in Spanish) but it gave me the insight into how we think.  Words and patterns of words are the building blocks of how we see and interact with the world around us.

Words matter.  Because words make up our perception of the world, the words we use affect us and those around us.  How we think, evaluate and relate with things is shaped by our words.  Sometimes the words and phrases that we collect and use to build mental models can be harmful.  For example, technological phrases like “blacklist” and “whitelist” are often used to denote things that should be denied or allowed.  While the connotation of “whitelist” is generally positive, something that you want included and accepted, the inference of “blacklist” is predominately negative, something that should be shunned, blocked or denied.  The general concepts make sense, but the words used can subconsciously create a mental association that anything “black” is bad, negative, a threat or an object that should be denied or avoided.  Tragically, this can shape our model such that a “black person” is unintentionally connected with the same connotation.  This is the danger.  Words shape our reality and words can project unintended meaning or reality onto others just by simple association.

I’m proud to say that as part of our inclusive efforts, Disney technology leadership is taking on this issue so that we can level up.  Technical words and phrases that are culturally insensitive or can threaten our inclusive efforts will be replaced with more inclusive terms.  In many cases, these are actually better descriptors for the intended concepts anyway.  Using phrases like “allow-list” or “deny-list” not only encapsulates the concept but describes it as well.  Now, to be fair, I know this isn’t an easy transition.  A lot of these words are deeply ingrained in the industry and our mental models.  But it is the right thing to do.  We don’t want unintended association to negatively impact us or any of our fellow team members.  Everyone is a welcome member of our human family and we are willing to reshape our language and mental models to help enforce that love for each other.

Join me in helping raise awareness on this issue.  Call me out if I accidentally use words that are non-inclusive.  To reshape tomorrow, we need to challenge each other, our teams, our vendors and ourselves to use this more inclusive language.  If you have any ideas that might help, please let me know.  We can create a better more inclusive world.  Sometimes it is as easy as changing one word at a time.

Embracing Grief

“What is grief, if not love persevering?” – Vision

I was standing outside the tent addressing the small crowd of family and friends that had gathered by my dad’s graveside. The June sun was hiding behind the clouds but some of the rays glistened off of the nearby fence surrounding the cemetery.  I opened with my dad’s favorite joke, “Do you know why cemeteries have fences? It’s because people are dying to get in there!”  He loved that joke.  I went on to talk about my dad, forever the engineer, who taught me to “think ahead,” plan, tackle any problem and always leave things better than you found then.  I miss him.  That was 2015 yet even to this day, grief of his loss visits me.

Grief is a tricky thing.  For those of you who have lost loved ones, you know how it doesn’t play by the rules.  It will wash over you at the most inopportune times.  It isn’t logical.  It would perplex, frustrate and annoy me.  I would wish it away but that usually meant it would only hide for the moment to build more energy for the next unannounced round.  Instead, I have come to realize that grief is not an enemy or adversary, it is a friend.  It is the echo of love that endures the separation of the source and object of that affection.  It is the mind and spirit refreshing that cherished connection and celebrating the memory of that loved one.  It is, as Vision from Marvel’s WandaVision put it, “love persevering.”

As we bid farewell to my wife’s mother a week ago, I am reminded how bad we are at taking care of ourselves during sorrow and loss.  I wanted to jump back into work, bury myself in tasks.  But instead, we spent time as a family going through my mother-in-law’s affairs.  Sorting, cleaning and remembering.  Sure, there was sadness, but there was also times of laughter and happiness.  I’m glad we did that.

So many of you reached out with sympathy, kind words, encouragement and even help. Thank you! It was overwhelming and encouraging. I know many of you have also suffered the loss of loved ones in recent years and even shared your own journeys with me.  Our human journey is not without suffering.  This recent chapter in my life reminds me how important it is to give ourselves time, permission and care to remember, to grieve and even to heal.  My advice to all of you who have suffered loss, and for the rest who will, make sure you give yourself that time and grace to mend.  Embrace the fog of grief and welcome the memories, no matter how difficult they may be to bear.  They are just visiting friends, reminding you that love does not die, it perseveres.  Cherish it!