The commute up to the Disney offices in Burbank was always a pain, so I usually headed out early. On this particular morning, I was already in the car by 6 am. The local news was saying something about a small plane having hit a building in New York, but details were really sketchy. I called my wife and suggested she turn on the TV, something was up.
By the time I got to Burbank that morning, the whole world had changed.
The drive up became frantic, as teammembers called and reminded me that our partners from Hasbro were flying out that morning – from Boston to Los Angeles. It took what seemed like hours to determine that they were scheduled for the next flight out, had been duly grounded, and were safe. The rest of the day, as for so many of you, was a blur of shock, horror, and sadness.
In the days and weeks that followed, of course, nothing was normal. These were the days of nascent war, of anthrax packages in newsrooms, of sniper fire in and around Washington D.C., of bomb threats called into Hollywood studios.
For a few weeks, security guards used long mirrors and trained dogs to check each vehicle at our studio gate for explosives. Sobering stuff…and not at all conducive to, you know, actually getting work done.
Throughout all my years of work, I’ve used steno pads to keep my daily notes – questions, call and meeting notes, random doodles. Today I dug through the pile of pads to find the one for September 2001 – and was surprised to see that I had made no notes at all that day. In the jumbled diary of my entire professional life, 9/11 is simply not there.
And yet, the days that followed are seared into my memory. The business ground ahead – Monster, Inc. would be releasing in two months; my team was picking up the consumer products rights to Power Rangers as part of a recent acquisition. Meetings, calls – it all kept rolling.
But in my teammembers’ eyes, I could see confusion, anger, distress. Hell, I saw it in the mirror. So I sat them down and did my best to convince them – and myself – that, in the face of all this sorrow, there was purpose in what we were doing. What Disney did – and what we did by extension with our products – was connect families through storytelling. The world needed uplifting stories at that moment more than ever. And just as important, Christmas would still come – and children would want to…need to…play. That was our job, and while I always saw it as worthy work, it was pretty damned important just then.
Today, we are reminded regularly that there is no longer a ‘normal.’ Even the ‘new normal’ isn’t. Could any of us have predicted how dramatically the last two years would reshape our world and our work?
So keep looking your team in the eyes – and ground them with the simple truth that what we do matters. It helped us cope 20 years ago…and it will again today.