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Sunday, 20 March 2016

Walt Disney (ESE): Personality Type Analysis

Walter Elias Disney was a cartoonist, animator, film producer, and entrepreneur. He was a pioneer in sound animated films, feature-length animated films (he was the creator of the very first, 'Snow White'), and wildlife documentaries. He was the first to think of the now common concept of a 'theme park' and the first movie studio boss to understand that television could be used to promote feature films rather than just compete with them. He can be considered the inventor of the modern multimedia corporation. His impact on US and world pop culture was immense, with his characters Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck being recognized virtually in the entire planet.

Walt Disney came from a family of modest background and he was largely self-taught in drawing, starting with cartoons for local newspapers and then discovering the field of animated short films. Certain traits were already visible in Disney's career from the start and they remained consistent to the very end: a fascination and enthusiasm for innovative concepts; a greater skill in spotting and developing those rather than as a hands-on artist (he stopped drawing, himself, at a rather early stage); varying the intensity of his personal involvement in specific projects according to how enthusiastic he himself was about them; and genuinely placing more value on realizing his projects according to how he wanted them than to their perceived profitability; he took huge financial risks and they didn't always pay off.

Throughout his career, Walt Disney worked together with his brother Roy, who was responsible for managing the studio, and then the corporation, on the business side. Walt always retained ultimate control on the creative and artistic side. That often led to conflict and resentment between the two brothers: Walt acknowledged his own inability to run a business profitably but disliked that he had to ask his brother for cash; Roy disliked that Walt saw him as just having to finance his pet projects while of course accepting that Walt's creative genius was what kept the company going. In the end they always understood that they needed each other.

The above already suggests that Walt Disney was of a type with low focus on P but probably not P4. His enthusiasm for new an innovative projects - which he then later often got relatively bored with - suggest considerable focus on I. He could spend huge energy and enthusiasm on a new technology or concept or TV series but then lose interest and focus on other new ideas, even if the previous idea remained successful (typical example: the hugely successful TV series 'Zorro', to which he devoted all his energies during the first season but then all but neglected during the second).

A similar pattern was seen in his approach to short animated films, feature length animated films, and then live animated films: he would be enthusiastic about them in the beginning, while he felt personally interested, but once they became 'routine', or just a form to generate income, he lost interest (although always maintaining script control). However, to the end of his life, he could suddenly involve himself deeply again in projects that interested him personally, like "Mary Poppins". Less well-known is his later-life fascination with miniature (but large enough to ride on) rail-roads.

The above traits already suggest a person of the Alpha quadra, combining E and I as values and little focus on P. Further Alpha characteristics are seen in his completely genuine devotion to movies and parks focused on creating a feel-good E+S atmosphere based on childhood themes of anthropomorphized animals, idyllic small towns and countryside, and happy endings. He himself said that what he aimed at was recreating his own (idealized) memories of his childhood in a farm near Marceline, Missouri, not for children but for everyone as he felt all would relate to such memories.

His most personal creation was Disneyland, which recreated a childhood utopian version of Marceline in its Main Street, from which you could choose to explore different "lands" in a safe, orderly, pretty and impeccably clean environment whose 'nuts and bolts' workings were hidden from sight: Disneyland can be seen as a concretization of the Alpha values of E, S and I, while "hiding" P. This may seem commonplace now but it was totally novel and unique when Disney first conceived of it. Disneyland remained Walt's own "perfect world" and he liked to spend weekends and evenings in his own private apartment there (second floor of the the Main Street Fire Station).

Interestingly, and consistent with the above mentioned trait, he showed no interest at all in the Florida version of Disneyland, the 'Magic Kingdom' in Disney World; his real interest there was in (the original concept of) EPCOT, which he saw as a real, functioning, experimental 'perfect city' in terms of orderliness and organization - the combined Alpha values of S and L.

As a person, according to those who worked closely with him, Walt was indeed largely the benevolent 'Uncle Walt' of his public image but also unpredictable in his moods (Donald Duck's personality was a caricature of Walt's); his nephew Roy said that 40 people who knew Walt slightly would give 40 different versions of what he was like. At the same time, he was obviously a charming person when he wanted to and was actually able to act out the expressions of his animated characters when telling the animators what he wanted. All of this suggests a person high in E, probably as an E1 or E2.

On the other hand, Walt Disney had an authoritarian, controlling streak which, combined with his moodiness, made his staff often terrified of him. This got worse at the studio after an animators' strike in 1941 where he felt betrayed; before that he was more like a benevolent yet paternalistic figure who wanted to treat his employees like a family (as long as it was clear that he was in charge). Walt's easy slip into authoritarianism in a way that could intimidate others, especially when taken by negative emotions, point to a rather strong F, consistent with F8.

What we have is a person of clear Alpha values with E and I the most visible ones; with a grudging recognition of the need to pay attention to P and with occasionally very visible F; with no visible L in terms of L+T ideology or vision but with a need for L+S order in his environment.

Everything fits ESE best as Walt Disney's type.


Recommended reading and sources: I have relied on Neal Gabler's 2007 biography, "Walt Disney". The entry in Wikipedia provides a list of useful links.

To learn more about the ESE, click here.

If you are confused by our use of Socionics shorthand, click here.

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