Lessons in creativity from a master - Disney's Gary Buchanan #DisneySMMoms

Be Inspired By That Typo

May 9, 2014 by Michelle

Disney is an amazing place all around. I don’t think anyone would ever argue with that. One of the best parts of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration (where I paid the conference fee, but we received additional benefits while there) was the speakers we had the opportunity to enjoy. They ran the gamut from former Packer Donald Driver to Disney’s Social Media Director Tom Smith to Twitter’s Creative Director Doug Bowman and more. They were all so inspiring in so many ways, but the spark to my creativity – something we all can use – was Gary Buchanan, Disney’s Social Media Managing editor.

Lessons in creativity from a master - Disney's Gary Buchanan #DisneySMMoms

Gary has an outstanding personality that is always out there. He is open and sharing and willing to truly listen and celebrate everyone. He is a true gem of an employee for Disney, and he fits his position like a glove. In his conversation with us, he shared some great anecdotes that help me remember what I’m doing and why – and why there are some things that I don’t do and that it’s ok. I am not like everyone else out there, and it’s my uniqueness that sets me apart.

So often, we feel stuck, but when we look back at ourselves as children, we had so much creativity and originality. For me, a lot of my creativity has been stifled by learning how things are “supposed” to be and by the desire to look and act like an adult, but that may not be the right way to look at the world if I want to do something unique. Thankfully, there’s Gary there to remind us.

“Disney is a creative company. It’s encouraged. It’s a word you hear a lot, but what does it mean? You hear, ‘I’m not a creative person’ all the time. You are super creative. Think back to when you’re 6 or 7 years old. You had a funny haircut, and your mom dressed you weird. You had tea with Teddy Ruxpin. You could make a fort out of a fridge box. And you were creative because the whole world was out there for you. Remember the games you played as a kid and you made up the rules as you went along? Creativity is an important quality, especially in a kid.”

Yes, creativity is important, but more than just when we are kids. It’s regaining that creativity that will not just bring us to the next level but also help us regain the joy in everyday life that so often is missing. I feel like I have that creativity in my cooking, which is a great outlet for me, but I want to regain it elsewhere in my life, too.

“Since then, you had the audacity to grow up. That’s not good. No, it is. You developed routines. Everyone needs routines.  You can’t live without them. The alarm clock rings. you get out of bed, you brush your teeth or make coffee. You start your work day, and you answer it the same way each time. That’s a routine, and that’s great. Without routine, you wouldn’t know what to do. It’s autopilot at that point so you don’t have to think. But it has a way of killing the creative process. Think about an Etch-a-Sketch. You draw and then get tired of it, so shake it up. Here’s a challenge. Pick something, like how you answer your phone, and change it. Call me – if you challenge that part of your mind, you grow creatively, and everyone can grow creatively. Studies back that up.”

So the next time you call me, I’m working on a new creative answer. The challenge for me is that I can’t just change it from “Hello” to “Hi” or “Hola” or “Happy Friday” – I feel the need for it to be something amazing, but it isn’t about every single thing being amazing. Just being open to change is the key.

Gary had a great quote from Jean-Luc Godard that was a great reminder of what creativity is. “It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to.”

According to Gary, a lot of people think that creativity is being the first person to do something. The first person to make something. “To me,” he says, “it means make it better. If you find something, make it better. He (Walt Disney) did not create the first cartoon. Let’s add some sound to it. Let’s make a cartoon feature film. He didn’t create the first amusement park; he wanted to enjoy somewhere with his families.”

“Every time I think of something creative, I know I don’t have to be the first. I just have to do something better. The Abbey Road photo is one of the most famous pop culture photos. I wanted to commemorate the 50th anniversary last year on the Disney Blog. I’ve seen this done a lot – the Simpsons and more. When we did it, every kind of detail in the original photo was recreated – Herbie instead of the regular Bug, me being the confused guy watching, etc.”

That’s exactly what cooking is about to me. I may not be the first to make a chocolate chip cookie in a skillet, but I’ll let other versions that I’ve seen and tasted be the inspiration for the version that I make that fits me and who I am. Mine has oatmeal because I adore the taste and chewiness that oatmeal adds to a cookie, and I use extra egg in mine because I want it to be and stay soft and slightly more cake-like than a big cookie. It’s my derivative, and I love it.

Gary also quoted Walt Disney directly: If you’re coasting, you are going downhill. It’s an interesting perspective, I think. That isn’t to say you can’t enjoy your successes, but if you want to continue to grow and improve, you can’t let that one thing define you because it gets stale fast. Gary explains further, “If you’re coasting, your foot is not on the gas. Keep moving forward at breakneck speed. Sometimes you run out of gas and don’t have that creative speed anymore. You have to find it, find a way to recharge it. Is it going for a walk, spending time with your kids?”

For me, finding inspiration in the kitchen can be as simple as seeing a photo of a dish someone has posted on Instagram or Facebook or Pinterest or something I enjoy eating in a restaurant. It can come as a challenge from an ingredient sitting in my pantry that I want to use. Or it can come from the wee ones who ask me to make something specific, especially around their birthdays. But yes, getting away from the stress is another great way to recharge my creative juices. That may mean sitting on my deck in the sunshine reading a book or heading to the park with the wee ones or enjoying a night out with friends. And sometimes it means taking a day or two off and being ok with actually taking time away, which is hard for me and for so many others I know.

The biggest piece that stuck with me from all that Gary had to say to us (and he said a lot – this is just a selection of a few of my favorites), had to do with looking at our mistakes in an entirely new light. Too often when we make a mistake, we erase it and try to forget it. But what if we didn’t immediately try to get rid of any and all evidence that we aren’t perfect?

For Gary, he lives that mantra. “You never know where ideas will come from. As you know, Leanne announced that I’m working with the Disney Parks Moms Panel, and I needed some trivia qusetions. I was tired and bleary eyed. I typed Diaper Dans instead of Dapper Dans. Then I thought of the eTrade baby. And that was my inspiration. We now have the Diaper Dans that are going up on the Disney Parks blog later today.”

“That was a lot of fun, but it was born out of a typo.” So the next time I make a mistake, I’ll take a look at it first. And maybe look at it with humor instead of frustration because who knows where it may take me. Maybe there’s a “how not to” post in the offing in the worst case – sort of like when I tried to make a pot roast from frozen meat and seared it while still frozen once.

Best lesson of the day from Gary?

“Whatever you do in creativity, you have to be authentic. It should challenge your comfort level, but it shouldn’t take out outside of where you are comfortable. In Plant City Florida, there is a strawberry festival. I like to drive down there and pick some up because I’m addicted to those beauties. Would you think you get better strawberries with a farmer and the cardboard scribbled sign or the big neon sign advertising strawberries? I get them from Edgar, the cardboard scribbled farmer, because he is authentic. You can’t go outside your skillset.

“Sometimes I put 2 and 2 together and get 5. I once dressed as a turkey leg for a Disney Parks meetup. I wantd to know how I could us this homemade costume again. I wanted to talk about how we can use our world class facilities for training. Everyone knows that I can’t be ‘me’ training with David Payne and lifting weights and such. But racing him dressed as a turkey leg? That seemed like it would fit me.”

“Play, and have fun,” exhorts Gary. “We have an entire room in our marketing department that is devoted to fun. We call it the haha to the aha moments. I had no idea that the Diaper Dans were going to be something when I had that typo.” But just look at how cool it turned out. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go rediscover my curiosity and creativity. You can find me sitting on my deck enjoying a book for a little while.

Need more of a Disney fix? Check out my other posts from the 2014 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration

What I learned from the Disney Fun Run (and Costumes!)
DisneyNature Bears Movie Review
An overall summary of my experience at Disney Social Media Moms
Why I can’t wait to see Maleficent (in theaters May 30)

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  • Sara @ Mom Endeavors


    This is an awesome post! I LOVE Gary & was also VERY inspired by his talk on creativity! Love that you had so many long quotes from it shared here!

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