Even the Trash Cans

Lance Excellence, Ideas, Leadership Leave a Comment

There are few more immersive experiences than a trip to a Disney theme park. The details you don’t notice are a testament to the thousands of details that harmoniously blend together in the background to create a seamless, magical experience. “Show” is one of Disney’s guiding principles of quality, and adhering to it means ensuring every last detail is in place and doing its part to create an experience for the guests that goes beyond merely riding some rides and meeting some come-to-life characters. In their “here’s how we do it” book Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service, the Disney Institute and author Theodore Kinni explain:

The importance of managing the effect of setting on the guest experience can be summed up in two words: Everything speaks. … John Hench, one of the original Disney Imagineers remembers watching Walt finesse a setting: “I was so astonished by the way Walt would create a kind of live-action cross-dissolve when passing from one area of Disneyland to another. He would even insist on changing the texture of the pavement at the threshold of each new land because, he said ‘You can get information about a changing environment through the soles of your feet.'”

In Disney theme parks, “everything speaks” means that every detail — from the doorknobs to the dining rooms — sends a message to guests. That message must be consistent with the common purpose and quality standards, and it must support and further the show being created.

Even the trash cans have a role to play in the Disney theme park show. Far from being a mere necessary evil whose purpose is to do nothing more than efficiently collect waste, the trash cans at Disney theme parks have as much a part in creating the setting for the Disney experience as do the flowers, architecture, and characters. They all have area-specific costumes, and sometimes even a speaking part.

Disney trash cans

Outside of Disney, the only times trash cans get this much attention by companies are when they decide to no longer have them.


“Everything speaks” isn’t just a reminder about how to create an amazing experience for customers; it applies with equal force to how an organization and leaders communicate with their employees. Whether intentional or not, consciously or not, everything that a leader says or does (or doesn’t say or do) will communicate something to the people whose buy-in, creative energy, and successful performance will determine the success or failure of the Leader. Too often, tiny details are either unnoticed or easily dismissed as not worth the time to perfect. Yet, when those tiny details are out of place — like a hair in your meal — they take on an over-sized importance in the message being sent. Here’s just a short list of the kinds of details that speak whether you want them to or not:

  • tone
  • default facial expression
  • colors used
  • fonts used
  • word choice
  • volume
  • order of presentation
  • what isn’t said
  • graphics quality
  • timing

The list of minutiae details that Disney nails where so many fail could go on and on and on … Rather than try to compile a complete list and embark on a massive detail audit, try this approach: start noticing the details right in front of you — the ones normally beneath your field of vision — and apply a rigorous expectation of Excellence to them. See what happens. Before you know it, even your trash cans may be one of the things that speak the most eloquently about your leadership, culture, and mission.