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Not feeling appreciated at Disney
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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And I also got to be in a situation where I wasn't the expert. That was a little hard for me, at first, but I remember... because I was used to having my own company and people would come to me with problems and I would tell them the answer, and that would be the way it was. But at Disney, I didn't know the... I didn't have that kind of authority and certainly didn't have the expertise actually to have the right answer, so...

I remember being shocked, like, the first time we sat down at something that I thought I knew about, they said, 'We should have an online service. Let's have a brainstorming session about what that look like... Disney online would look like.' And so Disney would do these things called 'charettes', where they'd get all these people together and they would start brainstorming about it. So they began, like, 'Let's just everybody make a little presentation of what you imagine the online service to be.' And so we all sketched a little bit, and then they went around the table, and the first person holds up, like, a picture of a castle and says, 'Oh, I think it should be like a castle, it should be like a virtual Disneyland', and somebody holds up a picture of a spaceship, and you know, there are all these pictures of, like, I don't even know what they were pictures of, but they were sort of ideas of concepts of what it should be like. They were sort of metaphors. And it gets to mine, and I have, like, this block diagram of well, you should have the server and you should have this service, you'll be able to serve a... and everybody looks at me confused, and, like, 'We don't understand. You think it should be a like a bunch of boxes with lines between them?' I mean... My solution was a total disconnect for them. They just saw no value in what I had to offer whatsoever to this discussion. And so it was very surprising to be in a situation where, like, I would give them the answer and they wouldn't even appreciate it as being useful at all. So it taught me a kind of humility, but it was also a great chance to learn what they knew.

W Daniel Hillis (b. 1956) is an American inventor, scientist, author and engineer. While doing his doctoral work at MIT under artificial intelligence pioneer, Marvin Minsky, he invented the concept of parallel computers, that is now the basis for most supercomputers. He also co-founded the famous parallel computing company, Thinking Machines, in 1983 which marked a new era in computing. In 1996, Hillis left MIT for California, where he spent time leading Disney’s Imagineers. He developed new technologies and business strategies for Disney's theme parks, television, motion pictures, Internet and consumer product businesses. More recently, Hillis co-founded an engineering and design company, Applied Minds, and several start-ups, among them Applied Proteomics in San Diego, MetaWeb Technologies (acquired by Google) in San Francisco, and his current passion, Applied Invention in Cambridge, MA, which 'partners with clients to create innovative products and services'. He holds over 100 US patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices (including a 10,000-year mechanical clock), and has recently moved into working on problems in medicine. In recognition of his work Hillis has won many awards, including the Dan David Prize.

Listeners: George Dyson Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Disney, online service, brainstorming, disconnection, humility, charette

Duration: 2 minutes, 36 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017