Monday, September 24, 2012

Between Books - Walt's Revolution!: By the Numbers

“Never tell me the odds!”  - Han Solo
I would like to add the median, mode and range.  Numbers typically do not translate to story for me.  And I prefer to go on feelings in many of my decisions.  So in fantasy baseball I am more than willing to ignore a numerical trend if I have a feeling or belief that the player has tools that are not being demonstrated but will in the future.  In short, I am allergic to numbers. 
At the same time when I discovered that the late Harrison “Buzz” Price had written a memoir about his experiences with Disney and other entertainment companies, I began to covet it.  I needed it, wanted it, and had to have it.  So as soon as it arrived in the mail, I tore it open and began what turned out to be a slow stroll through Price’s life work.  He told me about the odds, and how he determined them; which made me slow down my typical reading pace.
Cover of Walt's Revolution
Harrison “Buzz” Price recounts his life and vocational career in Walt’s Revolution: by the Numbers.  Price theorizes that Walt Disney began a revolution in the entertainment industry and the perception of what amusement attractions were with his Disneyland Park in 1955.  He discusses the initial impact of Disney’s original park and attempts to copy Disney’s success in world’s fairs, regional theme and amusement parks, museums, indoor attractions and within the gambling industry.  To start his story of Disney’s impact, Price states with his own story from his education to first working with Walt Disney when the firm he was working for, Stanford Research Institute, was asked by Disney to determine the best location for his new theme park.  Price led this effort and made the recommendation of the Anaheim location where it was built.  Disney called on Price again while leading his own company Economics Research Associates to research sites for an East Coast site which would eventually become the Walt Disney World Resort.  Truly it is Price that helped establish the location of the beloved theme parks today.  Along with his work with Disney, Price also discusses his decades of research within the entertainment industry which saw him partnering with almost every major amusement and theme park company as Price and his associates were considered the foremost consulting firm for completing economic and impact studies.  Along with the story of the studies he completed he also discusses the formulas and statistical tools he used to complete his typically highly accurate predictions.
I have a history background, not a statistical background.  And Walt’s Revolution is full of numbers!  Still I was able to find sections that delighted me.  I really enjoyed his discussion of working with Walt Disney.  His firsthand accounts give you a glimpse into the working relationship of a key consultant with Walt Disney.  As Price recounts stories of becoming the impromptu bartender in the Disney plane on a cross country trip, one feels as if you are a fly on the wall in the talks that made Walt Disney World happen.  And he does an excellent job of explaining how to work with Walt Disney; a philosophy of responding “Yes, if” and not “No, because” when needing to respond negatively.  In fact at my workplace many of us have discussed the “Yes, if” philosophy and are attempting to incorporate it into our vocational lives.
But for me and I believe many readers this book will also be a slow walk through Price’s life.  He discusses in depth a number of statistics, economic principles, and mathematical tools.  Economists and statisticians may find this discussion second nature, but others (like me) likely will read it as a foreign language.  Price is a man who literary developed his own statistical formulas, which he explains in depth in providing background.  But for someone who thinks words and not numbers these can be hard to push through.  Additionally at times the narrative becomes a list, projects that Price supervised with some background on them.  And for me lists can become uninteresting to read as they tend to come off the page with little life.
Harrison “Buzz” Price’s Walt’s Revolution: By the Numbers is a mixed bag for me.  I loved the firsthand accounts of a Disney legend, especially his stories of working with Walt and Roy O. Disney.  On the other hand the use of lists and numbers made the read difficult for me.  In short, he told me the odds!  This book will fit best in the Between Books library of completists, researchers and statisticians.  But the casual reader should likely consider borrowing a copy first if they want to dive into this book, especially if the price tag is above $25.   

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