How Disney World Took Lessons From The US Military

The new Disney Operational Command Center
Written by Chad Storlie on Aug 24, 2017
How Disney World Took Lessons From The US Military


The New York Times ran a detailed story on a new attraction at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL. The new Disney Operational Command Center is everything that it sounds like. A state-of-the-art, technology driven command center in a central, protected location that supervises everything in Disney World to ensure that theme parks guests, employee, and services run smoothly, effectively, and on time. To a veteran, this news story about an Operations Center (OPCEN) seems like a “easy decision.” An OPCEN? There are probably several hundred military OPCEN’s operating globally, 24-7, and under combat conditions. Why, when Walt Disney does it, this becomes a news story?

The Walt Disney Operational Command Center is news precisely because the adaptation of military concepts to civilian organizations is a vast and great unknown. Today, Gulf War II veterans (primarily Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans) are less than 0.5% of the US population. The US public knows very little of what the day-to-day military does; let alone how to adapt military skills and methods to their organizations. The lack of public knowledge concerning the benefit military methods can and do bring to Disney and countless other organizations are a great advantage point for veterans in their career search and career advancement.

The essential point for a veteran is that they must weave the application of military skills into the organization’s culture and work processes. The Walt Disney culture is all about teamwork, positive customer experience, authenticity of performers (workers) to their roles, safety, and efficiency in the face of growing crowds. Knowing this, the Disney Operational Command Center was not seen as a top down command and control center. Rather, it was a place to monitor ride line length, safe operating conditions, and to mitigate other potential effects of customer dissatisfaction. The Disney OPCEN supported the company culture and existing work practices. In this way, the weaving of a military process, the OPCEN, in support of Disney culture of customer satisfaction and customer experience was perfect.

As you look at potential employer’s and your career progression, understand the problems your company experiences, the culture of how your company operates, and how the military skill set will be a solution to the organization. 

Here are three ideas how military skills add value to organizations:


1.    Leverage Your Military Experience to Your Company and Job. Veterans need to translate their military skills to their businesses and organizations in a fashion that supports the culture and work practices of their company. First, sit down and describe one accomplishment that you performed in the military, the problem that it solved, and why it was successful. Second, list the skills that you used to accomplish the military task successfully. Third, list problems within the company that could be solved by using some or these skills. For example, maybe you started a regular meeting of tribal elder’s or shopkeepers in your AO in Afghanistan to discuss problems and look for solutions. These meetings produced military skills sets of coordination, negotiation, planning, and leadership. Could you set up a series of meetings with your company’s customers to generate ideas and discussion on what your company could provide in the future? 


2.    Start a Veteran’s Network in Your Organization. You do not have to have all the great ideas. Get a group of veterans’ together, brainstorm, and plan how to implement military skills to solve your organization’s problems. Military Veteran Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s) serve a variety of roles to help companies employ more veterans, keep veterans on as employees, serve as a resource base for deployed employees, and help veterans translate military skills into improving the company’s business. No matter your organization’s size, a military veteran ERG is a great idea.


3.    “A Desk Is a Dangerous Place from Which to View the World,” – John le Carre. In the military, inspections, field visits, and “walking the line” were an implicit responsibility for leaders at all levels. In business, conducting field visits with customers, manufacturing locations, and the like can make a dramatic difference in your career, allow you to understand the business, and establish a special relationship with your customers. If you do not know what to do, get out and look at the problem from your customer’s perspective.


Photos courtesy of author.

ABOUT CHAD STORLIE: Chad is the author of two books how to translate and apply military experience to business: (1) Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and (2) Battlefield to Business Success. Chad is a retired US Army Special Forces officer with 20+ years of service in Infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units. He has served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He has been awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab. Chad is a mid-level marketing executive and has worked in marketing and sales roles for various companies, including General Electric, Comcast, and Manugistics. Chad has been published in the Harvard Business Review blog,, and the Oxford Leadership Journal. He has been featured in news stories in Inc, Business Week, the New York Post, Federal Computer Weekly, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Chad holds a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.