We are not trying to entertain the critics. I’ll take my chances with the public. – Walt Disney
What does that mean?
I think this is a great way to live our lives. No matter what we do, there will always be critics, people who don’t like what we are doing. So what.
The most certain way to anger just about everyone is to try to please just about everyone. Know what you want to do, and do it. Then take the consequences. Simple.
The quote is about knowing your target audience, and knowing that one doesn’t have to impress everyone in the world. In this case, Walt wanted to put the critics on notice.
He knew he wasn’t going to make money from the critics, he was going to make money with the public. He wasn’t going to worry about entertaining the critics, he was going to try to entertain the public.
Why is knowing what matters important?
In the case of the quote, Walt knew that while useful, critics weren’t the only way to reach his potential audience. As long as his customers were happy, and spending their money, that was all that mattered. The critics were just not all that important.
Some critics were very particular about what they liked, and Walt knew that he wouldn’t be able to please them. They would only buy one ticket anyway. He was going to focus on what mattered, the paying public. Given the success of the brand, I would say he did a pretty good job.
When we focus on what matters to us and to whom we want our target audience to be, we will do well. Whether you are an entertainment mogul, or just trying to entertain a couple of kids on a rainy afternoon, you’ll fail if you let others tell you what to do. Follow your audience and what they like.
If you lose sight of this, if you don’t know what matters, you will chase something else, and who knows where it will lead you. If you can focus on what is important, if you know what matters, you can avoid getting side-tracked chasing the opinions of the few, instead of the desires of the many.
Where can I apply this in my life?
We all have critics. I believe that the key thing is to recognize when their opinions are important, and when they are not. Everyone has an opinion, and you’ll never satisfy everyone. Some people choose who they want to satisfy, like the quote says. Others will choose instead, who they want to annoy, which the quote might just imply.
Even something as simple as this blog has had the critics up at arms. I can’t name the number of times that someone has come after me for not having an exact citation (some even want page numbers!) for a quote. I understand the usefulness of being thorough, but that’s a little much, even for me.
My ‘public’ isn’t the philosophy majors, who often complain about how short and superficial my posts are. It’s not the researchers, looking for someone else to find the quotes and give them the details they need for the bibliography for their research paper.
My public is the average person, who may not have taken the time to examine the quote or consider how it might apply to their lives. With over a million page views, they are a much larger group than the critics, which probably account for just a few hundred page views.
Who is your public? Who are you trying to reach? For whom are you making things? We all do things in our lives. Sometimes we do things for ourselves and other times we do things for other people. Sometimes it’s a specific person, other times for a group.
If you don’t know who is important, how can you make sure you are doing the things they want or need? When entertaining a group of young children, how do you know what they think is funny? After all, that is what is important, that is your public, for that moment.
Take a moment and consider who your public is in some of the different aspects of your life. Who is it at home? What about in your social groups and with your friends? At work? In the community? Now consider how things change depending on what it is you are doing, what is important in different cases?
Life is complex, but if you know what matters, and who your audience or public is, things can be a whole lot less confusing. So if you ever find yourself confused and unsure what to do, you might want to think about who your public is, and what about your activity is important. It might help you focus on what matters.