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Rummell

Rummell on the creative process: ‘The secret is not to panic’

by Mark Basch, Contributing Writer

Most people in Jacksonville know Peter Rummell as a real estate development executive.

He first came to the area in 1977 as general manager of the Sawgrass community in Ponte Vedra Beach and returned two decades later to become CEO of The St. Joe Co.

However, in between, Rummell was chairman of Walt Disney Imagineering, the unit of the Walt Disney Co. charged not only with developing real estate but also Disney's theme parks. That gave him the opportunity to work with a lot of creative people.

"I learned a lot about the creative process," Rummell said Thursday in his keynote address at the 22nd annual Florida Venture Capital Conference at the Sawgrass Marriott Resort & Golf Club.

The event presented by the Florida Venture Forum Inc. brings emerging companies together with venture capital firms and other investors. Rummell shared the lessons he learned over the years about the creative process.

"It is both creative and a process," he said.

Disney was a great place to learn about it, he said. The late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc., may be considered the most prominent innovator of recent times but long before Jobs, there was Walt Disney, who died in 1966.

"Jobs is the Walt Disney of today's world," Rummell said.

Rummell said Disney's innovations, which included theme parks and full-length animated features, "were every bit as creative as the iPhone and the iPad."

Although Rummell came to Disney long after the founder was gone, the culture of creativity was still there.

He recalled a meeting of Disney executives in which someone picked up a snow globe off a colleague's desk and brought it into the room. The executive was imagining a snowstorm in Florida.

"That was the beginning of a $100 million project called Blizzard Beach," Rummell said, referring to the Central Florida attraction that Disney likes to refer to as a failed ski resort that was turned into a water park.

"Ideas can come from anywhere and the timing of that idea is crucial," he said.

"Oftentimes things fail not because it wasn't a good idea. It wasn't a good idea at that time and in that environment," he said.

One lesson Rummell shared with the conferees was not to become bogged down with a set schedule when developing a new idea.

"Schedules are killers," he said. Rummell also said not to lock in a budget too early in the process until the idea is developed.

He warned about moving too fast in the creative process. The process used to be "ready, aim, fire," he said.

Now, "the new version of the creative process is fire, fire, reload and fire again," he said.

"Make sure it's been vetted, pulled and twisted in all different directions" before bringing a finished product to customers, he said.

Rummell also cautioned against panic and said to listen to other ideas when things go wrong.

"The secret is not to panic and the secret to not panicking is to listen like you've never listened in your life," he said.

Rummell credited John Lasseter, chief creative officer at Disney's Pixar unit, with another one of the lessons he learned about making mistakes.

Mistakes are going to happen during the creative process, so don't be afraid of making them along the way.

"Be wrong as fast as you can," he said.

mbasch@baileypub.com

(904) 356-2466

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