Industrialized Production of Joy: Interview with Tyler Goss
This is an excerpt from a longer interview I did with Tyler Goss, a former architect who now works at AECOM, and has had a bunch of interesting roles in the AEC space, including, as we discuss below, working with Disney. I thought it was interesting enough that it was worth breaking out as a separate article.
Tyler: Case was a design technology and business consultancy for architects, engineers, contractors, and owners. This was founded by Dave Fano and Steve Sanderson, Feder Negro, all out of SHoP originally. We were a consultancy that was doing a lot of digital innovation for folks, including Disney, WeWork and other companies. We eventually grew to about 80 people, at which point we sold to WeWork. There's a whole history there that we don't need to go into <laugh>, but it's been well documented. I don't think anyone from Case was in the Apple TV mini series, but everything in that was, as far as I remember, pretty accurate.
So at that point, I'm searching for meaning, right? This is like my quarter life crisis. I'm searching for meaning in the work. And obviously Disney had been a customer of mine at Case, and there ended up being an opportunity there on the product management side, for actually managing the construction technology pipeline for Disney.
Brian: That seems super interesting, I’m just trying to imagine what Disney's construction needs are, and the sort of construction problems you’re solving. It's gotta be super different from, like, typical construction.
Tyler: So Disney's needs are superlative in every way, right? If you think about it, a themed attraction is an incredibly complex piece of machinery that has to take people from one place to another, tell them a story, and do it without crushing them or having them fall off the ride vehicle or what have you. And you have to deliver the same experience to 35,000 people in a day. It's a machine for the industrialized production of joy, which is why I went there. Right? Like you can't argue with joy as a goal. You could argue with Disney's politics and you know, historical contribution to conservative thought in this country. But at the end of the day, it was really awesome to be able to go to the parks and see kids enjoying the things that I helped build.
The construction problems for Disney start in design actually. They start in design because you have ultimately over a hundred different disciplines trying to put their work into a building, which means there's a hundred different disciplines, who all use different software and have different workflows, trying to put their work into a BIM model. You have the animatronics team, and they're trying to move Maya content into the construction documents. You have the ride engineering team, and they all work in SolidWorks, because they have to do finite element analysis and all sorts of other things on the conveyance systems. At one point the design team was using 35 different design and engineering platforms. And one of the things one of the folks from Case did, a guy named Matt Nelson who ended up running the Design Technology team at Disney, was to consolidate that down to six. Just to pacify the chaos of your content creation. Right?
Brian: Remove the variation that’s not adding value, right?
The example that I always give for how difficult and interesting the work at Disney is that if you've ever gone to the Cars ride in California, you can go underneath the ride structure, and there’s a little flickering light in a little themed cage. A single light. And if you think about all of the different disciplines that are involved in the production of that element, it’s huge. So you have base building electrical that has to provide the correct power to that light. And you have the themed lighting team, who are the ones who own the light bulb and all the things around the light bulb. Who make sure it looks like it's part of Cars land, right. And then you have show lighting, who are responsible for the computer control program that flickers the light in the way that is in line with the aesthetic performance they want for that light. And there are a number of other disciplines that tie into it as well. So you have six or seven different disciplines operating on the same problem.
Brian: On one light.
Tyler: Right. So the cost to deliver this work is astronomical. And the talents needed to do it right are unique. When I was at Case, I remember going in, we were working on helping them transition to Revit. And we were going into these meetings with folks who were very unassuming, but then you realize as you start to talk to them, they are industry leaders in their field. If their field is, you know, a themed lighting or their field is show control programming, or their field is animatronics. They are just the absolute best of the best, because that's where you work if you do that. And obviously that costs money too, right. You can’t maintain the best of the best without spending money.
But getting into construction, a lot of the problems are similar to what every other industry has.
Brian: So it’s like the far end of the scale of the problems of a typical project.
Tyler: Right. In some ways it's equivalent in complexity to process pharma or semiconductor manufacturing or a laboratory or a hospital in terms of the number of moving parts. Lots and lots of weird services that have to touch everything, and figuring out how to make them all play nice. And a million plan specialties.
Another huge problem is ride commissioning - making sure the ride is working exactly how it’s supposed to, and that every edge case is handled properly. Making sure the G accelerations are in the right look, you know, the, the, within the tolerable parameters. Because these are advanced systems that move thousands of people around. And there are man-years of commissioning involved in every single attraction. The one I remember was one of the rides in Florida that was a big marquee ride, it had 11 man-years of testing and commissioning for the ride system alone.
Another place where there is just this astronomical and superlative needs and thinking about the show is the ride vehicle. Everyone should be able to ride every ride at Disneyland and be happy and have had an excellent experience when they come out. So your ride system, the goal is to put as many people through it on a given day, and give them all the same excellent experience.
And there's a qualitative financial analysis that happens that includes the percentage of excellent experiences that a rider has. Take, for example, a typical big marquee ride. There may be 30,000 people that go on that ride a day. Now, if you could figure out a way to re-engineer a component of that, a component of the show, to be a little bit faster - to make your animatronics reset two seconds faster or whatever - that means you can add another 2000 people in a day through the ride.
And so what's the value of 2000 more excellent experiences? There is a secret sauce to that. I can't talk about it. <Laugh> But ultimately, they may decide that it’s worth it to spend an additional 5 million dollars on finite element analysis and redesign of a control arm for an animatronic, because that was how much value they would get from making the reset two seconds faster.
Brian: That's wild. I mean, you said it was industrialized joy production, but it really basically sounds like a factory where they're trying to maximize their throughput and minimize the variation. It's just a very particular kind of factory.
Tyler: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. It is, entirely, it's a factory for joy.