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Lessons From Disney On Creativity And Innovation With Duncan Wardle | EP 321

BDD 321 | Creativity And Innovation


Work doesn’t have to be stiff and boring when you know how to inject creativity and innovation into your everyday tasks. This is one of the main lessons Duncan Wardle speaks fervently about. Duncan is the former Head of Innovation at Disney and the Founder of id8 & innov8. In this episode, Duncan starts by sharing how Walt Disney ran his company and how the idea for Disneyland came about. He talks about how Disneyland adapted to the changing needs of its employees and consumers over the years by becoming immersive in their consumer base. Duncan also explains how recent generations are more interested in buying experiences than assets and discusses the five barriers prohibiting innovation. He caps it off by defining and differentiating creativity and innovation and gives examples of how to make work less boring.

Listen to the podcast here:

Lessons From Disney On Creativity And Innovation With Duncan Wardle

Our guest is Duncan Wardle, the former Head of Innovation at Disney. He sent Buzz Lightyear to space and he’s created an Olympic pool on Main Street Disneyland for Michael Phelps to swim in. He’s opened numerous parks in his 30-year history at Disney and even helped create the MagicBand. I’ve got the yellow one to go with my yellow tux. Duncan, I’m a huge fan of you. I’m excited to help welcome you to the show. I’m wearing a MagicBand. We surprised our entire staff with a trip to Disney and experienced it for ourselves. It was a lot of fun.

Here’s what most employers don’t get that you just told me that you did. Ninety-nine percent of employers don’t get it. They think it’s the customer first and I’m like, “Please stop.” It’s depending on the industry but I would argue for most of the industries that it’s the employee first. How do I know that? It’s because Walt understood it. He understood that his employees ultimately, as cast members will take care of his guests eight hours a day and have far more impact on the guest’s intent to return and recommend than he could ever have. Few companies talk it and they sure don’t walk it.

I get a lot of inspiration from you. The reality is the name of our company is Fans First Entertainment and we have the Savannah Bananas baseball team. We believe our biggest fans and our goal is to make our team members, teammates and our people our biggest fans. We do a lot of trips and we learned a lot from Disney. You brought up Walt. I have a custom poster of Walt in my office and it says, “Vision,” and his quote, “It’s fun to do the impossible.” That is a lot of what you’ve done at Disney and what’s been built on this whole innovation culture. I know you learned a lot of the traditions in 30 years. Start with Walt Disney himself as a pioneer of innovation. Can you share some of the things that Walt did and how that got built into the framework of Disney?

Walt created the tools I used today. I’m sure a lot of people reading have rules in their industry. I’m sure they wonder why they do a weekly report and then read it. I’m sure they wonder why they keep going to weekly meetings. I say that as a bit facetious but there are lots of things that go on a challenge. Why do we do it that way? Because we’ve always done it that way. Walt created this tool, which I use today to innovate called What If. It’s about looking at your industry, challenging all the rules, writing down the rules of your industry and then picking one and saying, “What if that rule is no longer existed?”

For example, in 1940, Walter did a film called Fantasia. It was a classical masterpiece. It was an animated piece of a film set to classical music. It didn’t make a whole lot of money. He was such a visionary. In 1940, Walt wanted it to list inside the sequence Little April Showers. He wanted heat pumping during the Night on the Bare Mountain and they said, “No, Walt. It’s too expensive. We would never do that.” Walt listed the rules of showing his movie in the movie theater. “It’s dark. It’s dirty. I have to go to set time out. How can I only watch one movie at a time? I have to watch the previews. I can’t control the environment in which guests experience my movie.” He said, “What if I could control the environment?”

That wasn’t provocative enough. The more provocative and absurd your motive question, the further you get out of your river of thinking. Your river of thinking is your area of expertise. The more experience and the more expertise we have, the more we jump into our river of thinking. My river of thinking is fast, wide, and deep. We’re being asked to get out of that river of thinking more quickly and more often because of the level of disruption that’s coming. The more provocative your motive question, the further out of your river of thinking you’ll get.

The second question he asked was, “What if I take my movies out of the theater?” If you know how to solve it, it’s not an innovation. It’s iteration. “If I take my movies out of the theater, they can’t be two dimensional because they’d fall over. What should I do? What if I made my movie three dimensional? If I made my movie three dimensional, I can’t have Cinderella living next to Jack Sparrow and Davy Crockett because people wouldn’t be immersed in her story. She needed a different land. I’ll call it Disneyland.” It’s the biggest creative suggestion or idea of the 20th century.

Fast forward, Walt was the master of another tool that I like to call Re-express It. How might we simply by re-expressing the challenge, stop you from thinking as you always do and get you to think differently? This is a bit of interaction. I’m going to throw out a challenge and I want you to say the first 3 or 4 things that come into your mind. Let’s say I’m coming to Savannah, Georgia. You and I are going to go into business and we are going to open a carwash. Tell me the 3 or 4 essential ingredients we would have to put in it.

We’re thinking about the building, water, soap and customers.

If I said auto spa, what could we put in?

[bctt tweet=”The more experience and expertise we have, the more we jump into our river of thinking. ” username=””]

We’re thinking about everything to create a spa-like experience.

All I did was re-express the challenge. Instead of jumping into your river of thinking of things you know belong to a carwash, you’ve got to consider what could be in an auto spa. Walt, on July 17, 1955, said, “We will not have any customers in our park. We will only have guests.” With that simple re-expression of a challenge, consider creating a level of hospitality that’s never been replicated or duplicated despite the fact that employees tried to change. He also said, “We won’t have any employees. We will only have cast members and there’ll be cast roles in the show. They’ll wear costumes, no uniform. They’ll work on stage, not backstage.” With that, it gave us all a badge of honor that we would bleed to Disney.

Fast forward that tool into, “How do I make that relevant today?” In 2011, if we ask the question of how we might make more money, which I’m sure is the question that lots of our readers ask ourselves every day. The challenge with that question is it worked from 1920 to 2020 and was driven by Wall Street. The next generation is Generation Z. We care more about purpose and profit and who will challenge everything that we’ve done for many years. Not only will they not buy our products and services, but they also don’t believe in what we stand for. They don’t want to work for us. How the hell are you going to be relevant ten years from today if this new generation doesn’t want to work for you?

Instead of asking the question of how we might make more money, if we’d asked that question, you could have put the gate price up all over the world by 3%. People would have perhaps complained. Everybody would have come and Disney would have made their quarterly results. Instead of asking that question, we asked the question, “How might we solve the biggest consumer pain point?” We knew what the biggest consumer pain point was. What are those pinch points? The pinch points in Disney are standing in line. We use that other tool of Walt, “What if there were no lines? What if we took away and eliminated the front desk in our resort hotels, turnstiles, entrance to our parks, line for your favorite attraction, character meet and greet, to get lunch or pay merchandise?”

If we did, how might we make more money? As we mentioned with the 3% profit margin by putting the gate price up. By asking how we might solve the biggest consumer pain point and using Walt’s tool, we came up with RFID technology, the Disney MagicBand, which you got to experience. You’re staying in a Disney Resort Hotel. It is your room key. It is your theme park ticket. You don’t wait in line to get into the theme park. It has your reservations for your favorite character meet and greets and attractions on it. You swipe and go. If you want an item of merchandise sent to your hotel room, you touch it once. If you want it sent to your house, you touch it twice. “I saved my hotdog with my pickles on the side. It’s on my smartphone. I’m going to Pinocchio Village Haus for lunch today. I walk into the restaurant and the restaurant recognizes I’m here. I type table 47 and the food comes fresh to me.”

Instead of saying how we might make more money, by simply re-expressing the challenge, the average consumer at Walt Disney World has between 90 to 120 minutes of free time of day. They didn’t have it years ago, which has resulted in record revenues on merchandise and food and beverage. There’s no capital investment required, no new land, attractions, parades, fireworks. Every second of every day, the consumer is live crowdsourcing the future design of all the products and services Disney Parks creates simply by telling them what they like and what they don’t like. Walt was the master from which we can still learn.

I wear this MagicBand. I’m wearing it every day to remind me to think differently about our fans. Our president keeps it right in his office and he looks at it every day. It’s a symbol because, as kids we came, we remember. There were different tickets. I know Disney, back in the day, had books that you had to pay to go to different rides. It was a completely different innovation. The great point, Duncan, that you talked about is questions about how you make more money. We ask the question, how do we create more fans? It starts with thinking about those problems.

You think about it in the baseball industry. It’s a nine-inning game, you sit in one seat, watch the game, the players stay on the field and they play the game. You park your car, walk to the park, buy all these different food items and it gets expensive. They have advertisements during the game and all over the stadium. We’ve written down all those rules. Our question is, “Is that where people want to be? If we’re a fan ourselves, do we want to experience that?” Is that what you advise like, “Write down the rules,” and then say, “Put yourself in the shoes of your actual consumer?”

We spend time with our consumers. I’m a great believer in big data but I’m also a great believer in getting out and spending time with our consumer. Do you have kids, by the way?

Yes, I have two.

Our task at Disneyland Paris was how we might get more people to come more often and spend more money. Our data told us who could afford the brand, who had the affinity to the brand, who’ve been shopping online, etc. Data told us there were 10 out of 10 of them coming but they didn’t come, so clearly our data was missing something. We went out using some more intuition because our intuition was telling us our data was missing something. We went and interviewed one consumer each for a family for a whole day and here’s what we found. When we asked how old the photo of the children were in the photograph above the mantelpiece, on average, the child was anywhere from 2 years and 22 years old in reality. We thought, “That’s weird.”

BDD 321 | Creativity And Innovation
Creativity And Innovation: You can get to these insights for innovation by behaving like a child. Childlike, not childish.


How do I know that to be true? Because if you’re a parent, you have those photographs of your children were taken when they were two, but probably now they’re a lot older. For those of you reading who are much younger, how do I know it to be true? Because your parents have a dorky one of you on the living room wall that you wish they got rid of years ago before your boyfriend or girlfriend came. We thought, “There’s something here.” Why is it that we keep all these old photographs of our children? Do we not print new ones? Yes, we do. We print photographs on their wedding day. We dug a bit deeper and here’s what we learned. Don’t forget, our hypothesis was if we build it, they will come because that’s the way we’ve always done it here. By simply spending a day with a consumer, we learned about our average consumer. You ask them, “You’re a parent, what do you want for your children?” They’ll tell you they want their children to go to kindergarten, junior school, middle school, high school, college, graduate, get a job, be happy, healthy and successful or do they?

Do they want to keep doing that little photo frame when you walk in the door and you’re still a superhero? Right now, you’re a superhero. They’ll grab your legs and it’s the best days of your life. They told us about these three bittersweet transition points that are placed between a parent and a child. Once you cross through, you both want to step back but you both know it’s too late. I remember I was from all three of these transition points and I can use my intuition. I knew exactly where I was the day my son, at the age of ten, asked me if I knew Santa Claus. That will happen to you one day too unfortunately. In that one split second, their imagination or creativity. What hurts so much for you as a parent is, they tell you, “I’m not a little boy anymore.” That hurts.

For the girls reading this, you will not remember where you were that fateful day but your dad does and you can test me as soon as you finish reading this. You can talk to your dad and ask him and they’ll tell you within a split second where he was. I know exactly where I was the day that my daughter was thirteen. On that day, she dropped my left hand in public for the first time outside of an area in Kissimmee, Florida. She didn’t want to hold daddy’s hand in public anymore because it was embarrassing. You ask your dad and in a nanosecond, they’ll tell you if it’s their left hand or right hand. I remember when she got her first job. Instead of driving her up to college and back, we flew her up to New York. We packed into her room. We hugged, cheered, laughed and then we got in the car.

We cried our eyes out all the way to the airport. Don’t forget going into these projects, our data told us if we build it, they will come. That’s a capital investment strategy of hundreds of millions of dollars. What we learned by simply spending a day with our consumers, listening to our intuition and understanding what was missing in our data was that mom does not wake up in the morning worrying about whether or not Disneyland Paris is going to have new product. Mom wakes up every morning worried about how quickly her children are growing up and how she wants to make special memories for them while they still believe, still hold my hand, and still here. That’s a segmented communication campaign. One that drove significant results and turned somewhat product-centric to we-know-better culture into a consumer-centric one.

I love this because it’s an emotional connection. It’s consumer focus versus product focus. You said messaging, what was it exactly that Disney did to start sharing this?

We created three segmented spots. One, these parents that have small children, Disneyland Paris, while they still believe. One, that dad between daughters because she’s going to break his heart while she still holds your hand. One, parents of older children while they’re still here. Here’s the other thing. You can get to these insights for innovation by behaving like a child, childlike not childish. Our data often stops at the first why. What’s the name of your son?


When he’s challenging you, he’s going to say why and you’re going to say something to the why. You get good at getting to the core consumer truth. They know you didn’t tell the whole truth on the first answer, so they’re going to keep digging. They’re better sometimes in your data and your consumer insights team at getting to the real core consumer truth by constantly asking. Insights or innovation comes on the 4th or 5th why, not the 1st or 2nd why. Often, your data and your focus groups only go as deep as the 1st or 2nd why, if you act childlike, not childish, and ask the question, “Why do you go to Disney Park?”

If you stop at the first why, somebody might say, “I go for the new rides.” Great. That might mean there’s a multi-million dollar investment strategy but if you pause for a moment and ask why again, “Why exactly do you go for the rides?” “I like Small World.” “Why on earth do you like Small World?” “I remember the music.” “Why is that important?” “It reminds me of my mom.” “Why is that significant?” “I take my daughter now.” On the fifth why, you found out it’s got nothing to do with the new capital investment strategy whatsoever of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on something she doesn’t want. Why she goes is for memory and nostalgia? That’s a communication campaign. One that will save you millions of dollars on not building something she didn’t want and one tied specifically to what’s important to her. Often, our data and our insights only go to that 1st or 2nd why.

The other thing I find is a lot of us rely on focus groups. I don’t know if you do focus groups but it’s that weird setting. It’s a network of 10 or 12 people on the other side that have a two-way mirror. If you ask somebody, “Do you live in a house or an apartment with a two-way mirror and people are spying on you?” people get quite defensive and they say, “No, of course we don’t.” It’s not a relaxed environment for getting real truths out with people. Their living room, on the other hand, is not just what they tell you. It’s what you see such as the project where we saw those photographs but it’s more important than that. In focus groups, we tend to invite 10 or 12 individuals into the room and we ask them questions but we know that they know we’re on the other side of the mirror. To a certain extent, they tell us what they think we want to hear.

[bctt tweet=”People will go to all those places where they are when they have their best ideas. ” username=””]

If you ask somebody, “What do you do at Disney?” A man would say, “I go on the thrill rides. I’m a manly man.” You and I both know if his wife is sitting right next to him, she’s going to go, “No, honey. You did Small World. You loved it.” You get real honesty out of couples that you don’t get out of individuals because we police each other. I call it the self-regulating honesty policy. By getting couples in their living room, it’s not just what they tell you, it’s what you see that will confirm or deny the data. They’re also 100% more relaxed and that’s when you find the real insight.

There’s a lot of this innovation. We talked about fixing the customer’s problems, solving those and changing the rules in the industry, but what it’s coming down to from hearing how people feel, it’s the experience you provide. It’s those moments. It’s nostalgia. A lot of that is as you’re designing, it’s like, “How do you create those peak moments and special things, whether it’s Disney, from the smells to the characters coming out, to all those different things?” Is that part of your mindset when Disney is like, “How do you create these special moments?”

Walt realized that it’s experience first, retail second. If I were to ask you to name or list your readers, the top five most successful retail shopping malls on the planet per square inch, nobody would think to mention the ones that actually are. They will be Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland, Shanghai Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. Why? Experience first, retail second. Let me give you two specific examples of that. One is physical retail. Physical retail is boring. I walk into your shop and there are lots of shelves and lots of stuff on it. Therefore, you are a commodity. If you’re a commodity, I can buy you on Amazon. I don’t need to bother coming. If you’re an experience, for example, before Universal opened Harry Potter, Universal Studios was the steel rides guy. Disney was the immersive entertainment brand.

Universal Studios have realized that what was a Coca-Cola retailing at $2.75 is now adaptable and it’s retailing at $18.50. Walt was a plastic stick that I wouldn’t give you $0.50 for, to you that’s Dumbledore’s wand at $64 plus tax. Generation Z will not own cars necessarily. They won’t own houses. They won’t own things. They are buying experiences and people can already see it. Where do you think Airbnb came from? Where do you think escape rooms came from? Why do we think your baseball experience is as good as it is? Why do we think that the museum of ice cream? I saw a little boy in a museum in Brussels and he almost went up to a painting. If it wasn’t for the museum guard, I swear he was going to try and swipe it. Why? Because he didn’t know any different and that felt like a dinosaur.

If through augmented reality, which is not expensive on your iPhone and if Vincent van Gogh could step out of the painting, rip off his ear and say, “Let me tell you why I cut off my ear,” suddenly I’m turning that museum into an experience. Pokémon Go, I’m sure you had it around where you were. I live on a street where there aren’t many kids but the day that was created, there were a thousand kids on my street going up or down collecting Pokémon. They were there because they created an experience. We are moving away from the marketing economy into what I call the experience economy. Brands that don’t get it will not survive.

Pike’s world-famous Fish Market is selling fish but they’re throwing it. They’re making it a show. You think about, “How do you serve beer? How do you serve food? How do you serve anything? How do you make it more to show and not just, ‘Here’s your soda?’”

If you’ve gone on YouTube and you type in Le Petit Chef, it’s amazing. This is the most simple piece of technology. There’s a camera on the ceiling pointed down at the tablecloth on the table. As you sit down for dinner, a little hole appears in your tablecloth, an animated hole, but you can all see it at the same time. This little chef pops up and tells you, “What’s for dinner?” and goes away again. It’s a genius.

I do want to get into how we do these innovative meetings. I know you’ve developed some great science and data behind that, but from Disney, I love a few more examples. Either these experiential things. My team went and we had a great time. Other things that you were a part of that you seem either created some special moments. A simple little adjustment on how things were sold, served and presented from Disney.

Surprise and delight. That’s something that’s not on the agenda but it also goes back to Walt creating cast members. I have a friend, Hector Rodriguez. I started in the Rose & Crown Pub in 1986. He’s still there and he’s still driving the boat. On the other occasion, when he comes into the house, Johnny comes bursting through the door with a massive smile on his face and says, “You should see what I did for that guest.” He will tell you with enormous pride about the smallest, silliest thing he did for a guest. Why did he do it? Was there a financial incentive? No, he’s a Disney cast member. It’s what she does. It’s this ability to surprise and delight.

You merge that with technology. We haven’t talked a whole lot about that. We’ve talked a little bit about Disney’s magic and about the tool but think about what Disney’s MagicBand does. It allows you to surprise and delight. “I know you’re visiting Walt Disney World. I know which hotel you’re staying at. I know it’s your last day today. I know your daughter’s favorite characters are Anna and Elsa and I know you haven’t met them yet. I know you’re in a 45-minute wait for Space Mountain. What if I text you right now and tell you they’re right outside? I could save you a Fast Pass to get back in line?” Suddenly, you’re a hero in the eyes of your daughter. Your intent to recommend and return will go through the roof. Surprise and delight. It’s funny because in cost-cutting, it’s the thing is we tend to let go. The one thing people remember are the small moments, not the big ones.

BDD 321 | Creativity And Innovation
Creativity And Innovation: We are moving away from the marketing economy into the experience economy. Brands that don’t get it will not survive.


It’s personalized. It’s how you can know your people. This technology eliminated lines or at least they made a lot better. They gave you the opportunity to personalize and create a great experience. That’s why I’m thinking it’s how you can know your people better. The big point, Duncan, with Disney is not all 100,000 plus people that are showing up that are getting this. It’s here and there but that’s enough.

Also, with Disney’s MagicBand, it allows you to create an individualized, personalized and customized experience at scale. That’s not easy to do.

You talked a lot when you’re trying to create this innovative culture. First of all, you studied 5,000 people throughout Disney on what was prohibiting innovation? Can you share those?

There are five barriers we surveyed from 5,000 people at Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel, Disney, etc. We asked them, “What were the barriers that got in the way?” Number one, far enough away, it is time to think. I’m going to address that first of all. I know you’ve heard me speak, but if I were to ask your readers to close their eyes for a minute and picture, where are you? What are you doing when you get your best ideas? You can open your eyes. I know what the answers are. Shower, walking, commuting, in the bathroom, waking up, falling asleep and driving. Not one of you thought the words “at work,” but that’s a bummer because you’re paid to have big ideas.

Picture that last verbal argument you were in with somebody and don’t tell anybody about it. The more honest you are with each other, the more benefit you receive. Picture that argument. It can be arguments over or you’re angry at Fred, and they email your boss. “I’ll never work with you again.” You stormed out of the office. You go with your local coffee shop and get your cappuccino. You’re angry. You’re beginning to unwind, you sit down and relax. It’s five minutes after the argument. What pops into your mind? That killer one-liner. That one perfect line. “All fighter said that,” it’s the perfect line. Do you ever come up with a perfect line during the argument? No. Is it always five minutes later? Yes. Is it frustrating? Yes. Could you write volumes of killer one-liners you’ve never delivered? Yes. Here’s why.

Your brain in an argument is busy. It’s defending itself. Guess what your brain looks like in the office? It’s doing emails and PowerPoint presentations. It’s doing all sorts of things that we use ourselves to say, “I don’t have time to think.” It’s the number one barrier to innovation. The moment you step away from that argument or you step into the shower, the big idea or the killer one line comes. Why? Because here’s how your brain works. Your brain goes through four brain states on any given day. Most of us live in what I refer to as busy beta, which is that the brain state when the door between your conscious and subconscious brain is firmly closed. You can’t access your subconscious brain. That’s 87% of the capacity of your brain.

The moment you relax, that door between your conscious and subconscious brain opens wide enough. It enables you to open up access to the other 87%, which is where you come up with a killer one-line or a big idea. When we’re stressed at work, how do you get into that brain state? Option A, we could bring showers to the office. That’s probably not politically correct. Option B, you run an energizer, which is a fun exercise that lasts 60 to 90 seconds. All on Disney is listening for laughter. The moment I’ve heard laughter, I’ve opened that door between your conscious and subconscious brain wide enough. When you’re in the shower, you can still make an informed decision, but you can still have big ideas.

What would be an example of an energizer, Duncan?

Ask everybody in your team. Who doesn’t know how to play rock, paper, scissors? Everybody knows. You pair everybody up and you get them to play rock, paper, scissors. If you lose to me, then you get behind me. I put my hand up. You become my most loud vocal, obnoxious English soccer hooligan supporter. I go against Peter. I beat Peter. Peter gets behind me and he’s cheering for me as well. I create my tribe and it can go on and on doing the best of one until you get down to two finalists. You do the best of three. You’ll be amazed at the laughter and energy level in the room that you listen to. You’re looking to open that brain state wide enough. A lot of us say that we get our best ideas when we’re falling asleep or waking up. The expression when the penny drops came from Thomas Edison. He will put a penny between his knees or tin tray on the floor. He will fall asleep in his armchair. As he would fall asleep, his muscles relax and the penny will drop. It’ll make a noise and he would wake up and write down whatever he was thinking.

You might think, “That’s stupid. Why would I do that?” Fair enough. Who had dozens more patented inventions in the 20th century than anybody else? If you are one of those people who gets their best ideas as you’re about to fall asleep or wake up, keep a notepad by the bed because you promise yourself you won’t forget the idea by the morning, but invariably, we do. The other thing is if you’re planning ideation sessions, always brief it in 3 or 4 days ahead of time. Why? Because people will go to all those places where they are when they have their best ideas. They’ll fall asleep, wake up, go for a walk, and hope they have a shower in 4 or 5 days so that’s time to think. Number two is we’re risk-averse. We’ve got quarterly results to me so we’re not going to take risks. Wall Street made us risk-averse. There’s a real challenge and we’re going to have to take risks now.

[bctt tweet=”Creativity is the ability to have an idea. Innovation is the ability to get it done. ” username=””]

I was asked to give a talk around innovation to the world’s largest tool manufacturer. They make more hammer, chisels, and saws than anybody else. I thought, “How can I learn more about the consumer?” I thought, “I’m going to go down to Home Depot and Lowe’s for the day.” It’s not the place you normally find Duncan. I’m not exactly the DIY guru. I’m lucky if I could screw in a light bulb. A DIY in Swedish, forget it. All bets are off or you hear swearing coming out of the bedroom, “Duncan and his Allen key.” I watched and listened to the consumer at the point of purchase. I went back to talking because they couldn’t understand what purpose is or why they should invest in purpose. I said, “This Generation Z, they’ve never heard of your brand. They’re not talking about your products or the price point. What they’re talking about is what’s important to them. ‘We’re going to build our dream bathroom and a dream kitchen. We’re going to remodel our dream apartment.’”

I said, “Your purpose, if you choose to create one, you can be the brand that helps people build their dreams.” They looked at me like I was mad. I said, “If you’re the brand that helps people build their dreams, could you be in schools, entertainment, hospitality, finance or banking?” You could be in any line of business you want to be. They’re like, “No, we make tools. We’re good at it.” You do today but if you’re the brand who can help people with their dreams, they could expand into anything. Why do they need to expand? Because 3D printing will eliminate tools in less than a decade. We’re printing houses in Houston, Texas on a 3D printer. Amazon spent billions of dollars shipping every year. They don’t want to continue to do that. They want you to print it. We didn’t have a smartphone years ago. Don’t tell me that years from now, you won’t print 35% of what you want on your 3D printed in your living room.

If I can print a coffee table or a chair, what on earth would I do with a hammer, chisel or saw? Because they don’t have a purpose, they can’t see it. They will make their quarterly results for the next 3 to 5 years and then they’ll be gone. That’s number two. Number three is consumer insight is underused. Why? Because every consumer insights team of six people and everybody else has told you’re off the hook. Everybody’s responsibility is the consumer and being attached to the consumer. It might be as simple as to your point. If you run a baseball stadium, then sell peanuts for a day. Be the dugout kid for the day. Sweep the goodness stands for the day. Truly understand what’s important to your employee and then spend a day in the living room with one of your consumers. You’ll be amazed at the insights you can find.

They might be in your data but they’re on page 37, bullet point 14. A, you’re already asleep. B, if you weren’t already asleep, you can’t feel data. It’s by simply spending time with your consumer. Number one, time to think. Number two, risk aversion. Number three, consumer insights underused. Number four, ideas get stuck, diluted or killed as they move through our process. Why? Because people with more experience are killing them. Number five is we all had a different definition of innovation. We set out to create one and people say, “You were in Disney for 30 years. You head the innovation and creativity.” I say, “I got the 30-year bronze Jiminy Cricket. Thank you.” That mortality creeps up on you a little bit. I looked at it and thought, “I’ve got to go do something different.” I got my life insurance policy updated about two weeks later saying, “74 years old,” but it’s good.

There’s a monstrous gap in the market. All of our C-suites are standing up saying, “We must innovate. We must take risks. We must be brave. We must think differently.” All of their employees are sitting there going, “That’s great. Can you show me how?” Nobody’s showing us how. I thought, “All I have to do is create a toolkit that makes creative problem solving and innovation easier, creativity tangible and the process fun.” When I say fun, I don’t mean hysterical laughter. I mean enjoyable. You cannot change your culture, as most C-suites think by talking about it. Your people have to do it for you. Create a toolkit that makes innovation easy, creativity tangible, and the process fun. Fred and Sally will use that toolkit when you’re not around and you’ll be stumped. This isn’t about innovating at scale. It’s about giving your toolkit to your employees that everybody chooses to use when you’re not there.

Some of the things are great, the consumer insight. I love that we started doing undercover fans a few years ago where every one of us park with the fans, come in and sit with the fans, experience the fans. We’re doing frontline fan day where you can be one of our frontline people. You said that Disney executives do the same. They have to work in the park. That was from you. That’s beautiful. I love that. I want to get your definition of innovation. They said that one of the challenges is no one knows what innovation is. What’s your definition of innovation or the definition of innovation of Disney?

There was a different one from Disney. I tried to boil everything down because I think companies make things too complicated. When you are in finance, marketing, insurance, engineering or sales, somebody will come up to you at some point in your career and say, “You’re not the creative on the second floor. You’re the alpha.” We were all born creative. We used to play in that little box. You got your toy for Christmas. You got it out of the box and you spend all the time playing with the box. We’re all born creative. It gets drilled out of us. Education is the biggest killer of creativity. I define creativity as the ability to have an idea and innovation is the ability to get it done.

You’ve said before, “If you know how to do it, it’s not innovation.”

If you know the answers, then that’s iteration. You’ll get your quarterly results but then you’ll be gone.

Duncan, I love to start with laughter to open idea sessions. We have an Ideapaloozas every month. When we’re having fun and drinking, the ideas are on a whole different level. It’s a lot more fun. You said, “You’ve got to make it fun to be truly creative.” I love that exercise. Whether there are meetings at Disney or the groups you’re working with now, what other examples of how do you make it fun?

BDD 321 | Creativity And Innovation
Creativity And Innovation: You cannot change your culture, as most C-suites think, by talking about it. Your people have to do it for you.


It’s not always about making it fun. It’s about signaling. Signaling is a creative behavior that ensures you get the behavior you want out of people before the meeting starts. I might draw a picture of a birthday present and I’ll ask people to guess what it is. Somebody will say it’s a present. I’ll say, “Yes, I know you’re physically present, but a meeting is mentally present as well. Do we all agree to put our cell phones away?” I might draw a picture of a cell phone jail inside the door when people come in. Everybody smiles but they will put their cell phone in it. You can’t go to your boss or your client when they get their cell phone out when you’re presenting to them, but you could go back to the picture of the present. “Do you remember we all agreed to be present?” I watch them put their cell phone away, but I don’t have to ask them to do it. The images create a light touch. For example, did you used to watch American Idol?


Randy, Paula and Simon, what did they used to sit behind?

The desk. They were the judges.

A table and they were the judges. When you put somebody on the other side of a physical object to you, they will think reductively and they will judge your work at every stage. Instead of standing in the front of your meeting with a PowerPoint presentation and bore everyone to death, have the courage to print your presentation out. Stick it around the walls and then invite your clients or your boss to come for a walk with you around the wall of the boardroom. Don’t leave them behind the table. Why? When you go for a walk with someone, you turn a presentation into a conversation. When you turn it into a conversation, they will think extensively, not productively. When you leave them behind the table, they will think it’s a finished deck. They want to add value and ideas, but you’re telling them it’s already finished so they’re going to find holes in it.

If you go for a walk with them, they will not think reductively. They will think expansively and you’ll find them building on your work. If you think I’m mad, I am and I’m happy to be mad. Try a test. Do the same PowerPoint presentation you’ve always done on a mate, leave them behind the table, record their feedback, then do the way I suggest and record their feedback. You’ll be amazed at the difference between reductive versus expansive thinking. Also, your choice of words. If you say to somebody, “I’m scheduling a presentation for next Tuesday,” you’ve already invited them to think reductively and they haven’t gotten in the room yet. By the end of your presentations, you can’t say, “What do you think?” If you say, “What do you think?” You’re inviting them to think reductively. If you reframe the point of view and the question is, “Could you help me build on this work? Could you help me think about this idea in a different way?” you’ll be amazed by how expansive people think.

If I were to ask your readers, “Who here has boring meeting rooms at work?” I know everybody’s going to put their hand up. “Why is it gray?” It’s the cheapest color in Corporate America. The Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank went out and asked their local art school. Everybody has a local art school within five miles of where they work. They took their boring meeting room and they asked the students for this art school to come in and paint it into a greenhouse. They’ve got a green carpet down and they call it the greenhouse. Everybody knows when they’re in the greenhouse, they’re expected to be expansionist. You’re clearly setting the ideation session before you walk in the door.

Are you having greenhouse meetings? Are you having presentations to see whether it’s going to go forward or not? A greenhouse is the image of building it. I love the other language. I said, “Can you help me build on this?” instead of saying, “What do you think?” What are some other ways to present if you’re coming to a group of people? Duncan, you and I are idea people. We love ideas but often, people think, “How can they challenge the ideas as opposed to how can they build on it?” What are other language things that we can go into a group or try to get them expansive?

We’ll do it this way. Are you more of a Harry Potter fan or a Star Wars fan?

I know both of them. Not a huge fan either way but I’m aware of them.

[bctt tweet=”If somebody’s giving you a day of their time, give them something of value back. ” username=””]

I won’t hold it against you. Pick one that you’re more passionate about.

I appreciate the world of Harry Potter when it’s done.

You and I are going into business. We’ve been asked to design a party tonight. We’ve been given a $100,000 budget. I’m going to come at you with a series of ideas. I want you to start each of your responses with the words, “No because,” then tell me why we shouldn’t be doing it. We could turn your house into the Hogwarts dining room and we could have a Sorting Hat at the front door. We could sort out the good people who get into the Gryffindor table and the bad people who get into the Slytherin table.

No, because it’ll upset some people.

What about the magic potions room? We can create our alcoholic cocktail beverages.

No, because kids can’t come to that room.

We could all get a stick and run around outside pretending we’re playing Quidditch and look like idiots.

This is hard for me because I’m not a ‘no because’ guy, but I get what you’re saying. No, because it won’t work. We can’t do it.

I’ll reframe it this time. $100,000 and we’ll make it a Star Wars party. This time you must respond with words, “Yes, and.” It must be the first two words you use. We’ll invite in the Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra, all dressed as Stormtroopers and we’re going to have Darth Vader conduct them using his lightsaber.

Yes, and we can have all cool, unique merchandise and create a fun experience for people to play the roles of the other characters.

BDD 321 | Creativity And Innovation
Creativity And Innovation: The moment you can transfer the power of my idea into our idea is the moment you can accelerate this opportunity to get done.


Yes, and we’ll make an adult theme party where all the lights are full of a glow in the dark favorite alcoholic beverage.

Yes, and then we can have a huge Star Wars themed firework show.

Yes, and we could have it made out of drones where it could say, “In a galaxy far, far away,” with fireworks. You get it. We start with the words, “No, because,” because the more experience and expertise we get, the more reasons we know why this new idea won’t work. We always start with, “No, because,” but if we simply started with the words, “Yes, and,” it reminds ourselves of the green lighting this project for execution, which is green housing this idea together. If you say, “Yes, and,” here’s what happens. As you notice, the idea got bigger, not smaller. Far more importantly, what also happened was this. When we finished, whose idea was it?

It was our idea as a group.

Exactly. The moment you can transfer the power of my idea into our idea, is the moment you can accelerate this opportunity to get done.

If you’re approaching that in your brain group, you say, “This is going to be a greenhouse meeting. We’re going to talk about how we build on this.” Is that the language to say, “Yes, and?”

Yeah, I’ll tell them, “We’re in an expansionist session today. You don’t get to chew anything down.” If anybody says no because, I make them stand up like an alcoholic, put their hand in the air and say, “I’m a reductionist,” and everybody smiles, laughs, and cheers for them. They sit back down and they’re expansionist.

That doesn’t happen as much. That’s how you build these meetings. You say, “We’re going to, ‘Yes, and.’ We’re an idea culture. We’re trying to grow and try to eliminate reductionists.”

At the right time. We can’t be expansionist all the time every day. It will be a lot of fun, but at some point, you have to move towards it. It’s about clearly signaling. “We’re in an extension session today,” or, “We’re in a reduction in session today.”

Duncan, I want to do a few games with you if that’s okay. You did some with me so it’s my turn now. Innovation showdown. I’m going to name something, an industry or a type of business and you could say one idea that you would think to innovate using some in your toolkit. The first one, a pre-show, a business conference like the social media marketing world.

[bctt tweet=”The moment you relax, that door between your conscious and subconscious brain opens wide enough. ” username=””]

Stop being boring. Stop being selfish. The first conference you went to in 1974 and the last conference you went to. From 8:30 to 9:00 networking, the coffee is bitter, the orange juice is sour and the croissants are two days old and a little stodgy. From 9:00 to 9:15, the sponsor gets on the stage. “I’ve got the stage. I’m going to bore the living daylights out of everybody.” We go to the keynote speaker who’s so full of themselves, promises time for Q&A, but we run out of time. We go to a networking break and we come back to the panel of doom. How do we know if the panel is doom? Because 1/3 of the audience is doing their emails on their cell phone. That’s how you know that the panel is doom.

We go to lunch. It’s just a steak, shrimp and chicken leftover from convention services. We come back to a breakout group. It’s always the best part of the day, never long enough. We finished with a rah-rah speaker. They’ve got beautiful teeth. They bounce up and down a lot and say, “Life is good.” You leave and somebody said, “How is that conference in Savannah?” A week later, you go, “I can’t remember.” You think, “What have I learned to help me think differently and grow my business?” The answer? You haven’t. Why? Because people learn by doing. They do not learn by listening. Conferences keep booking speakers from Apple, Amazon or Nike. Why? Because I can sell tickets. Your karma I make lots of money. Stop being selfish. If somebody’s giving you a day of their time, give them something back, something of value.

You started with the rules of the industry. You went through it, “Stop being boring.” That’s how we looked at baseball. What’s something that you would do?

Workshops for our staff, but here we are. Let’s face it. The conference industry has fallen off a cliff. I was out in Copenhagen and I flew over. They canceled the conference while I was in the air. They turned it into a virtual conference quickly. They live-streamed it and enabled everybody to participate. They gave them back their money and live-streamed it. They got over 1,300 people to participate, so everybody got value. The other thing is to turn them workshops and make them into the learning experiences. Wouldn’t it be great if you could crowdsource one particular challenge ahead of the conference and say, “For half a day, we’ve crowdsourced this challenge?” You give them five not for profit challenges. You let your conference attendees say, “This is the one we’re going to solve,” then you bring somebody in to run a workshop and can solve a real challenge for somebody else. Wouldn’t that be cool? We all feel good as a result of it.

Start with the framework, the rules of the industry, then you go in what are the biggest customer problems. How do we solve a problem crowdsource? Let’s go to an Italian restaurant.

Restaurants are fairly formulaic and they’re going to create an experience. Here’s how this tool works. You missed the rules of your challenge. We need to get more people to come to our restaurant more often, spend more money and immerse themselves in our brand. Step one, list the challenge. We’ve done that. We need to get more people to come to our restaurant. We are suffering because Generation Z want immersive experiences. There’s your challenge. How might we create more immersive experiences? Step two, go around and ask yourself, “Who’s good at solving that challenge?” We know Disney’s good at it. We know that Apple and Starbucks are good at it. Your baseball stadiums are good at it.

You pick one, let’s say Disney. What does Disney do to create immersive experiences? They pump in smell and sound. They have cast members, characters and do character meet and greets. You go around and list all the things they’re good at. Pokémon Go created a great experience. How might we create an experience that enables people to play some game associated with our Italian food to follow and create this magical recipe before they get here? Serve the recipe at night. How cool would that be? They’ll get virtual points back in the game to continue to engage with our brand when they’re not in our restaurant. That might be one way of doing it.

Another way, how might we crowdsource the recipes of what we’re going to serve tonight? Tinder creates an experience. How might we create a swipe right for a restaurant experience where people could see who’s coming to the restaurant this month and choose who they’d like to date and go to the restaurant? That would be a different experience. That’s a good tool. Listing the rules of your challenge or the one rule asking, “Who else?” Netflix is creating an experience. What have they created that we’re not doing years ago? Binge-watching. How might we create an experience that’s compelling that people want to binge eat in a restaurant all the time? What if we created a new breakfast menu we haven’t done before? What if we created free Wi-Fi? What if we created free food for students for lunchtime?

Our last Ideapalooza was inspired by you by solving a problem. Here’s why. We used to always have a theme and we turn into a question. One of the biggest problems that we have, if every game sells out, we’re fortunate. People can’t get tickets, but fans still leave early, even though we have nonstop pep bands, senior sits, dance teams, and entertainment. The problem was, “What would it look like to get 100% of our fans to want to stay to the end of the game?” We asked that question and all of us started putting ourselves in our shoes and came up with ideas from Bananas After Dark to Special 912 parties. There are two different things that are happening and it’s inspired by you. I want to thank you.

Thank you. I’ve got one more for you. Drones will replace fireworks within less than five years. Why? Fireworks are expensive. When you blow up the product, you can’t use it again. They have noise pollution and environmental pollution. However, miniature drones, if you haven’t looked at it, go and look at America’s Got Talent or maybe Britain’s Got Talent where a group of Japanese people create an indoor firework show made of drones. At the end of your baseball show, you could do daytime fireworks. Daytime fireworks are crap because it’s covered in smoke and nobody could ever see anything but drones don’t create smoke. You could create daytime or night firework shows made out of drones that could spell out in the sky, “Feliz cumpleaños,” or “Thanks for coming, Johnny,” or “Will you marry me, Sarah?” This is to see which message was surprising. What’s the surprise we’re going to create every single night? Tonight’s surprise is somebody is going to invite somebody to marry. I’ll stay for that, wouldn’t you?

Sitting and watching our whole staff, 25 to 30-year-olds, many Millennials are watching the fireworks more than the light show on the magic of the night. It was fascinating. People stay for those moments. I caught myself watching people and seeing kids’ and adult’s reactions was special. It goes back to how you create the moment. Is there some quick win or if somebody reads this can say, “I can bring some of the power of Disney and the way they make you feel? When I can go to my staff, I can get together and I could say, ‘Let’s do this together?’” What’s a quick win someone could take from this to think differently?

Do what you love, you’ll be good at it. You’re passionate about your baseball stadium, it’ll be good. I’m passionate about my ideas and helping people think differently. People say, “Why did you leave?” I’ve earned enough money that I’m going to do what I really do. I’m going to go out to Australia for a month and we’ll do free workshops every single day for twenty days back-to-back for not-for-profit organizations to help them survive and thrive. I’m not getting paid a penny and I’m going to love it, and I’ll be good with it.

You’re bringing creativity to the world. Duncan, thank you so much. You’ve made a bigger impact on our team more than you know. One of these days, we’ll get you to come out here and see a Bananas game.

You’re not so far away. Once we get through this madness, I’d be delighted.

Thank you so much, Duncan.

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