3 Magical Business Lessons I Learned From the Walt Disney Company
On creativity, innovation, technology, and magic
Magical. That’s how I would describe the workshop I attended led by Duncan Wardle, former Head of Innovation and Creativity for The Walt Disney Company. From the get-go we were placed into groups, and, as fate would have it, one of the members of my group was none other than Lee Cockerell, former VP of Walt Disney World. Probably one of the kindest and sharpest people I’ve come across to date, one of Lee’s lasting legacies is the creation of Disney Great Leader Strategies, used to train and develop the 7,000 leaders at Walt Disney World.
What I learned in less than eight hours from these gentlemen is nothing short of everything that Disney stands for, it was pure magic. I believe every business-minded adult on the planet can learn from the genius that is Disney.
I highly advise that you learn and apply these lessons to your own business, the benefits of which will be continuous innovation and growth.
#1 — Ask “Why?” (and then ask it over and over again)
If you have children or are ever around children (or were ever a child), you know a child’s favorite question: “Why?” And their second favorite: “Why?” And their third: “Why?” The point is that adults usually ask “Why?” a lot less than children.
Adults principally rely on big data, which is excellent, but the competition normally has access to the same information. How, then, can you model the incessant childhood curiosity of “Why?” to make big data achieve more for your business?
You ask more why’s.
Let me give you a simple example; let’s explore why you frequent your favorite restaurant:
- “Why do you go to your favorite restaurant?” — It’s convenient and they have good food.
- “Why do you like the food?” — It’s tasty, at a price you like.
- “Why do you go to that specific restaurant for that dish if there are twenty others within five miles?” —They have great service.
- “Why do you like the service?” — The way they treat you makes you feel good from the moment you walk inside.
- “Why does the way they treat you make you feel good?” — The host/hostess always remembers your name and smiles when you walk in. The servers never rush you, they are present, and the genuinely ask about your day. Some of them even know your usual order by heart.
- Why does this make you return to the restaurant again and again? You feel like you belong, almost like family, and that’s rare to find these days.
Asking more why’s transformed the reason you go to your favorite restaurant from food choice, to price point, to the way walking in and eating there makes you feel. No matter what industry you’re in, your consumer is what matters most. But big data can sometimes reduce them to a bullet report.
Ask more why’s.
#2 —Purposefully Experience New Things in Alpha
Throughout the workshop, Duncan kept repeating, “No new stimulus in, no new ideas out.” And it’s true. Without changing things up, you’re literally blocking yourself from those golden ideas that could take your business to the next level.
Go out of your way to break your routine, but do so strategically by leveraging the power of Alpha brain waves. Being in a state of Alpha increases creativity, which is why your brilliant ideas come to you when you feel relaxed, such as while taking a shower, right before bed, while meditating, exercising, etc.
How can you achieve Alpha in your workplace if you don’t even have time to think? This is why Google allows its employees 20 percent “time to think,” the results of which have been Gmail, AdSense, and Google News. Aim towards creating a workplace environment that allows for more Alpha!
Some ways in which you can do that are replacing your weekly team meetings with spirited group workouts or meditation sessions. An even more conservative approach is adding music to your team meetings and approaching the meeting less as a presentation and more as a conversation.
#3 — Everyone is Creative, and Creativity is Not a Solo Act
We were all children once. By default, that means that we were all creative once. Given the proper environment, we all still are. The greatest mistake a leadership team can make is dedicating “creativity” to one department, i.e. “the creatives.” Everyone is creative.
- Redesign the office — Create a space where people from different departments can casually come across one another, start a conversation, which in turn could spark a great idea.
- Redesign the way you determine a “good” idea— Meetings should involve everyone present, including the introverts you probably never hear from. Never shut anyone’s ideas down (no matter how silly it may initially seem), because that will probably hinder them from ever bringing another. Idea “A” (the one you shot down) may have not been brilliant, but idea “B” could be genius and just what the company needs to better serve your consumer.
- Redesign the way you think — Creativity is enhanced when your business has a collaborative culture and supports one another. The leadership team or the Creative Department should not be assumed as more creative than the rest. Pixar has arguably nurtured the most creative culture on the planet because the core of their culture is to work together as peers.
Technology + Creativity = Magic
With the predicted rise of artificial intelligence over the next decade, an estimated 800 million jobs are expected to be replaced. However, creativity is so intangible and irreplaceable that its value will continue to increase; it is something that no business can afford to lack over the next decade.
Creativity is the little ingredient, not only essential for your brand to achieve disruption, but also to endure. Now more than ever is the time to invest in and believe in your team’s creativity, so that you too can make magic.
You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality. — Walt Disney