Creatively Crushing Your Confines
That phrase can lead to innovation and greatness at every attraction, believes Duncan Wardle.
“What every CEO wants at the moment is to create a culture of innovation into everybody’s DNA, but they don’t know how to do it,” Wardle says.
His ideas for problem-solving are bold: ditch your office furniture, play music at meetings, and develop a company-wide mandate banning the unthinkable.
“Why not on the first Friday of the month have no meetings, no e-mails, no presentations? Take one day a month for three months,” he suggests. The goal: a culture that’s rooted in innovation and given time to dream.
As the former vice president of innovation and creativity at The Walt Disney Company, Wardle spent 25 years developing innovative strategies. He was part of the team that developed MagicBands, Walt Disney World Resort’s revolutionary wristband that unlocks hotel room doors, enables cashless food and merchandise purchases, and serves as a FastPass, reducing ride wait times. He also founded Disney’s Creative Catalyst Team, which is used to teach cast members how to develop their own moments of innovation.
Today, his company, named ID8, helps corporations like Coca-Cola, Apple, and Johnson & Johnson break free of traditional thinking and delete the word “no” from their lexicon.
“If I hear, ‘No, because that’s not the way we do it,’ one more time!” Wardle exclaims in frustration when explaining how managers he’s coached appear deathly afraid of change.
Wardle discovered five “creative behaviors” that, when unlocked, can empower attractions to drive innovation, sharpen their edge, and serve guests more effectively in the current era of disruption.
Creative Behavior No. 1: Clear Signaling
Wardle feels traditional meetings are like a graveyard: they lead to reductive thinking, and thus, good ideas die quickly. Therefore, he suggests creating an environment that promotes expansive thinking that will generate positive collaboration. One way to get started: remove the furniture.
“Look at ‘American Idol.’ What do people sitting behind the table do? They judge! When you put someone on the other side of the table, they will think reductively. That is what tables do,” he says.
Instead Wardle suggests creating a meeting space like Disney’s ID8 Studio, a conference room awash in bright color, devoid of furniture, with plenty of space to hang presentation elements on the walls—instead of using a table. He believes strolling the walls leads to unencumbered thinking.
“Ask those in attendance to come on a journey. When you invite them to walk with you, a walk turns into a conversation,” Wardle says. “You’re inviting them to come on a story with you— people buy stories. I believe you can change a culture with this crazy behavior.”
By clearly signaling the meeting is going to be an expansive session, Wardle believes reductive thinking does not have an opportunity to creep in.
Not ready to paint the walls in your conference room a bright hue or toss out the boardroom table? Try this trick: “Instead of saying, ‘What do you think?’ at the end of a presentation—which invites people to think reductively—just change that phrase to, ‘Help me build on this idea.’ People will then think expansively, not reductively,” Wardle says.
Creative Behavior No. 2: Nurturing
“We are so used to hearing the words, ‘No … because it doesn’t fit the brand’; ‘No … because we can’t afford it’; ‘No … because that’s not the way we do it,’” Wardle shares of his conversations with Fortune 500 companies.
He believes the more experience a management team has, the more it jumps into what he calls a “river of thinking”—a comfortable place where self-defined expertise prevents innovation.
“In this decade of disruption, you have to get out of this river of thinking,” Wardle warns, if attractions want to stay viable.
So, how do you get out of this stagnant river? Stop instinctively saying “No,” rather say: “Yes, and…”
“If you stand back and watch the use of ‘Yes, and…,’ you’re going to see 100% more energy, 100% more noise, and 100% more laughter,” Wardle believes. “When you ask them, ‘Whose idea was this?’ they will pause and then look around with a smile and say, ‘Ours!’”
He says this is the pivotal moment to accelerating an idea’s potential.
“You have to transfer the power of ‘my idea’ to ‘our idea,’ and the way you do it is by getting the other person to say: ‘Yes, and…’ Immediately, they will start to buy into the idea with you.”
Creative Behavior No. 3: Playfulness
After delivering hundreds of what he calls “ideation sessions” worldwide, Wardle says he’s never heard anyone say they generate their best ideas in the workplace.
“People tell me, ‘The moment my brain was playful while showering, on the beach, or taking a walk is where I came up with the big idea,’” he says. Others find their best ideas happen before, during, and after sleep. Therefore, Wardle suggests putting a notepad right next to your bed to jot down notes.
“The door between your conscious and subconscious is closed when you’re stressed,” he says.
In order to keep that door open as weekly staff meetings begin, Wardle suggests turning on music in the conference room and giving fellow colleagues time to write down their successes or ideas to share.
“If people get to report their genius first, they have been heard—then they can listen, collaborate, and relax,” he says. “I’m not advocating playfulness every minute of every day—we wouldn’t get anything done and we would all be fired. But when you’re trying to have big ideas, playfulness as a leadership behavior is very important.”
Creative Behavior No. 4: Curiosity
While the graduate of Edinburgh Napier University believes in the value of education, he says formal education and early jobs train us to accept circumstances as fact instead of asking, “Why?”
“If you act like a child and ask, ‘Why? Why? Why?’ again and again, you can get to a much deeper place,” he shares.
In order to stay curious, Wardle suggests a simple routine change once a week, like altering your route to work and listening to a different radio station.
“If you have no new stimulus in, you’ll have no new fresh ideas out,” Wardle says.
He also suggests getting employees from different departments together once a month for a brown-bag breakfast at the office.
“Have them come prepared to talk about one thing outside the attractions industry that you thought was really innovative or creative,” he says. The collaboration may spark an idea for growth from people working in different aspects of your attraction.
“You will be amazed by the amount of ideas you can tie back to that breakfast conversation,” Wardle promises.
Creative Behavior No. 5: Intuition
When advocating for something new, Wardle says trust your gut over your mind.
“There are 86 billion neurons in your brain. There are 100 billion neurons in your stomach!” he explains. “The gut is a much more powerful computer than people give it credit for.”
Therefore, he recommends attraction operators spend time as a guest in their park—and listen.
“Mom does not wake up in the morning worrying if the theme park is going to have new rides this year. She wakes up worrying about whether her children are growing up too quickly, and she wants to make special memories with them while they still believe and will hold her hand,” Wardle says. Attraction owners can gain just as much insight following their intuition as they can from a focus group using a two-way mirror, he says.
“Stop using and trolling big data. Only big data will lead you to the same place all your competition can get to,” he says, recalling how Walt Disney scheduled time to walk around Disneyland and listen.
“Go for a walk. Mild exercise turns reductive thinking into expansive thinking!” Wardle concludes.