Special Report: Innovation Part II

Innovate the Disney Way

‘Imagineering’ company takes a six-step approach to innovation.

June 26, 2013

Creativity, some believe, is an escape from disciplined thinking. But it should be an escape with disciplined thinking, says Bruce Jones, programming director for the Disney Institute.

He believes organizations lacking a formal approach to innovation, involving staff at all levels, risk missing opportunities that exist right in front of them.

“One of Disney’s central themes is that everyone is creative,” Jones says. “When we get smarter about unleashing the creative potential within our employees and guests, we find there’s a lot of creativity out there. We’re always thinking about new ideas.”

And with a process in place to harness that creativity, he says, “we can activate those ideas and get something done.”

Few leaders would dispute the importance of innovation. In fact, a McKinsey Global survey found that 84% of executives believe innovation is “very or extremely important” to their companies’ growth.

But too many organizations leave the process to chance. Only 27% of executives responding to the McKinsey survey say their companies hold leaders accountable for executing strategies that support innovation.

Too often, companies seek input only from the stereotypical creative departments in their organizations, Jones says. They rely solely on a small group of people to brainstorm new ideas or solve a particular problem when in fact there’s creativity throughout the organization.

“Organizations aren’t fully tapping their employees because they don’t have a process in place to do so,” says Jones. “And if they have a process, it’s probably not communicated in a way that lets everyone know, understand, and use it.”

Jones says Disney’s approach to innovation is a relatively simple process. “But when it’s unleashed and everyone understands it, it leads to tremendous creativity. We’re not just talking about big ideas, although those happen. We’re talking about innovation throughout the organization at multiple levels. That’s a powerful formula for value-creation.”

Disney’s six-step approach to innovation:

1. Listen and learn. Continuously identify customer pain points and ways to do things better.

“We tell our cast members that regardless of their role internally or externally, they’re really listening posts,” Jones says. “That brings information into the organization and helps employees be receptive to new ideas when they hear them.”

2. Measure. What impact is this issue having on the company?

Measuring can be as simple as documenting the number of times customers complain about something.

3. Act. In many cases, front-line staff can take immediate action to try out their ideas rather than first taking everything to a higher level in the organization. This improves efficiency.

4. Re-measure. Has the idea worked—or worked well enough?

“This is where creativity comes in,” Jones says. “We might come up with an idea that works to a certain degree, but there might be an even better idea out there. So part of re-measuring is pushing the envelope even farther.”

5. Recognize and celebrate, although not necessarily with monetary rewards.

“Celebrating and recognizing innovation creates a culture of innovation,” Jones says.

6. Share. Highlight ideas in your employee newsletter, website, and elsewhere so others can take advantage of them and build on their success.

“Employees know their ideas will get acted on, and that builds trust,” Jones says.

Once people see their ideas are taken seriously, “it becomes a sort of virtuous cycle of creativity and innovation,” he adds. “When ideas aren’t acted on, they dry up.”

Check back Thursday for part three of this special report on innovation.