Innovate the Disney Way

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

June 26, 2013
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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.

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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