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Get Your Amazing Alpha by Being Playful

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The word “Disney” conjures images of talking mice, fairytale castles and, best of all, magic. But we all know Disney magic isn’t invoked through spells or enchantments, it is forged through innovation.

As the former vice president of innovation and creativity at The Walt Disney Co., creativity speaker Duncan Wardle knows a thing or two about fostering an environment of innovation. Innovation is not something that happens by chance. It is the result of building an environment in which it can thrive.

However, cultivating creativity and innovation is even more difficult when your staff is working remotely or behind closed doors because of a worldwide pandemic. Speaking at the 2021 ALTA SPRINGBOARD during a session sponsored by SoftPro, Wardle shared steps and strategies to encourage an innovative culture that unlocks employees’ ability to let their ingenuity run wild.

Wardle said leaders should create safe spaces for staff to take creative risks and empower their team to transition ideas into action.


Wardle said minds are busy during normal days. People don’t typically develop creative ideas while working, rather it’s exercising or waking up. He compared this to when you’re in an argument with someone. It’s not until after the argument, you think of a perfect one-liner response. “You gave yourself time to think,” Wardle said. “But how do you get there on demand?”

Mindfulness opens the door and allows people to get to the “amazing alpha” state and “you get there by being playful.”

“When you don’t have time to think, the door to your unconscious brain is closed,” Wardle said. “Then you only have access to 13 percent of your brain.”

Devoting time to thing gets people out of their “rivers of thinking” that keep people stuck in their current processes. Leaving the “river of thinking” can mean challenging the common rules. That’s how people like Netflix’s Reed Hastings turned the Blockbuster model on its head, Wardle said.

Disney’s What If

Companies and their employees are constrained by their own expertise and experience. Their thinking is also restricted by the organization’s established rules. All too often, we hear “That’s the way we do it here!”

An innovation tool that Wardle likes is called “what if.” Wardle encouraged attendees to list all the rules of the industry and ask “What if this rule no longer applied?”

Wardle shared a story about a British company that makes glass drinking glasses. The company noticed a deal of its inventory was breaking during packaging. To address the problem, the company listed the packaging steps, but then took a “what if” approach. An employee suggested they hire blind people to handle packaging. The change drastically improved packaging and government ended up giving them a payroll subsidy for hiring the blind.

At Disney, Wardle and his team were asked to develop a game changer idea for Walt Disney World. One of the rules they addressed was “I have to stand in line.” This is one of the biggest pain points and led to the question “What if there were no lines?” So, they created the Disney Magic Band, which guests can reserve their favorite attractions, shows, and character meet and greets in advance of their visit. The Magic Band acts as a room key, eliminating the need to stand in line to check in. Swipe the band at the entrance to the parks or reserved park experiences and avoid the lines there too. Touch an item of merchandise and it’s paid for and delivered to a guest’s hotel room. Order food on a smartphone and have it delivered to the guest’s table on arrival at the restaurant.

“The average guest now has plenty of free time to spend with their family,” Wardle said. “And what do people do with their free time? They spend money.”

Employable Skill Set

Wardle concluded by encouraging attendees to remain curious and to get fresh motivation.

“Many of you order the same type of food and sleep on the same side of the bed,” Wardle said. “Take time for fresh stimulus in your lives.”

He said to think about the advancements and opportunities made possible with artificial intelligence. While many fear it, Wardle said to embrace it. How will we compete with robots? Through creativity, intuition, curiosity and imagination, he said.

“The four traits you were born with — creativity, imagination, curiosity and intuition — will not be programmed into artificial intelligence any time in the next decade,” Wardle said. “These are the four most employable skill sets. The biggest barrier is we don’t have time to think. There is no present like the time. Give yourselves time to think.”


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