The strategies the Disney Head of Innovation used to bring products customers love to life
Last year I was at a product management conference in Orlando and the keynote speaker discussed leadership at Disney. It got me interested in how Disney innovates. A few months later I found out about Duncan Wardle, who was the Head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney for many years. He led the team that helped Imagineering, Lucasfilm, Marvel, Pixar and Disney Parks to innovate, creating magical new storylines and experiences for consumers around the globe. Now he is a keynote speaker and also deliverers workshops and ideation forums to companies around the globe.
We discuss a lot of topics about creating an innovation capability in a company and creating products customers love. I most enjoyed the customer research examples he shared for getting insights that lead to more valuable products.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:52] How did your thinking about innovation change over the time you were Head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney?
When I was first given the role, I panicked because I didn’t know what innovation was. First we surveyed 5,000 people at film companies and asked about their barriers to innovation. The top five barriers we heard about were:
- I don’t have time to think, and I don’t give my organization time to think.
- We’re risk-averse.
- Consumer insights are underused by the organization.
- Ideas get stuck or killed.
- We all have different definitions of innovation.
We considered three different models to create a culture of innovation:
- Hire an outside consultant.
- Create an innovation team as a catalyst for change.
- Bring in young tech startups as an accelerator program.
But none of these models had ever evolved our culture to become more innovative because they don’t touch the whole culture. Many C-suite leaders tell their employees to innovate but don’t teach them how. I now create a toolkit to make innovation easier, creativity more tangible, and the process fun.
[8:53] How do we get customer insights?
Go spend a day with them. Stop looking at your data. If you only look where you’ve always looked, you’ll only get what you’ve always got. Real insight doesn’t come from focus groups. It comes from spending time with customers in their living rooms. Use your intuition, not just the data. Often the insight comes from asking why four or five times.
[20:01] What strategies can we use to find customer insights?
First, if you have never spent a day with your consumer, do it.
Second, look in new and unusual places where your competition isn’t looking. We spend a day with three types of people:
- Weird—someone who has a tangential relationship to your challenge but doesn’t work for you.
- Deep—someone who works in your industry but doesn’t work for you.
- Normal—your own consumer.
For example, to get insights on Hispanic customers at Disney, we spent a day with a Hispanic car salesman selling to Hispanic families, a travel agent who sells packages to Hispanic American families, and one of our own consumers who is Hispanic.
Write down everything you hear, see, and experience. Then the team comes together and shares all the clues they found. You can then cluster the clues, and if many are telling you the same thing, you’re onto something. We validate possible insights by going back through data, serving consumers, or hot-shopping, which is co-creating with the consumer. It’s the responsibility of the entire organization, not just the consumer insights team, to care about the consumer.
Bonus Question: How do we make looking for customer insights part of the culture of our organizations?
Once a quarter, all your executives should work as a frontline employee, and once a year they should spend a day in the houses of consumers. You’ll be amazed at how much more focused on the consumer you’ll become.
- Learn more about Duncan and his resources on his website
- Examples of speaking engagements Duncan does
“Do What You Love And You’ll Be Really Good At It.” – Duncan Wardle
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.