How to Succeed in Innovating Without Really Trying

17 November 2020

How to Succeed in Innovating Without Really Trying

When asked what advice he would give to organizations that want to change in order to adapt and survive at Fireside Chat with Duncan Wardle, Duncan Wardle, former vice president of innovation and creativity at The Walt Disney Company and now an Orlando, Florida-based speaker and innovation and creativity consultant says it can be done but is no easy task

“CEOs always say you must think and act differently but never teach you how to do it or show it themselves — you can’t talk culture change without doing it yourself,” Wardle says. “And tools, no matter how sophisticated they are, don’t impact culture change — just help!”

To change the entire culture of an organization sure is tough, so we should start with small ideas instead of aiming for the big goals at once like world peace, he says. “Perhaps try doing things
you have done before first then go on to try to do the same thing with a different method to show the pros and cons.”

“If higher-ups say innovations are not for them, how would you respond to that,” Wardle answers the audience question with an interactive role play. “Let’s assume we have a US$1,000 budget for your kid’s birthday party, and how should we do it? Should we decide the theme first, Frozen?”

“Nah… I don’t think she likes it,” says Ayala Deutsch, INTA’s 2020 president.

“How about throwing the party outdoor so the kids can have a snow fight,” asks Wardle.

“Kids are safer indoor,” replies Deutsch.

Wardle explains that this is a typical situation how higher-ups shoot down interesting ideas from employees — they reject directly and sometimes even without explanations! To encourage innovations, higher-ups must be able to listen and take the “yes, and” approach.

“Should we have all the plates, spoons and cups with Frozen characters on,” Wardle continues the role play.

“Absolutely and better still, we should have them dressed as the princesses and Olaf as well,” suggests Deutsch.

“Brilliant! Should we have an ice-cream cake instead of a traditional birthday cake? I want the kids to really feel the cold,” asks Wardle.

“Fantastic, sounds like an immersive experience,” says Deutsch.

“As you can see, creativity sparks when the ‘yes, and’ approach is taken — the idea was being built on and ultimately, innovations could come into fruition,” Wardle says. “Also, I began my thinking from the minor stuff like the cutlery to the hero of the day, the cake — always start with small ideas!”

From the above role play, he wants us to note the switch from a typical one-way idea presentation to a two-way conversation as well. “We’ll walk out of the room saying ‘these are our idea’ instead of ‘my idea’ — it’s therefore important to engage your listener, be it customer or employer.”

Engaging the audience is to think outside the box and not fireworks in the boardroom!

“For example, avoid doing a PowerPoint presentation where people sit behind a table and judge your ideas! Try printing and posting your ideas on the walls of a room and literally walk the people through the ideas,” Wardle says. “Dialogue exchange then happen organically as people would ask questions and eventually, ‘your ideas’ would become ‘our ideas’ and once the ‘judges’ have taken part in the creative process, they will be more likely to greenlight your projects — projects are often stuck or in complete limbo after presentations, as high-ups do not ‘own’ the ideas so they are less willing to care.”

If voting is necessary in a presentation, conduct in an anonymous fashion so that results are more genuine, he says. “Employees wouldn’t be forced to support because it is their boss’ idea and the latter wouldn’t be embarrassed before a crowd.”

While it is crucial to sell your ideas to higher-ups, it is also vital to sell to your customers, he says. “Engage them at breakfast or other casual occasions more often to discuss the products or services allow you to know a lot more than what the datasets show you.”

When asked about what metrics to use in measuring innovations effectively, he says criteria must be established.

“Once feasible ideas are identified, set up criteria to determine whether that notion can drive fiscal results; marketed in the next 12 months or so; newsworthy, etc,” Wardle says. “Apply the design thinking approach where the steps of empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test take place.”


Johnny Chan

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