Hurtling across a Soviet era skyline at the whim of mother Russia’s icy gusts a giant Mickey Mouse hot air balloon, the symbol of American Capitalism, descends over the walls of the Kremlin.
Armed with Kalashnikovs and the stereotypical fluffy round ushanka’s upon their heads, Soviet guards shouted at the incoming intruders floating towards them.
“You know what they wanted?” Duncan laughs.
“They wanted their picture with Mickey Mouse – and we suddenly realised the power of the brand that we worked for.”
Although this story sounds more like an exert from a James Bond sequel than a business anecdote, you should expect nothing less from Disney’s Former VP of Creativity and Innovation - Duncan Wardle.
During his 30 years at the $150-Billion-dollar company made famous by its innate ability to churn childlike wonder into timeless on-screen classics, Duncan developed an impressive reel of career highlights.
“I’ve done a Superbowl halftime show, I’ve worked with three Presidents for the Whitehouse Thanksgiving Day ceremony, I got to send my sons BUZZ Lightyear to space on Spaceshuttle Discovery, build an Olympic sized swimming pool for Micahel Phelps and work with Mahammad Ali, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.” Duncan rattles off.
“But mostly it was just humbling working for a place that puts smiles on peoples faces.”
Downunder for just two weeks on his Change the World Tour, Duncan held workshops in Brisbane, Perth, Sydney and Caloundra where he inspired over 1000 charities and 300 Sunshine Coast businesses to innovate.
Drawing on his extensive past experiences the one-man thinktank coaxed the Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast audience to return to a state of childlike intrigue and escape what he calls your ‘river of thinking’.
This refers to everyone’s subconscious inability to think outside of your own expertise or learned knowledge and experience to think differently and innovatively.
Duncan pushes for a ‘what if’ attitude where you are able to reimagine your business without the challenging areas of friction between you and your customers.
Duncan uses the now mammoth disruptors of Netflix and Uber as prime examples of this level of thinking as they reimagined entire industries.
An overarching premise to Duncan’s methodology is a distinct shift away from the ‘we build it they will come’ mentality and the need to adopt a purer end-user approach to your business.
“For example, in 2008 instead of starting our project by saying how might we make more money, the way in which most businesses operate, we said how might we solve the biggest consumer pain point?” Duncan says.
Taking the seemingly unavoidable problem of waiting in line and finding a way to operate without having to do so through RFID technology enabled Disney Land to free up an average of two hours of guest time and significantly increase revenue.
“By thinking how might we solve our biggest consumer pain point, we implemented the single biggest revenue generating idea since Disney land opened on 17, July 1975.”
Duncan believes that everyone is capable of thinking differently and that in time this will become an increasingly vital talent as technology advances.
“There are four fundamental core truths that we are all born with imagination, creativity, intuition and curiosity and I personally believe in the next decade that those skill sets will become far more important then they have been in the past decade because they are the four skills sets that artificial intelligence will not replicate.”
Recognising how crucial creative thought is in today’s world of business, where disruptive ideas bite at the heels of most traditional industries, reveals the importance of nurturing a culture of creativity within the workplace.
However, that is not to say that this is any easy feat, with Duncan pointing to the one thing most businesses have in common as being the leading barrier to innovative ideas.
“The number one barrier to innovation, that every CEO will tell you, is that we don’t have time to think and yet they don’t give their organisations time to think.” Duncan says.
“Google is the single biggest innovative company in the world and so what do they do that every other company doesn’t? They give their employees time to think, and they call it 20% time. They give their engineers one day a week to think.”
“Well 20% time gave birth to Gmail, Google Goggles, Google Maps and self-driving cars so don’t tell me time to think isn’t rewarding – but no company does it!”