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4 tips for embedding a culture of creativity with Duncan Wardle


Our most recent edition of TOPdesk SEE took place on 15 June. And what a blast it was! Want to stay in the loop about our next event? Subscribe for TOPdesk SEE updates.


Think you just “don’t have the time” to innovate as a service professional? Duncan Wardle, former Head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney, is here to prove you wrong. In this blog, the TOPdesk SEE 2021 keynote speaker shares his top tips for embedding a culture of creativity and innovation within your organization.


Working at Disney had been a dream of mine since childhood, and I was lucky enough to actually get to do it for 30 years. During my last 10 years at the company, I got a call from the CEO, who asked me if I'd like to be in charge of Innovation and Creativity. The challenge was to make Disney as an organization more flexible, quicker to market, and more empathetic with our consumers.


After speaking to over 5000 people at the company, finding out what their main barriers to innovation were, and testing out several models, we finally created our Design Thinking Toolkit. We put together a “toybox” of strategies and behaviours, which aimed to make innovation easy, make creativity tangible, and make the process fun. I wanted to give people a creative problem-solving model that they would choose to use on a Monday morning when the boss wasn’t around. This model was based on four fundamental principles: creativity, imagination, curiosity, and intuition. I now use the same principles to help companies all over the world embed a culture of innovation into their DNA through keynotes, workshops, and ideation forums.


My talk at TOPdesk SEE 2021 will cover the fundamental principles of the Design Thinking Toolkit, so you can go out and put them into practice in your own work as a service professional. But first, here are some top tips to help you and your team get started on the road to innovation:


1. Give permission to fail.

Innovation means taking risks. But the people on your team aren’t going to take any real risks unless you actively encourage them to. This means giving them permission to fail. At Disney, we had a rule. Let’s say you tried out something new - maybe a PR campaign or a product - and it hadn’t quite gone to plan. If you could prove that you had put into practice one of the principles from the Design Thinking Toolkit and you could share your learnings, the failure wouldn’t impact your end of year performance review.

If you remove people’s fear of failure and instead nurture it as a crucial part of the innovation process (after all, FAIL stands for “First Act in Learning”) people will start taking real risks and coming up with bigger, better ideas.


2. Don’t shy away from digital transformation.

Technology gives us the time and the space to think, to be imaginative, curious, and intuitive. And it can even be a powerful tool for creativity in itself. I’m based in Orlando, Florida and I recently did an online innovation workshop with someone in Johannesburg. Both of us were wearing VR headsets and interacting inside a virtual campus. She could reach out her virtual hand, pass me a virtual pen, and I could use it to write on a virtual whiteboard. It felt as if I was standing right next to her. And without the barrier of a video conferencing screen, we could brainstorm naturally and easily bounce ideas off one another.

Digital transformation is here to stay. So, let’s stop thinking about going back to business-as-usual and start thinking about how we can make the most of the technological advancement that we’re seeing today.


3. Live your customer’s journey.

Innovation should always begin with empathy for your customer. Not long ago, I worked with a pharmaceutical company that wanted to develop new drugs for people suffering from arthritic pain. I found myself in a room with scientists and executives, people who knew about developing and marketing products. But not one of them had arthritis and so none of them truly understood what their customers experienced on a day-to-day basis. I got out some tape and some pennies and asked them to stick a coin to each of their knuckles. This meant that they couldn’t comfortably close their hands to write, pick up a pen, or open a jar for around 8 hours. The team then went on to develop a completely new line of products designed to help people hold, turn, and twist the objects they needed to use in their everyday lives.

By living in your customer’s shoes (even if it’s just for a day), you’ll discover their biggest pain points. Then, you can start to think about how to address these pain points in your products and services. Experience first, product second.

4. And finally, hold yourself accountable.

I love giving keynote talks and inspiring people to innovate but, the fact is, people learn by doing, not by listening. To foster a culture of innovation that goes beyond inspiration, you need to put your learnings into practice. After my keynote at TOPdesk SEE on 15 June, try to write down at least 3 intentions or “I wills” based on the behaviours and strategies from the Toolkit. These could be anything, from “I will practice playfulness at work” to “I will invite a naïve expert into a brainstorm”. Email the list to a friend or colleague and ask them to send it back to you after 30 days have passed. Even if you find that you haven’t completed any of your “I wills” by the time you get the list back, it will remind you to take that feeling of inspiration and to start actively doing the work required to innovate.


Start your innovation journey

Establishing a culture of innovation and creativity within an organization isn’t going to happen overnight. These 4 tips should enable you to take some first steps by nurturing failure as part of learning, embracing digital transformation, and living your customer’s journey. But the real breakthroughs will start to happen once you equip your team with a set of innovation tools that they actually want to use.


If you’d like to get a real insight into the principles of the Design Thinking Toolkit and how they can help you create exceptional experiences for your customers, be sure to join my talk on 15 June at TOPdesk SEE. I look forward to seeing you there!


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