(actual) Creativity and innovation in the finance industry 02 June 2021
I scheduled a Zoom with Duncan (his expertise would clearly be better in person but these are the times we live in) and as I typically do, prepared my list of six questions. I introduced myself and explained how I thought his insight could be useful for our global banking and insurance membership. Duncan stopped me and said “Mind if I just go?” With this type of expert, it’s typically best to just cede the floor. So that’s what I did.
Clear time for innovation in the work day
Duncan has spoken in front of thousands of people, and he often poses the question: “What time of the day do most ideas come to you?” People give all types of responses: in the shower, just before bed, while out for a leisurely stroll. One answer he never hears? At work. Hang on a minute. If we are supposedly working at innovative institutions that are theoretically paying us to come up with new ideas, then why aren’t any of these groundbreaking ideas coming to us during our working hours? Clearly something is amiss.
In his time at Disney, they surveyed 5,000 people across all the Disney brands, asking them what the barriers were to innovating inside a large, corporate environment. The number 1 answer? 68% of people said “I don’t have time to think.” Work days inevitably fill up with meetings, Zoom calls, and drafting emails. None of those activities are conducive to ideating. In fact, they are inimical to the creative process.
Walt Disney was originally constrained by the strict rules and environment of a movie theater. You have to sit down, be quiet, and can only watch one movie at a time. These rules curbed his incessant imagination. Instead of trying to simply improve the experience inside that restrictive environment, he asked, “What if I take my movies out of the theater and make them three dimensional?” Asking that question led to DisneyWorld and one of the most iconic brands of our time. The more provocative and absurd your “What if” question is, the further out of your river of thinking you’ll get, opening up unprecedented opportunities.
Reframe the question to unlock long term value
Another benefit of a knowing your customers on a deeper level is understanding where their pain points really are. Duncan was at the heart of one of the biggest innovations at Disney theme parks: the MagicBand. But the wristband was not the result of Disney executives getting together in a boardroom to identify a new revenue stream. The innovation was instead the result of a fundamental reframing of a question. Instead of asking “How can we boost profits?” Duncan asked “How can we eliminate a major pain point for guests?” Using radio-frequency id (RFID) technology, they created the MagicBand that streamlined the entire park experience for guests. They can access their hotels, check in to FastPass+ entrances, and order food, all with the band. It also led to incredible new data collection on guest behavior. They now understand, in finely grained detail, how guests are spending their time (and money) at the parks, and can adjust accordingly.
That incredible innovation at the park wasn’t the result of just trying to make more money. As Duncan said, if they wanted to do that, they would have just raised ticket and hotel prices. Asking the wrong questions will have long-term effects on company success. “If companies continue to ask themselves how they will make more money, Generation Z will see them gone. This is a generation that cares about purpose more than profit. Not only will they not buy your products and services if they don’t believe in what you stand for, they won’t want to work for you,” said Duncan.