Last week’s discussion about building a culture of innovation brought to my mind an organization that I believe does this exceptionally well: the Walt Disney Company. Having worked at Disney World through the College Program internship, I know that ingraining a strong organizational culture that its employees can connect with is one of the top priorities at Disney. Innovation and creativity are at the cornerstone of that organizational culture – in fact, it is number one in the list of ‘shared values’ that Disney lists as defining its culture:
“Innovation, Quality, Community, Storytelling, Optimism and Decency.” Disney has developed a four-phase model for fostering a culture of innovation amongst its employees (called “cast members”) across all levels:
1. Define the culture: Disney does a great job of building a strong organizational culture specifically through their orientation and training programs.
2. Align the ideas: To ensure all new ideas are aligned with the company’s mission and identity, and make good business sense, Disney stresses the importance of the 3 “W’s: Who you are - understanding your core competencies. What you do - delivering your product. Where you're going - knowing your goals and strategies.
3. Design a process: in which an idea moves easily through the organization from conception to implementation, conserving the resources of time, money, and employee passion. This is done by being consistent in how ideas are evaluated, creating consolidated checkpoints and having defined deliverables.
4. Refine the product or service: This refers, obviously, to a continuous process of trial and error. According to Disney, an important part of their innovation process is encouraging cast-members at all levels to think of ways to continuously improve processes, and especially valuing ideas generated by front-line employees who are closest to the customers.
What resonated with me most about Disney’s culture of innovation was something we have mentioned several times in class this semester, and that is the willingness to constantly make, and learn from, mistakes. As we discussed last week, to build a culture of innovation, the commitment to innovation must start from the top – and it certainly does at Disney, in my opinion. Walt Disney himself always encouraged experimentation and taking risks, while learning from mistakes. When asked about the key to Disney’s success, Walt once said, "To some people, I am a kind of Merlin who takes a lot of crazy chances but rarely makes mistakes. I've made some bad ones. But fortunately, the successes have come along fast enough to cover up the mistakes. When you go to bat as many times as I do, you're bound to get a good average."