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How Disney Uses a Private Employee Community to Foster Innovation

Disney is one of the most innovative global businesses around.  Its founder, Walt Disney, was driven by a desire to continuously envision new ways to entertain audiences around the world.  Today the company continues to deliver on that passion through theme parks, resorts, a cruise line, sports, news, movies, an a variety of other businesses. How does Disney foster forward and creative thinking among its employees?

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One of the ways is through Creative Lab, Disney’s internal digital community. The community is a place for employees, who are known as cast members, to share “buzz” with each other.  Buzz can take the form of ideas, experiences, products, commercials, graphics, anything that they find inspiring, insightful, or just plain fun.  The idea stream nurtures employees’ creativity and vets ideas for possible adaptation.  It also fosters connection across functions and locations as a picture and other identifying data of the person who shared the idea appears alongside.

Cast members are encouraged to vote on submitted ideas.  Every month the highest-ranking items (or those that are distinctive in some other way) are shared in a live gathering to which everyone, even members of finance and legal, are encouraged to attend.  Creativity and Innovation Manager Lee Kitchen, who manages the community and is responsible for the monthly event, says that people from all functions really look forward to the show.  “It isn’t just marketing teams that want to be inspired,” Kitchen says.  “Our whole team benefits.”

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In addition to disseminating ideas, the Creative Lab site allows employees to begin to adapt the buzz into a product, service, process, or experience that may benefit Disney.  After undertaking the initial steps on the site, employees are encouraged to bring their ideas offline to Disney’s physical creativity lab to go through a more formal creative problem solving/idea development process.  Kitchen also throw out challenges to cast members via the site, in order to crowdsource solutions to problems that may have arisen and take advantage of in-the-moment opportunities.

What buzz made Disney’s Creative Lab so far this year?  Here are a few highlights:

Artistic Mom Turns Naptime Into an Adventure

No Ordinary Park Bench

WestJet Christmas Miracle

Duracell Winter Bus Shelter

Take a Look at Brussels

World’s Toughest Job

VW Eyes on the Road

Evolution Door

Potato Salad Kickstarter

Newcastle’s If We Won

Want to create ideas for Disney?  Kitchen is considering creating a digital community for fans, so that they too can submit innovative ideas to the company.   “Show Your Disney Side” would likely offer competitions and have voting mechanisms.  Stay tuned.

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By Lisa Leslie Henderson