Design Thinking

Duncan Wardle: We Were All Born Design Thinkers

Are the skills we need to thrive in a rapidly changing world ones that we have had all along? Is it that we need to learn new skills or do we need to unlearn old ones? In this episode Duncan Wardle, former VP of Creativity and Innovation at Disney and international speaker on design thinking, shares the four skills he believes you already have that a machine cannot replace. Here are a few of the topics we discuss.

Why Design Thinking?

From AI to big data to blockchain, Duncan says that while we are very focused on the technology, not enough of us are paying attention to GenZ. They are a generation that cares more about purpose than product. In speaking to the world’s largest tool manufacturer Duncan applied design thinking principles to help them realize that their customers weren’t talking about tools or prices, they were talking about building their dream home or kitchen or bathroom. If their purpose was to just build the best tools, they could be out of business when 3D printing comes along. However if their purpose is to help people build their dreams then they could be in any industry they wanted.

The Four Employable Skills in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Creativity, curiosity, imagination and intuition. We were born with all four says Duncan. Think about the time you wanted to play with the box for hours on end instead of the present that was inside. Think about the number of times a child asks, “Why?” Think about the dreams you’ve had or the last time you made a decision to buy a product or service. These are all skills that you have and as you conformed to traditional environments such as school you slowly stopped using them. Through applying design thinking principles Duncan believes everyone can bring them back.

The Challenge with an Innovation Department

The challenge with an innovation department is that it lets everyone off the hook and puts the responsibility on a few. It also sends the message that only these people are innovators. By giving everyone a toolkit for innovation with design thinking principles, everyone can be part of generating change and new ideas making innovation easy, creative and tangible.

Diversity and Design Thinking

This was probably my favorite part of the conversation. Diversity and inclusion are often buzzwords that we hear today. Duncan shares a different vision for why diversity is valuable. When he was tasked with creating a new retail and dinging experience for Disney Hong Kong he was in a room with 12 white male American architects. When he asked them all to draw a house they all drew the standard picture. He invited a young female Chinese chef into the room and asked her to do the same. She drew dim sum architecture with a round bamboo dish with dim sun sitting on top of it with a roof with a chimney and a little old lady waving outside the window. In sharing her drawing she gave everyone permission to get out of their river of thinking and imagine audacious architecture. On the way out someone wrote on her drawing, “Distinctly Disney. Authentically Chinese.” This slogan became the strategic campaign for the launch.

When you bring in someone who doesn’t look like you, they don’t look like you they will bring different ideas. Duncan shares that diversity is not about being politically correct, it’s about bringing in different ideas.

We Want to Hear From You

If you heard the podcast you’ll remember that Duncan shared how much people enjoy hearing from others about their work. To connect with Duncan you can visit his website where he shares ideas, strategies and upcoming events. You can also connect with Duncan on LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram.

I hope you enjoyed this episode and I’d love to have you screenshot and shared with me on Twitter or Instagram Stories @AskMsQ what you liked or any questions you have that we might be able to answer. Thanks for giving us your time and attention and I look forward to sharing another episode with you next week.

Episode 1 Transcript

Sabba: Welcome, everyone. I’m your host Sabba. Many of you know me online as AskMsQ, and I really could not be more excited to be launching this new show at the start of a new decade. What better time than the start of 2020 to begin thinking about how we can develop the mindsets and skill sets we need to thrive in today’s world with design thinking. 

So what is design thinking and how can it help you? Duncan Wardle is the perfect person to answer this question. He was the former Vice President of Innovation and Creativity at Disney, where he was the catalyst and creator of many of the “mad ideas” as he calls them, that you’ve seen from one of the world’s most treasured brands. He’ll be sharing many things, but one of my favorites is how he teaches the power and strategy of asking what if? Today Duncan is one of the world’s most sought after speakers on design thinking. He’s a must follow online where he shares all his travels and insights from the different workshops and keynotes that he delivers. That wasn’t where he started though, you’re going to be so inspired by his journey and his infectious passion for helping everyone rediscover the curiosity and creativity that they were born with. 

In recording for this podcast, I was reminded of just how privileged we are today to learn anything, anytime, anywhere with anyone. Today’s episode with Duncan is really an example of just how powerful the tools and platforms that we have today really are. I hope you enjoy and learn so much from this conversation. And we would love to have you share your takeaways by tagging me online at AskMsQ.  And here everyone is my conversation with Duncan Wardle. 

Hi Duncan, and welcome to Sprint to Success. I’m so honored to have you here today. Thank you. This entire podcast is really about helping people understand design thinking and understand the changing dynamic of skills that the world is really looking for. So I wanted you to kind of open by sharing, why design thinking, and what are the four skills that you believe people excel over compared to machines?

Duncan: So design thinking what design thinking, because it’s actually when you say design thinking people are like oh these people, they’re gurus, they must know what they’re doing on my god these design thinkers they are so great. Guess what? My mother will tell you design thinking is good common sense. But the here’s the challenge from 1920 to 2020 we were very product centric. We were driven by wall street, right? If you build it, they will come brands like Coca Cola, make soft drinks, Walmart made stores, and for 100 years it worked. And we didn’t have to care about the consumer. Suddenly think in the next 10 years, we’ve got artificial intelligence scheduled to according to the editor of Wired Magazine at Open World in San Francisco two weeks ago he said, “Artificial intelligence will eliminate 20% of the jobs in North America in the next decade.” 

So we’ve got robots that we will compete with that will be thousands of times more intensive than us by 2030. We’ve got blockchain making the world completely transparent. We’ve got data getting better and better and better and better. And everybody’s watching and investing in the tech side of the house and they should. Not enough people are watching Generation Z, a generation who cares more about purpose than product, they don’t care about your quarterly results. They will challenge it South Park was a beginning. Greta was the beginning, they will bring down governments and they will bring down companies if they don’t believe in what you stand for not only will they not buy your products and services in the next 20 years, they don’t want to work for what Why is it that everybody is 18 or less wants to be an entrepreneur? Because they don’t trust the corporation, because they grew up through 911. They grew up for the mortgage crisis 2009 and they watched their aunts and uncles get laid off. That’s why they want to be entrepreneurs. They don’t trust you. And so, so the challenge is for lots of companies now, design thinking is to first I think, before we get just into the design thinking and looking for what consumers are looking for is most companies what’s their purpose? They don’t know. And if you ask employees of a company, describe what’s your purpose, what’s your why, why is it you do what you do? You’ll get a different answer from every single employee. Most companies think purpose is a philanthropic cause it’s not that’s a philanthropic cause purposes. What do you stand for? What gives you the right to sell me anything. 

And so I was asked recently to give a talk to the world’s largest tool manufacturer, they make more hammers, chisels and tools and anybody else. I thought, gosh, I know nothing about them. I know nothing about the consumer – design thinking principles go meet one. So I spent the day in Home Depot and Lowe’s watching and listening to their consumer at the point of purchase and I went back to talk to the world’s largest tool manufacturer and I said guess what? They’re not talking about your brand? They’re not talking about your products, the hammer and chisel or the saw. They’re not even talking about your price point 14.95 or 22.50. What they’re talking about very animatedly and excitedly amongst themselves is what’s important to them consumer centric what’s important to them is if you listen to them go to Home Depot one day they’re saying we’re going to build our dream kitchen.  I’m so excited to build our dream house. 

Your purpose if you choose to create one Mr. Mrs. tool manufacturer is you could be the brand that helps people build their dream. And you could see the finance guys rolling their eyes and saying how’s that going to deliver my quarterly results. It might not deliver your quarterly results but it might save your job and it might change your industry. Why? If you’re the brand that helps people build their dream what are the lines of business could you be in? Could you be in hospitality? Yes. Automotive? Yes. Banking. Yes. Finance insurance. Yes. Yes because you are the brand who helps people build their dreams. You could be an education. But no we make tools. And our definition of innovation isn’t is iteration. We’re going to expand into Mexico and India they have a growing middle class and they will buy our tools. 

Very arrogant approach. By the way they won’t because 3D printing will eliminate all industry by 2030it wont exist anymore. We were building houses in Houston, Texas based on the 3D printer. China’s just announced they’re going to build a city in the next three years on the 3D printer. They’re printing cars in Hyderabad, India today for certain to model before they operate on a 3D printer. Amazon spent billions of dollars on shipping last year. You think Amazon wants to continue to spend billions of dollars on shipping, they want you to print it out at home. I put it to you that somewhere between 2030 2040 35% of what’s been buy on Amazon today you can print at home. If you can print anything you want on the 10 to 15 years from today what will you be using a hammer, a chisel or a saw for? No, you won’t, they’ll be in a museum. But if you are the brand who helps people build their dreams, you could have got out of a tool industry got into any other industry you want. But they don’t think that way. And therefore, that the company and that industry will be eliminated by 2030.

Sabba: Absolutely now, I think that was a really great kind of big picture lay of the landscape of just a thing, what so many young people can expect to be walking into today. So in that kind of environment and thinking about design thinking, what are some of those core skills that you think differentiate individuals from AI blockchain and just in that landscape like that?

Duncan: Well, I think the four i focus on in particular that I think will be the most employable in the next decade, we’re all born with all four the last few decades, the employment skill sets work we paid and focused most on those people who could deliver strategic thinking, critical thinking strategy analysis and they were right for their time. However I put it to you that in the next decade all of those skill sets can and will and can be replaced by artificial intelligence. However, you were born a little girl and you got your first big toy It was a huge toy it came in a massive box Christmas day two of you ages to unwrap the gift. You eventually got it out of that huge box. Will you spend the rest of day playing with?

Sabba: The box?

Duncan: Yeah, of course. Why? Why did you play the box?

Sabba: Because you wonder what’s inside and what more you can do like you can undo the box you can do like you know make a different ways

Duncan: That box was anything you wanted it to be it was a castle a fort it was a rocket ship it was and up until about the age of six you could see the castle on the port and but what happens at the age of six what do you do at the age of 16 you didn’t do before.

Sabba: You I guess somewhere along the way, you kind of learn that there’s just things that you’re supposed to do and things we’re not supposed to do.

Duncan: We go to school and the teacher tells us it’s just a box and suddenly, instantly our creativity and our imagination starts to get compacted. And yet we were all born creative. We all used to play in the box. We’re all born curious. Curiosity is another important skill set. Okay, do have children? Ok you sound quite young. Do you have nieces or nephews? 

Sabba: I do. Okay, cool. Yeah, we just had our first nephew. He’s just turned one. 

Duncan: So, what’s the question think about when you think about kids who are that four or five? What’s the question they asked you?

Sabba: Oh my gosh. Well, it’s so interesting watching my nephew if he’s just looking everywhere, just looking everywhere, taking everything in that if you like, like if I think about my cousins, it’s always kind of just like, questions about why or how or…

Duncan: Why why why why why why? Why did children ask why four or five times because they are design thinkers, they are consumer centric. They are looking for the core consumer truth. They won’t stop at the first why. Then we go to school and we get a job and we’re told there’s only one right way so we stopped looking for the second one. The real insight for innovation comes on the fourth or fifth way. 

If you ask somebody, why do you go to Disney? They’ll say I go for the ride. Or that tells me to spend a couple of hundred million dollars on a new attraction capital investment stretch. But if you pause for a moment, and that childlike, not childish and ask why exactly do you go for the ride. Well, I just love Small World. Why on earth do you love Small World? Well I like the music, Why is that important to you? Oh, well, I used to go with my mother. But why is that important to you? Well, I take my daughter now. What that person was just told you on the fourth or fifth way, has got nothing to do with the capital investment strategy whatsoever. What she cares about is her memory and her nostalgia. That’s a communication campaign, not a build.  But if we stopped at the first one and very often our data stops at the first why s you don’t get to the real insight for innovation. 

So we talked about creativity we talked about curiosity. Next one imagination. Think about a weird dream you had last week that you had with David Beckham and Beyonce, say and a unicorn that you don’t want to tell anybody about. So we’ve all had the weird dream. So we all have a vivid imagination and then there’s intuition. I want you to be honest. Tell me if you’ve ever looked at the back of the head of somebody and you think, man, that person looks really hot, and that person immediately turned around quite quickly. Right. So how does that person know that you were looking at them? It’s called intuition. And you have 100 billion neurons in your brain. You are 100 million neurons in your stomach. Think about the clothes you’re wearing right now. Or the last place you went on a holiday Or the last restaurant you went to, or the last dress you chose to buy? Or all the other products and services that you consume as a consumer every single day. Did you make that decision? strategically? Hell no. You see with your intuition.

Intuition is a remarkably powerful computer. And I’ll tell you a story about how just how, how strong, we were tasked by Disneyland Paris to get more people to come more often spend more money. Our big data told us who could have bought our brands who had an affinity for brands who were shopping online. And our big data told us who the 10 out of 10 have been coming this year. Guess what, they didn’t come so that it told me that our big data was missing something. And I put it to the organization that these the British people were filling out the survey, they were 10 out of 10 I’m coming this year for the last five years. They didn’t come they were either liars or procrastinators, and I went to set out to prove it. 

The only way we got out about big data, which was telling us to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new traction. Instead we spent the day with a consumer. 26 different houses. Now you’re too young. But let’s see. So the house that I was in, there was a photograph on the mantel piece. And I asked the lady, how old are the children? Like four or five? No, no, they’re 14 or 15. You write it down. It’s one clue. There’s an individual clue means nothing to you. When you get back together all 26 of you you’ve got the same clue. And I asked how old the children were in the photograph in the living room they were anywhere from 5 to 25 years older in reality. Now your intuition kicks in and says, there’s something I think data has missed. How do I know that photograph exists? Because I know that you’re you’re too young don’t have children yet. But I guarantee if you close your eyes right now, and you look at your parents living room, there’s a dorky photograph of you, probably from 3rd or 4th grade and you wish they turned away years ago, proudly in their living room, but you don’t want to take your boyfriend or girlfriend home that god knows you don’t want them to see that. Every household has that image. So that’s my intuition kicking in telling me there’s something here, what do we not print photographs of our children anymore? Yes, we do. So we went back and asked them some more questions. And here’s what we heard from the average parents. “I want my child to grow up, I want them to go to kindergarten, junior school, middle school, high school, college graduate, be happy, healthy and successful.” 

That’s what we want for our kids. Right? 

No, it’s not it’s what we found we want our kids back in that photo frame and when we walk in the door and like have them here with us. And so, I thought there’s something here and wisdom. Let’s dig a bit deeper. Now. I’m a dad, I can use my intuition. So, 26 parents will tell you the same story. They all talk about these three bittersweet transitions that take place between the parents and the child. Once you’ve crossed through that transition, both easily want to step back, but you can’t it’s too late.

So but hi, dad. I’ve got kids. I know exactly where I was in each three of those transitions that they talked about. The first one was James he’s 10 my son. We were in Mexico it was Christmas Eve he came around the door of evidence of bedroom. You know the children’s eyes are half full they’re just bubbling up just about burst out crying. And he looked at me, he goes, he goes, are you Santa Claus? And in that one second is like a bullet hitting me in the stomach. That’s his imagination, creativity. Batman, Superman, Spider Man clouds gone in that one second. What hurts so much was what he had obviously really said, because I’m not your little boy or daddy, I’m growing up. 

Now, you will not remember where you were that fateful day. But when you get off this podcast interview, I want you to text or call your dad. And I want you to ask him the question, because you won’t remember where you were. You won’t remember that it happened. He does. And he’ll ask you a nanosecond and allows you to very specifically because it is a seminal moment between the father and a daughter. I was in Kissimmee, Florida outside Kirkland store, Michael’s craft stores coming up on the left hand side of the car coming toward me. I’m outside by the curb. My daughter’s inside me. She’s 13 that Tuesday morning, the day she dropped my left hand in public for the first time because she didn’t want to hold daddy’s hand anymore. And by the way I challenge you get off this call, go call your dad and he will know exactly where he was the day you dropped his hand for the first time. And he’ll tell you it was his right handor left hand because it’s a seminal moment between a father and a daughter. 

The last one for us was last December. My daughter graduated from university. And actually I’m standing in the bedroom as I can’t because I’m not going to my daughter’s bedroom. I’ve only been one since she left. I can’t walk into a bedroom because I cry cuz it’s tidy, and it’s quiet and it’s empty. So we went and we flew up to Manhattan. We got her into her apartment we packed her in we cheered and we laughed and then my wife and I close the doors of the apartment got a Uber and cried our eyes out all the way to the airport. And so don’t forget our going in hypotheses and big data told us if we build it they will come with 240 million dollars on attractions they’ll come. 

What we found by living living the principles of design thinking, get out of your data, get out of your focus groups, go and spend the day with your consumer. And you just might find that, in fact for innovation you can’t find anywhere else. And what we found was the mom does not wake up in the morning worrying about whether or not her children, whether or not Disneyland Paris has new attractions that she she wakes up every single morning, worrying about how quickly her children growing and how she wants to make special memories for them. While they still believe while they are still holding my hand and while they’re still here. That’s a communication campaign, not a capital investment strategy, one that stopped us from spending $240 million on something she didn’t ask for in the first place, and drove intentional visits by 20% until the very product centric organization into a very consumer centric one where it is now mandatory for every Disney executive to work in a park for one day a year and the frontline cast line position every two years. Go. Remember the consumer. So, design thinking principles. Have you ever been to a focus group by the way?

Sabba: I have actually Yeah, I did one for a car once.

Duncan: Okay, you know, and you sit behind that two way mirror and you kind of stare at people. Right. Okay. Do you live in a house or an apartment with a two-way mirror with people staring at me, by the way? No, no, but nobody does. Right. So do you think that’s a relaxed environment to get really such renovation? No, of course, it’s not. We’re inviting 12 individuals because we want our value for money. We spy at them through a window. They know we’re on the other side so they’re not relaxed. And by the way, if you interview individuals, they lie. And when I say lie, I mean it in the kindest possible way. But they tell you the white lies, so you know, they’ve got a bit of bravado. So if you invite dad to a focus group and say what do you do at Disneyworld? Oh, he’ll go, Oh, I drink beer and go on the thrill rides, im a manly man. If, on the other hand, he’s in his living room, seated next to his wife she’s gonna bust him saying no, no, no, do you went on the Small World 17 times last year, you really loved it. So you get real insights out the couple that you’ll never get out of individuals, you get real insights out of getting into their houses, because you will find things and see things that may have been in your data buried on page 37 bullet point 14, and you can’t see it. You can’t feel data. 

So going back we’re all born creative. We are all born with an amazing imagination we used to say why, why and why again, then we stop and we are all born with intuition. And in the next decade, and I’ve asked a couple of AI experts because they know far more about AI than I do and that’s the message do you believe artificial intelligence will replace or could we program creativity, imagination, curiosity and intuition in that decade, and irrevocably everybody has said no. Therefore, I put it to you that the strongest skill set the human race has to offer in the next 10 years are actually the things that we’re born with we’ve been told to bury for years because they weren’t important, will become some of the most employable skills in the next decade simply because they cant be programmed.

Sabba: Yeah, no, absolutely. And I want to dive back into some of those skills a little bit later. But I’d love to have people learn a little bit more about your background, because I think so much of what you talk about is so embedded in your own personal journey, from the time that you know, found that internship at your university to your position at Disney. Can you talk a little bit about how you found your purpose and how you came into doing the work that you do?

Duncan: I wanted to be an ancient Egyptologist and I was going to be an archaeologist. This was way before Indiana Jones. And I was at Edinburgh University of Scotland looking at the board seeing if I had been picked for the rugby team and I saw a picture of Mickey Mouse and there was a chance to meet an American Wow America. So I went along to the interview, and at the end of the interview this lady she was teaching and at the end of the interview, she stood up and don’t forget, this is the first American person I’ve ever met. Becky, lucky lady. She’s six foot five. She’s from Texas. And she stood up, all I can remember was hearing 2001 Space Odyssey playing inside my head thinking they can’t be all that tall. Anyway, so there was a chance to come and represent Great Britain. Let’s talk if you’ve ever been to Epcot, my very first job, September 1986. A barman and I met my wife there. She was a Mexican Aztec goddess on the other side of the lake. So we got married 32 years ago, and then went back and joined me in London. My very first assignment was the world premiere, Who Framed Roger Rabbit 1988 in the presence of the Prince of Wales, Princess Diana. This was the day when I found out what a contingency plan was because my job was simply to stand at the bottom of the stairs. Roger Rabbit would come down the stairs. Princess Diana would come along the receiving line and if she chose to engage with Roger at the bottom of the stairs, great if you went to the auditorium tough.

So you think okay, how could you possibly screw that up right? So standing on the bottom of the stairs minding my own business and Roger Rabbit comes bouncing down the stairs what a contingency plan doesn’t tell you is which the average step on the stair is about the same length as your foot. Well, if you’re six foot rabbit, your feet are three foot long. Roger tripped over his own feet with six steps ago and he goes hurtling through the air to more directly towards the head of the Prince of Wales, Diana were two royal protection officers took him out in midair with guns drawn. There’s a very famous photograph you can still find it on online with Roger on the floor two Secret Service guys on top of him with gun pointed at his head and the 22 year old man called Duncan in the background looking like a rabbit like shit I’m fired. 

So, I didn’t go to the office the next day I thought I’m fired. I got a phone call from my boss. He said where are your today? And he said why? I said I assumed I was fired. He said no. This is exactly the publicity for Roger Rabbit, and I go wow. I could make a career out of this. And so, for the first 20 years, my job was thinking up the ideas that I didn’t know I could pull off. If you know that you can do it it’s iteration it is not innovation. 

So, I came up with all the mad ideas. I came up with the idea of sending Buzz Lightyear into space for the opening of Toy Story. I hadn’t talked to NASA at the time. But I ended up sending my son’s Bud Lightyear, you can Google it you find it on YouTube. Buzz’s dream was to fly but he couldn’t fly. I said, well, what if we can take that and make it a dream come true. So, we did. He’s the longest serving astronaut in space if you go on YouTube and type Buzz Lightyear in space you will see him flying in space. 

So, I built a swimming pool down Main Street USA for Michael Phelps to swim down. I helped Pixar come up with some of the Pixar the genius of Pixar is the ability to tell a story it’s the ability to find the core consumer truth. I grew up in the 60s cowboys were gods I had the I had the tassels I had the hat I had the badge and then one day this man came down the steps and said, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” and suddenly we will said screw the Cowboys I’m going to be an astronaut. Well, Toy Story was written for me. 

When you were a little girl did you have a monster under your bed or in the closet? Of course, you did. Monsters Incorporated was clearly written for you. These aren’t just stories these are stories embedded in core consumer truth that we can all relate to and that’s what makes them become stronger. 

So then I got a call saying you’re the guy with all the big ideas. You’re going to be in charge of innovation, creativity. And my boss said, “Go figure it out.” 

We surveyed 5000 people at Lucas Films, Disney park, ESPN ABC and asked them what were the barriers to be more innovative and more creative and we found five. And this I think will probably relate to a lot of your listeners. Number one, always number one, I don’t have time to think. Number two, consumer insight is underused we’re product centric organization. Number three, we’re risk averse we’ve got quarterly results. Number four ideas get stopped in the middle and kill in the process. Number five, we’ve all got a different definition of innovation so we’re heading in different directions. So, we tried four models of Innovation Models. Model One I hire IDEO and said make me look good, because I thought they would know what they were doing. That was great. They ran great projects. But when they left, and you had an honest conversation with yourself about what have we learned? Have we learned about what they do the art of us we haven’t wasn’t in their best interest to show us how they do what they do?

Model number two, we’re going to create an innovation department I’m going to be charged with what could possibly go wrong. Well, when your team of 20-25 people and organization of hundreds of thousands you can be a catalyst for change, but you also send a subliminal message to the rest of the organization you’re off the hook we have an innovation team. Model Three, we create an accelerator model where we brought a young startup tech company and partner with them, because they had something very new, very cool, very innovative, but they didn’t know how to scale or bring it to market. So that’s not very well as bringing products and services to market quicker. But none of these models helped embed innovation into everybody’s DNA. 

And if you listen to all the chair people around today, the chairperson, say, we must innovate, you must take risks. We must be brave. We must think differently. And all of our employees are sitting there going great. How, how do I do it? And nobody’s showing people how. So, having been at Disney for 30 years, head of innovation creativity, people think I’m mad because I left? No, I’m not mad. There is a monstrous gap in the market that I hope they want to feel by going into organizations by teaching them how by making innovation easy. Creativity tangible, and the process fun. A lot of companies don’t like fun because they think it doesn’t apply to business results. You can’t change a culture by talking about it and hiring a head of HR and doing some, oh, let’s do some compliance training, oh yeah great, boring. 

People have to want to change. And the only way you can get them to do it is by giving them a tool kit that they choose to use when you’re not there, a tool kit that make innovation in creativity, tangible. So, Ben and Sally work for you for a year or 20 years will choose to use it when you’re not there, that culture change and that’s what I do. And I love it. Because, look, the last six weeks, I’ve been in 10 European countries, three Asian countries, India, which I adore Colombia yesterday and back in the States. Every time I go overseas, I always ask whoever I’m going to hey is there a local not for profit or a school or university where you would like me to come and give a keynote as part of newcomers I’m not gonna charge him more money, because I’m really passionate about it because I grew up in an organization where we were told you’re not creative and creativity happens on the second floor, bullshit, everybody’s creative. I do not define creativity as the ability to paint, like music, or do graphic design or movies, or I define creativity is the ability to have an idea and everybody has ideas and I define innovation as the ability to get it done. All I do is help people remind them that they creative, show them how to be again and give them the tools to innovate. It’s about taking something like design thinking and making it easy. Make it easy, tangible and fun. 

Sabba: And I love that because you keep bringing it back to this idea of common sense this idea that we’re born with all of these things. What is it in particular you think about design thinking that makes it common sense? And how might a student say like someone like me or, you know, just like you think you met our high school or college students today begin to kind of dive into this before they get to an organization.

Duncan: Go and watch somebody in a shop, how they shop, where they shop, what they do, why they buy what, go go live with somebody for a day and find out what’s important to them. Big data is very good and it’s getting better and better but if we are only looking at the data, we’re only looking where our competition is looking. Therefore, how will we find that one insight that can lead to any type of innovation. I would argue probably the biggest thing or skill that a good consumer, a good consumer centric design thinker has the ability to listen and listen and then hear what is important to your consumer and design, design something for what they are asking for.

Sabba: Absolutely, and I think that, you know, the listening and just all of those other things, you know, you bring up a lot about, like, how you have this confidence to just like run with ideas like for 22 years like you are the person who was confident enough really to kind of come up with these ideas and whatnot. I feel like a lot of times a lot of people say that in organizations, people are also told, like, you know, like when you’re younger, like stop asking so many questions like, you know, you are the the new ideas can sometimes frustrate people. And you shared a really beautiful article in Strive Project about the power of asking what if, and I was wondering if you could share a little bit about where you got the confidence to just run with ideas or how you pitch those ideas, and why asking what if is important?

Duncan: We’re at a unique tipping point in time. Up until literally today, we young people always have more to learn from the older people than the other way around, and I don’t believe that to be true anymore. And the older people are scared of that, because it’s intimidating. And so, they choose to ignore the younger people. Because they’re challenging the way they think. And Generation Z is pushing harder and harder. Organizations that lean in on the younger employees will be more successful. Because let’s be honest, right, whether we like it, or whether we agree with it, or whether we disagree with if you did a poll of the top 2000 companies inside the United States of America today, I’ll bet you the board is 80% male 80% white 80% 55 or older who care more about their retirement, their shares and their bonuses, than they do the future of their company, right. Am I going to take a risk and take definitely? Hell no, I’ve got my retirement. And so that’s a real challenge for companies that want to think differently. Well, guess what, you got 22 year olds inside your organization. So and I do promise to come back to what if. 

Diversity most companies do not understand the power of diversity. Diversity is innovation. If somebody thinks different to you, somebody looks different to you, they think they think different to us, they will help you think differently. That again is called common sense. Most organizations do not have common sense. So, do you have a pen and a piece of paper? I do. Cuz I’m gonna name an object, you’re going to draw it up, but you want to get seven seconds to do it and draw it. I would like you to draw a house

I want you to answer questions for me. Why did you dry draw only one door? Why did you do it in the middle and why did you draw on the ground floor? Why did you only draw two windows? How much did I get correct. 

Sabba: Almost all of it.

Duncan: Because you jumped into your river of thinking of what you think your house should look like. So I was asked to design a new retail dining and entertainment complex for Hong Kong Disneyland but I had 12 white male American architects. I asked them to draw a house and I knew what they would draw, they drew what you drew. So, I had in a room and I would ask anybody advise anybody when you’re trying to think of new ideas, bring in somebody who doesn’t look like to bring in somebody doesn’t work for you bring somebody who doesn’t work in your industry. So I invite you into the room a young female Chinese chef. But she wasn’t American to Chinese because she wasn’t 15 she was 25 because she wasn’t an architect she was a chef. And because she was a girl, not a boy. Were they all drew exactly what I knew they would draw? She drew dim sum architecture with a round bamboo dish with dim sum sitting on top of it with a chimney and a little old lady waving out of the window. But we all laughed when we showed each other our pictures because we realized we all stayed in our rive of thinking and she gave us permission to get out of our river of thinking and consider audacious architecture, if anybody in the world considered audacious architecture. Somebody wrote over a picture of dim sum architecture – distinctively Disney authentically Chinese. Seven years later, the strategic campaign for the resort became distinctively Disney authentically Chinese. So diversity and people just don’t understand the power of diversity they think it’s political correctness and they If you’re Hispanic do not when you enter the workplace, do not let your employer that you should work on a family business. If you’re African American, do not let your employer or you should only work on the African American business bullshit. So so that means I should only work on the old white business. Imagine if somebody came to me and said, I only want you to work on the old white business. How offensive is that to anybody, and they simply don’t understand. But whether you’re younger, whether you’re female, whether your male with your gay with your strength, with your Greek, I don’t care as long as you’re different to me. Because that will help us innovate. I’m very passionate about that word because again its common sense. 

Sabba: I want to start there though, because I love that I really liked how you kind of frame that diversity conversation. I actually haven’t heard it like that explicitly kind of explained before. So, let’s say you are a young professional and you are in that situation. What are some of the ways in which maybe before you get to an organization or in thinking about organization, you want to join that you can kind of either advocate for yourself or kind of just maybe share things that you’re able to do or interested in doing before you even get to that situation.

Duncan: So here’s the deal. We’re all good, right? Whether you’re good at finance, whether you’re good at sales, whether you’re good at legal, whether you’re going to play the role of the naive expert. If somebody else is working on something that you don’t know much about go sit in the session and have ideas and be the naïve expert. The role of the naïve expert not to solve the challenge for you. That is an unrealistic expectation. The goal of the naïve expert is to ask a silly question because they don’t know about the industry all throw out the audacious idea that nobody else will try out because they’re now unconstrained by your rules. So, my advice would be go work on something you don’t know anything about.

Sabba: I love that. I absolutely love that because today with the platforms and tools that we have, it is so easy to seek out those kinds of opportunities. Alright, so I’ve got to bring you back to the what if story because I just love this one.

Duncan: Here’s the thing. Don’t let yourself get pigeonholed. When you join big companies that are you, you need to work in publicity. Well, five years later, you’re still writing press releases, you’re no use to anybody. I would always argue the smaller company you join the more experience you will get in different areas. The more you’ll learn what you like and don’t like. My daughter called me recently and said, I don’t like my first job. That’s good I said, because she’s learning what she likes, and what she doesn’t like. You don’t have to like your first job. You have to understand what you like and don’t like that’s a good place to be. And so, because here’s the thing, as you grow up, you get more experience and more experience more expertise you get, the more you think one way, I’m really good in that idea. Other people have really good engineering or sales or finance and we’re all really good at what we do. But, that we are being asked to stop thinking as we’ve always thought and think differently. Well, that’s hard for all of us. So all it does is design a feeling good lateral thinking tools that help people think one of the most powerful is called, “What if?” 

It was actually originally used by Walt Disney for a film called Fantasia, which some of you will have seen, it was a film set to classical music. And once in 1940 he was such a visionary. He wanted it to mist inside the theater and drip, drip drip with local showers and the theater owner said no too expensive or we’re never going to do that. So, use this modern tool, he listed all the rules of going to a movie theater is dark. It’s dirty, you can only watch one movie at a time. You have to sit in a seat, I Walt cant control the environment in which you experience my characters. So he said, well, what if I could. What if I took my movies out of the theater well that was a provocative question for 1940? How the hell you going to solve for that? If you know the answer is not innovation and iteration. What if I took my movie down? Well, it couldn’t be two dimensional they fall over. What if I make changes? Well, if took my movies out of the theater. They will go from 2 dimensional to three dimensional. Cinderella can’t be next to Davy Crockett and Jack Sparrow because people wouldn’t be immersed in that story. Well, if I actually, if I was going to create walk around characters, people have to play the role. I’d have to have her in a different land to keep people immersed, oh I know I’ll call it Disneyland. 

Now fast forward to 2005. We used to go to Blockbuster Video, and the founder of Netflix, was tired of paying late fees. So, he listed the rules of going to Blockbuster Video, you had to drive to physical store you had to go during opening time, you had to have time to rewind. You never got the one you wanted on opening day and he said, what if there was no physical store? Now you don’t have to drive to a store. It would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, everybody can rent as many as they want at one time, and cut the late fee at the end of 24 hours. So nobody pays the late fee. I know I’ll call it Netflix. I’ll take my idea to Blockbuster Video five times they’ll turn me down five times. I’ll take them out of business in less than five years. Now it’s easy to look at Disney Netflix and say oh, they’ve got so much money resources they could do what they want. Not true so once Walt went bankrupt in 1940 The Bank of America bailed him out. Reed Hastings was working out of the garage in 2005. But I’ll give you a small example to bring it to life.  There was a company in Great Britain in the 1970s you can make glasses that we drink out and they noticed there was too much breakage when the glasses were being wrapped and shipped so they went down to the shop store and watch them and then listed the rules. 26 employees carry 12 glasses into a box, glasses decorated by corrugated cardboard, glasses being wrapped individually in newspaper, all employees read the newspaper. So, somebody asked a relatively provocative volume question. What if we poke their eyes out. That’s against the law. And it’s not very nice, but because he had the courage to ask the provocative question, the more provocative you’re what if question the further out of your river of thinking you will get. The lady next to him said why don’t we just hire blind people. So, they did. Their production went up 26% breakage went down 72%. And the British government gave them a 50% salary subsidy for hiring people with disabilities. So that’s what if does all and it’s very good. 

The other one that’s really good is how else. How well can I get you to stop thinking as you always think you can get you to think differently. I’m going to start a project and you, and I are going to go into business. We’re going to open a car wash together. Okay, so now tell me the three or four essential things will have to put into the car wash.

Sabba: A machine to be able to wash the cars and we’ll need some people to help with just the people, some kind of payment service, and some kind of like fun waiting area while people are waiting for their card. Okay.

Duncan: Okay, so we’ve got a machine. We’ve got people, we’ve got the cash register. Okay, good. Well screw that. I’m actually coming to Santa Clara and you and I are going to invest in an auto spa. Now, what could we, what could you what could we put?

Sabba: We could put a place for people to relax.

Duncan: What else? What else?

Sabba: Massage room Jacuzzis. Aromatherapy believe in less than 10 seconds I took you out of your river of thinking and all I did was call it an auto spa and you went immediately to the masseuse and aromatherapy and Walt was the genius at expressing the challenge. He said we will not have any customers in our park we will only have guests. We will not have any employee will only have cast members. And when that simple expression of the challenges created a level of hospitality that has never been replicated on never been duplicated at any moment in time. In 2011 if we said how might we make more money, which is what most companies do need to we would have put the gate price up at Disney World by 3%. People would have grumbled we would have made a fortune as well. But instead by using design thinking being consumer centric we said how might we solve the biggest consumer pain point where we all know the biggest pain points are going to be standing in line. So, we said what if there were no lines? Well what if we eliminated the front desk to our hotel? What if we took away the barrier the entrance? What if people didn’t stand in line for their favorite attractions and character meet and greets or the paper merchandise? Well guess what RFID technology has already existed for five years. We just invested in it put it into these magic bands. Now when you arrive at the entrance to the hotel there is no room key. Don’t wait to get to the park, your reservation for your favorite character meet and greets is on your path and on your magic band touch and go. I’m going to communicate with each other for lunch today. I want to offer the pickles on the side I now walk in tubs table 47 food comes first to me. How do we have our time I will make more money with my treatment centers. I mentioned that because we said how might we solve the biggest pain point the average consumer Disney park today has 120 minutes of free time. They didn’t have four years ago. That resulted in record revenues on beverage records and record rise in merchandise record return guests tend to recommend simply by not asking, how might we make more money using design thinking principles? And asking how might we solve for the biggest consumer pain point. Big data, big data, 25 million visits a year, every second of every day, but what they touch in terms of what they like and what they do, and informing the future design of all the products and services.

Sabba: That is such a beautiful story. I you know, I’ve actually never been down to the one in Florida. I’ve only been to one in California. And I feel like I have to experience that now. So you talk a lot about this idea that we’re all born with these skills, and you’ve given us these strategies and what not. For people who are listening that are maybe thinking well, you know, that’s just not me like I’m just not creative like, Oh, I couldn’t do that.

Duncan: Everybody, everybody played with the box since you were born, and you played inside that box until mommy took it away. And you used to draw amazing things. And I so I saw the little girl in the shop last week she was standing three or four places behind a mother who she was probably about three, and I couldn’t she certainly wasn’t in that shop right then I don’t actually wear the unicorn or princess but she was born with it. So be more playful. But you know, where are you and what are you doing when you get your best ideas?

Sabba: The most randomest of places like I’m walking or driving or but I’ve done this with 3000 people. If you ask people, where are you? What are you doing when you get your best ideas, build a shower, bicycle ride, walking, commuting, staring at the wall? Nobody even in a group of 3000 people have ever said at work. So think about the last big verbal argument you have when somebody was screaming at them too angry you walked out of the room really pissed off at them you went over to your local Starbucks you’ve got a cup of coffee it’s five or 10 minutes after the argument over now you’re beginning to relax what just popped into your head

Sabba: Usually like either not a regret but it’s like a calmness that’s not so calm

Duncan: What about what about that perfect line that you wish to do? I asked yes, yes. Oh my god that’s like good bad like the perfect the perfect one line the one line if I had said that had a closed with a killer. Yeah, you didn’t. You didn’t deliver during the argument you never will because your brain in an argument is very stressed and very busy and we hear ourselves say, I don’t have time to think but the moment you gave yourself time to think you stepped away from the argument or you stepped into the shower, you came up with the killer one line or the big idea. Why. Because 87% of your brain is subconscious, but when you’re stressed at work, the door between your conscious and subconscious brain is fairly closed and you can’t access 87% of the capacity of your brain, but the moment you were playful, you came up with the bigger idea. So all I do is I call them energizers, you can go to my site and look for Energizer and you’ll find them and they’re just fun exercises the last two or three minutes, so I can’t bring showers to work because that would not be that would be okay. But my job is to open the door between your conscious and subconscious brain to help you have big ideas. The moment I hear laughter. I know I’ve opened the door between the unconscious and subconscious brain. We can all laugh, we can all play and anybody says they’re not creative my advice would be go play, watch your children, im not asking people to play every minute of every day, but I am asking them to be playful when they are trying to come up with big ideas. 

Sabba: Oh and absolutely I love that I love that I’ve actually used one of your Energizer is during your presentation. And yeah, and I just I always think value every time I do because of that exact phrase that you say that when people are laughing, that’s when I know that we’re ready. And I think it’s just so true. Like we come into these spaces with a certain mindset with certain norms of how we’re supposed to behave and act and be thinking, and I just love so many of your strategies. So, if somebody wanted to learn more from you about your strategies, and really just kind of experience a lot of what you’re talking about, where can they find you? What kinds of things do you offer and I’ll obviously link a lot of your the resources that you share in the show notes below. =

Duncan: is probably the best resource. But I’m on LinkedIn, they can find me on Facebook. On my website, there’s a blog and so I published lots of stories there. And I’m starting to publish all the tools. I think there’s one blog already on What If a step by step guide on how to use it. I also run workshops, and then I also do public master classes where I’ll go into a city. My next one is in Calgary, in March, where it’s usually about $500 for the day, and people can come and they learn the entire design thinking process, innovation, creativity center, much more from me.

Sabba: If you could really comment really quickly, just on your social media and your use of it because you do a really great job of tying in not just where you are, but also just a lot of these insights that you’re sharing. Can you talk a little bit about like your perception of social media and just how you use it and why?

Duncan: Most people, including me, and use social media You say Look at me, I agree on I having fun. Oh my God, my life so much cooler than yours. That’s why we use it. But let’s not lie here. However, you if you’re in business, I would suggest you reverse those strategies. But how can I give back? What value can I offer? How can I help somebody else? The more you help somebody, the more you transform how we think about ourselves immediately and think of other people, the more successful you will be in social media and the more business you will get goes back to design thinking principles. Look after your consumer.

Sabba: Yeah, I love that the World Economic Forum actually in their latest like update on like future of jobs for 2022 put as a trending skill – leadership and social influence. And so, it’s interesting to hear your ideas about giving value and being consumer centric and taking them to that platform. Because it’s something they’re making a huge connection between which I thought was really interesting.

Duncan: Well, the other thing that I think I learned this one from my mom, when I was probably six, I would like to I never, ever, ever ignore a comment, an email, a tweet ever, that’s just rude. If you’re that arrogant piss off the planet and get off. I worked for Disney for 30 years, I ended up VP of innovation, creativity, and I would get emails asking me for all sorts of things. If I couldn’t help, you’ll get a response. My response is, I can’t help but you will get a reply. 

Sabba: And I just and you know, I want to highlight that for a moment because a really big part of this podcast is really to inspire you know, other young students and just people that maybe aren’t getting opportunities in traditional environments to know that people like you are excited to help because you know, you think about me, I’m just a grad student at USC. And here you are, like a former VP of Disney, and not only did you respond immediately, but do you want to share what you just told me like before we started recording about when the last time it was you were home? 

Duncan: Oh I was at home on October 12th, I think it was 10 European, 5 Asians cities, 3 Indian cities I landed from Bogota, Colombia at 8pm last night and I leave tomorrow at 9 in the morning. But everybody who said, Can we chat? I’ve got believe me from 9am it’s now 3pm I have not left my telephone. But why not? Right? 

But here’s the here’s my now the same advice I would give my daughter and son and have. Do what you love you’ll be really good at it and you’ll be successful and don’t let anybody ever tell you no. The first day of my career, how did I get my job at Disney when I went back from Florida, I called the Disney office every day in London every day for 27 days. She got so fed up of taking my calls. They gave me a half hour and from that I became a coffee boy. And here’s the genius that the young people have. They know what Tick Tock is. They know what Snapchat is. They know what Instagram is, guess what the 50-year old’s don’t and they’re scared but by golly, they’d love to know. So why don’t you go and be their naïve expert? Hey, let me show you how to use Tick Tock. Let me show you how to use Snapchat. No presentations, no PowerPoint, no why is it good for the business. Download it on the telephone and show them how to use it and become a close friend. 

The other one is, by the way, egos we’ve only got one let’s not pretend we have, right. And when you’re an executive chances are your ego is bigger than everybody else’s. And so, all you have to do this is this is an easy trick is write to David and, David. I can’t believe you are where you are today, I so admire what you’ve done, would you mind having a cup of coffee, tell me how you got where you got. I’m telling you, they’re gonna do it. Because they’ve gotten an ego. And you will meet executives that you would never get to meet otherwise. But here’s the thing. I did eight subjects at school I did the English language English literature, chemistry, biology, math, history, can’t remember what else where I crap at math crap at biology crap at science. I was really good at history. I was really good at art. I love mad idea. I’m really good at mad ideas. Because I love it. What if you do you love you’ll be good. Do what you love, and you’ll be good.

Sabba: Fantastic. Duncan, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with all of us today. And we’re so excited to follow you and to keep exploring and building and nurturing our curiosity and our creativity with these wonderful tools that you shared. So, thank you so much.

One of my favorite quotes from Walt Disney is we keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things because we’re curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. It’s a quote that immediately came to mind and hearing Duncan talk about the importance of asking why. It’s a question we love to ask when we were younger, that many of us slowly grew out of at the heart and center of the design thinking process is the practice of empathy. Empathy empowers us to move away from judgment and towards understanding that Ultimately helps us generate new insights. So, we can become better at designing the products, services and experiences or anything. It is really that we’re designing my greatest takeaway from the art of practicing empathy and asking why is that when we begin with empathy, what we think is often challenged by what we learn. I hope this episode inspires you to once again begin asking why. And the 2020 is the start of a decade, where you begin to open new doors and do new things. Knowing what brings you here hearing from you about what resonated, what specific ideas you enjoyed, and what questions you still have helps me design and deliver episodes that will be a value to you week after week. I encourage you to reach out to me and the guests that come on the show. I’ll be tagging our handles all in the show notes below along with other resources that Duncan shared. Tagging people online or sending a DM is a great way for you to spread kindness build your network and continue the conversation with people you’re learning from on this podcast. You heard from Duncan about how much he enjoys responding to those who take out the time to message him. So you can trust me when I say it absolutely make someone’s day when you tell them about the impact that they’ve had. Not to mention the influence that can have on your career. You never know which conversations will lead to what opportunities. The work I do is driven by a quote I once heard from William Gibson. He says the future is here. It just isn’t evenly distributed. Leaving a review for the podcast helps others learn about the show, giving them the gift of knowledge and allowing this community to help share ideas and opportunities others may not even know exist. Thanks everyone for listening, and I look forward to seeing you next week on another episode of sprint to success.

I’m Sabba.

I believe that the future should be designed. Not left to chance.

Over the past decade, using design thinking practices I've helped schools and businesses create a culture of innovation where everyone is empowered to move from idea to impact, to address complex challenges and discover opportunities. 

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