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Creativity at Disney: Lessons from Duncan Wardle

Updated: Jul 1

Make work more fun and collabrative

I had the inspiring opportunity to listen to Duncan Wardle at the ASQ WCQI in San Diego last week. Duncan Wardle, former Head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney, follows unique strategies to foster creative thinking within organizations. I am sure his insights on creativity and innovation will resonate with all of you as it resonated with the audience on that day, providing fresh perspectives on how to enhance creativity in quality management.


Key Takeaways and Application to Quality Management

1. Move from "No because" to "Yes and": Wardle emphasized adopting a positive mindset. By encouraging "Yes and" thinking, instead of “No because”, we open the door to innovative solutions and collaborative problem-solving, essential in addressing complex quality challenges.

2. Ask Questions, Break Rules: Quality professionals often work within standards and regulations, but Wardle highlighted the importance of questioning assumptions and thinking outside the box. By asking questions that bring different perspectives and new thoughts, challenging the status quo, we can uncover innovative approaches to quality improvement while still complying with standards and regulations.

3. The "What If" Exercise: Wardle's exercise of listing challenges and applying "What if" questions is particularly relevant. In quality management, this method can help develop creative solutions to persistent issues.

4. Unplanned Collaboration: Inspired by Steve Jobs' methodology, Wardle advocated for spontaneous collaboration. In quality management, creating opportunities for unplanned interactions between teams and team members can lead to breakthrough ideas and improvements in processes.

5. Brainstorming and Argument: One interesting fact about the human brain is that it is more active during an argument, exhibiting faster generation of thoughts. Hence, brainstorming can enhance quick thinking and problem-solving skills which is crucial for quality professionals. So, let’s schedule some more brainstorming sessions on our agendas.

6. Rivers of Thinking: Wardle spoke about the concept of "rivers of thinking’, an interesting one, which focuses on addressing a topic using the following three questions.

  • What if?

  • Who else?

  • How else?


For quality professionals, exploring new tributaries and channels means continuously seeking innovative methods to improve quality standards and efficiency is crucial, these three questions are key.

Also, using fresh eyes and bravery to come up with new ways of doing things.



Applying Wardle's Techniques in Smart and Lean Manufacturing

As I reflected on Wardle's insights, I realized how applicable his techniques are to the field of lean manufacturing. Here’s how you can implement them:

1. Positive Mindset in Lean Practices: Encouraging a "Yes and" attitude can foster a more collaborative and innovative environment on the manufacturing floor. This approach helps in addressing challenges more creatively.

2. Questioning for Continuous Improvement: In smart manufacturing, constantly questioning and breaking existing rules can lead to significant process improvements and innovations. Applying the "What if" exercise can uncover new efficiencies and methods.

3. Facilitating Spontaneous Collaboration: Creating spaces for unplanned interactions can drive spontaneous innovation.

4. Exploring New Thinking Paths: By exploring "rivers of thinking," we can break away from traditional methods and find new, more efficient ways to achieve our quality and manufacturing goals.

  • "What if": What if we could reduce machine downtime by half? This question can spark ideas about process optimization.

  • "Who else": Who else has faced a similar quality issue? This can lead to reaching out to other industries or departments within the company to learn from their solutions.

  • "How else": How else can we ensure product quality without increasing inspection time? This could lead to exploring automated quality checks or integrating quality control into the production process.


Let the “Rivers of Thinking” flow!

Nancy Nouaimeh

Culture Transformation and Organizational Excellence Expert


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