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Building a Culture of Innovation: Insights from Duncan Wardle

A few days ago, we kicked off the first of Conduent’s six-part “Rethink. Reinvent. Reimagine.” Customer Experience Masterclass Series, which you can read about here.

Feedback from the Delivering Customer Experience Magic Masterclass attendees included sharing insights from the Q&A session that wrapped up the presentation by innovation and customer experience keynote speaker Duncan Wardle.

After spending 30 years at the Walt Disney Company, Wardle, the former head of Creativity and Innovation for Disney, knows a thing or two about thinking outside the box. Here are highlights from the Q&A.


Q: How is augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) applicable to conventional businesses?

A: AR/VR changes our everyday interactions. Take banks for example. People will not go to physical banks 10-15 years from now. Look at the last two years of our lives. You used to go to restaurants and now Uber Eats comes to you. You used to go to supermarkets, and now Instacart delivers groceries to your door. You used to go to the office and now can do so through Zoom, Teams or another videoconferencing platform.

Of course, we’re going back to physical places. However, 20% of the physical market is gone, and this trend to go virtual will accelerate for three reasons:

  1. Technology — rapidly advancing tech allows us to do everyday tasks, like meeting with customers or watching movies, differently.
  2. Carbon emissions — we can decrease our carbon footprint. Five years from today, younger employees in particular will refuse to fly to a conference when they can attend one online.
  3. Safety — From 2005 to 2020, we witnessed outbreaks of Ebola, Bird flu, H1N1 (the 2009 swine flu), COVID-19 and more. Other viruses are coming, whether regional or global.   

Therefore, I would suggest building a bank in Minecraft or another virtual platform where people can bank 24/7/365 with virtual employees in any language they want.


Q: How else must companies change?

A: If your company continues to ask ‘how can I make more money?’, you will be gone in less than a decade. Generation Z wants to work for purpose, not profit. Sure, companies have to make money to survive, but that shouldn’t be their key foundational driver. Just because Wall Street has been around for 100 years, don’t think it will dictate how you will employ people and get consumers to buy your products and services.

Tying back into the last question, Disney, for example, would have gone under had it ignored some of the more recent pre-COVID 19 outbreaks just named. In 2015, many of us sat in a room and asked, ‘what if a pandemic forces us to close our theme parks and cruise line, and cancel our movie releases?’ We had to be prepared for a move that would impact altogether about the majority of the company’s revenue.

Disney had the courage to ask the hard question at the top of its game, ultimately deciding to invest in offerings that could reach consumers in their homes. Welcome to the world of Disney+ and the revenue that propped the company up during the pandemic.


Q: Can you provide a bad example of innovation?

A: One of the most successful innovators on the planet is Sir Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group.

Although he’s launched more than 400 companies under his brand, many have failed or become obsolete, including Virgin Cola, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Cosmetics, Virgin Clothing, Virgin Cars and Virgin Megastore. Yet he has a net worth of $5 billion and is known as someone who takes risks. But rather than being known for his failures, Branson is known for being an entrepreneur who takes risks.

So, the takeaway here is to give employees a Monopoly-like get-out-of-jail-free pass encouraging them to take smart risks.  Let them know if those smart risks fail, their job and salary will not be affected. Encourage them to share what they learned through innovation.


Q: How can a company leverage employees to get the best out of them?

A: Most customer-facing companies — 99.9% of them — say they are customer-first. But you must put employees first. If you don’t put employees first, who do you think will take care of your customers/guests when you aren’t around?

Think, too, about bringing employees who normally don’t cross paths together to spark an idea. Put them in an a physical ideate room and give it a playful name, like the Greenhouse. Tell them there are no bad ideas and let them create. You could do the same thing in a virtual room – let people join in as avatars and have fun while innovating.


Check out what’s coming up

Reserve your seat for upcoming sessions in our CX Masterclass Series, “Rethink. Reinvent. Reimagine.” View highlights from prior sessions and register now at Conduent CX Masterclass Series.