Resources: Blog Post

July 2, 2015

Walt Disney Had No Good Ideas

Image of Walt Disney Hollywood Star

Early in his career a newspaper editor fired Walt Disney because he had “no good ideas”. When Thomas Edison was a boy, his teachers told him he was too stupid to learn anything. Beethoven’s music teacher once said of him: “as a composer he is hopeless.”

Creative and imaginative people are often not recognized by their contemporaries. Very often, they are not even recognized by their schoolteachers. So how do businesses seeking to capitalize on the creativity and ingenuity of their employees maximize the potential in their midst?

Now more than ever, business needs to encourage experimentation and promote learning. The Gap is closing a quarter of its North American locations while sister brand Old Navy posts double its sales. Retail analysts attributed the performance difference to a high degree of collaboration, cross-functionality, willingness to learn and exploit best practices at Old Navy.

In his brilliant book, The Process Mind, Philip Kirby argues that mistakes and problems are treasures. They are the means to improve performance by identifying and eliminating hidden cost and waste in delivering value to customers.

Kirby, an internationally recognized Lean expert, demonstrates how the culture of most organizations is designed to ensure that tomorrow consistently and predictably replicates yesterday with inflexible structures, operating procedures, fixed job titles and roles that impede experimentation, learning and ultimately change.

Poorly designed operating processes, misaligned incentives, bureaucracy, and waste, particularly wasted time, are signs to Kirby of an inherent disrespect for people. Most insidiously, these operating environments breed a level of risk aversion and intolerance for mistakes that snuff out new ideas and problem solving that feed innovation.

To Kirby, people are the secret sauce in delivering customer value. Respect for people means a true understanding and leveraging of their power, experience and creativity.

Consider Disney’s experience again. “I could never convince the financiers that Disneyland was feasible,” he famously said, “because dreams offer too little collateral.”

Posted with permission.

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About the author

Tracey WhiteTracey White is a negotiator, mediator and coach who specializes in strategic planning, execution, business operations, and analysis. She combines conceptual business acumen with a focus on metrics and data analysis to support evidence-based decision-making, planning and priority setting. Her strengths include Enterprise Project Management, Workforce Planning and Balanced Scorecard.

Tracey can be reached at tracey.white(at)

Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: leadership
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