Innovation or hubris?

I just finished reading a great article by Austin Carr in Fast Company. He tells the long and sordid story of a multiyear, billion dollar effort by Disney to “overhaul the digital infrastructure” and “change the fundamental nature of Disney’s park experience” for customers. Now that’s an ambitious and exciting call to action! The article struck a chord for me because I just got back from a 5 day vacation at Disney World with my family for our Spring Break.

Disney Crowd

I’ve been to Disney parks more than a handful of times since my kids have been around, starting about 15 years ago. I have to say that I did not experience any appreciable change in this last visit that I would classify as an “overhaul” or certainly not a shift in the “fundamental nature” of the experience. I did notice a few new things here and there and was quite curious about the effort it took to replace paper tickets with an electronic pass. I saw people entering with wrist bands, but my family had little plastic cards like you find in most hotels. I found out you have to be staying in a Disney hotel to get one of the bands. Oh well. They didn’t seem to do anything different than the cards and I didn’t have the kids bugging me to buy yet another little Disney item to stick on them.

The dominant aspect of my experience was waiting. Waiting in lines for rides, waiting for the crowd to move so I could get where I wanted to go. Waiting for the Park Attendant to re-set our cards because the Fast Pass names didn’t align with the fingerprint names recorded within. We discovered this problem when we tried to split up on two different rides and we all got blue signals when we tried to get through the Fast Pass gate. We had three great ride entry experiences each day where the Fast Pass shortened our waiting by as much as an hour (down from 90 minutes to something like 30). We also had to wait for transportation… wait for the Monorail, wait for a bus, wait for a boat. All the waiting made my Disney experience something I had to tolerate on behalf of my 4-year old niece who is currently in the Princess Sweet Spot. But it did not really make me happy.

It was very fun to watch my niece’s eyes light up with all the magic, and my daughters really enjoyed taking their little cousin around and experiencing her joy together. I wonder about princesses as role models, and have some vague concerns with the Disney gender stereotypes, but I’ll leave that for another time. Mostly, Disney is good clean fun and overall I’d say I’m a Disney fan, but I was very glad when the trip was over.

cinderella_laugh

The Reinventing Happiness article made me recall many observations and thoughts I had about how Disney World seems to be falling behind, or appears out of sync with today’s ideas of entertainment. It’s quaint, it’s cute, but it’s aging drastically. In Tomorrow Land I rode gasoline powered cars on the Speedway and experienced a traffic jam as the ride ended (more waiting). My son and I sat there breathing in the gas fumes and listening to the “lawnmower” engines revving and I thought, “This is not Tomorrow, this is Yesterday! Maybe they should partner with Tesla to create a driving experience that’s ahead of our time, showing how solar power can be converted to a quiet, smooth, and exciting new driving experience. That would be cool.

I liked the Disney World mobile app for the map showing ride wait times, and a way to keep track of my Fast Passes, but noticed there was no “digital layer” where I could interact with the rides. Now that I’ve read they recently overhauled their digital infrastructure, this is actually startling. While in line (waiting) with my daughter for the Expedition Everest ride, we used Google to look up “tallest coasters” to see just how scary this might be for us. In the line for Thunder Mountain, we Googled a story on the Chilean miners who were trapped for a month, and talked about why there was a canary in the tubes. These were both interesting discussions to help pass the time while we were in line and both digital (Google) experiences were triggered by the rides themselves. I remember thinking that someone should use the Disney story telling prowess to create a companion experience. I’ve been around app building enough to know it wouldn’t cost that much to make something really cool.

At the Animal Kingdom we discovered the “Up” inspired Wilderness Explorers program. It took some searching, but we found a place to get the book and my younger kids got fully engaged in “earning” the badges. I like workbooks as a learning device, and it was cool to see them with pencils stuck over their ears meeting the various “ambassadors” who shared interesting tidbits with them. But again, I started to imagine many ways a digital companion experience could be designed to make the program more powerful and to connect beyond the Park. I even thought a start-up could have a cool partnership with Disney around storytelling and animal conservation… perhaps linking to Kiva or another micro-financing service to put wells in South Sudan. Could they connect with Salva Dut? That would be really cool!

Lastly, I found it humorous and a bit sad that you can purchase a “chip enabled” mug at Blizzard Beach so you can get an “endless soda” for the day. We tested the machines with our water bottles and found that only an activated cup will make the soda flow. I enjoy a corn dog, an ice cream bar Mickey, and a churro as much as the next guy, but endless soda is simply out of sync with public health and basic wellness. A cool digital experience, but completely wrong from a family entertainment standpoint. Maybe they could do a partnership with Fit Bit or Withings or JawBone or Nike…

Unlimited Soda 2

I did experience Test Track, and even without a Magic Band I could use my “magic” card at the touch points of that ride. It was a good ride and the shortening effect on the line was real for me too. A nice step in the right direction. But I don’t think Disney can claim victory on “reinvention” or “transformation” or “fundamental change” from their billion dollar initiative. Not even close. It’s even worse hearing that they think they are leading with creativity and innovation. They are clearly not. That’s why they had to buy Pixar. They do have a great marketing engine though.

I think they demonstrated many of the reasons why many companies fail at innovation. In fact this would be a great case study article (thanks Austin!) on what NOT to do if you want to address transformation. Starting with a leader who mandates “This better work!” and then puts executives in a “bake off” to see who will win the future CEO job, and ending with a bevy of “back up” consultants costing $100 Million.

From my cheap seats on the sidelines, I think the MyMagic+ team attached to the bracelet idea too early and then set about hammering it in to place. This was not innovation, it was a desperate attempt to remain relevant. So they bounced around with a million ideas from every direction and got overwhelmed by internal politics. Innovation requires a compelling vision to overcome that kind of resistance. Innovation is driven from the “outside in” starting with deep insights into the customer experience and emerging via a disciplined process involving intimate collaboration. I’ve talked about innovation many times before, so I won’t go into it further now.

Waiting in lines and messing with paper tickets are pain points for Disney customers, so you could call that a customer insight. But removing an obvious pain point with solutions that are found everywhere, does not qualify as innovation. It is simply keeping up.

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