How Disney's brainstorming camps deliver innovation

Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

In the movie Big with Tom Hanks, a 12-year-old (suddenly stuck in the body of a 35-year-old) single-handedly transformed the corporate culture of a fictional toy company. Without even realizing it, he walked into a highly controlled, highly political, bean-counting environment and upended it with constant experimentation and desire to maintain close identity with the customer.

Life imitates art, and apparently, an off-the-charts approach is working well for one of the world's premier toy manufacturers. An article in the latest issue of BusinessWeek describes how the leaders of Disney's toy division have developed a method of bringing together employees and partners from all levels for informal brainstorming gatherings that result in new innovations for a fickle and fast-changing market.

According to the report, groups of 50 various selected employees and partners assemble 20 to 30 times a year for two-or-three-day brainstorming sessions at hotels around the world. The groups include Disney designers, engineers, artists, salesmen, animators, video game designers, marketers, and theme park employees, who are partnered with their counterparts from licensee companies.

The sessions start off with "icebreaker" activities, which include fun and games to help the participants decompress and get comfortable with one another. This is followed by one-hour brainstorming sessions, followed by prototyping sessions with Disney artists.

After the prototyping, the teams make their product pitches. The goal of these brainstorming camps, say Disney toy executives, is to leave with at least five to 10 actionable ideas. And the sessions are working. Overall, Disney's Consumer Products group has doubled its revenue to $30 billion over the last five years — much it fueled by double-digit growth in the toy division.

In this case, Disney's toy division is a company that walks the walk. A lot of organizations talk about their commitment to innovation, but expect results within tightly controlled, hierarchical settings -- such as the toy company in Big.  Informal brainstorming sessions such as those held by Disney help take people out of structured settings and give them an opportunity to express and run with new ideas and approaches.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards