“Always ask ‘How can we…?’” Image 1


“Always ask ‘How can we…?’”

Duncan Wardle, former Vice President of Innovation and Creativity at Disney and keynote speaker at IBTM World 2018, about the Design Thinking Innovation toolkit “What if”, breaking the rules in event planning and bringing Buzz Lightyear to the International Space Station.

tw: Your session “Think Different” will kick off the innovation, technology and creativity stream of IBTM World’s Knowledge Programme 2018. What did you learn from 25 years at Disney?
Duncan Wardle: What I learned from my time at Disney is the importance of consistently innovating and looking for new ways to leverage technology to enhance the world around us. Walt Disney was always looking further out than everyone else. He created the first animated short with sound, Steamboat Willie, the first full length animated feature film, Snow White, the first theme park, Disneyland, the first Audio-Animatroni, the registered trademark for a form of robotics animation created by Walt Disney, and the first colour TV show, The Wonderful World of Disney. He saw each advance in technology as an opportunity, not as a threat.

Why should participants get up early and listen to you, before the trade show starts?
Besides giving real life examples of innovation from my time as Vice President of Innovation and Creativity at Disney, I will also be sharing my unique Design Thinking Innovation toolkit to inspire a different way of thinking to drive change in the culture of a business, something that I hope will be of direct benefit to attendees and that everyone can use to innovate back in their daily lives.

In your opinion, leveraging creative thinking can generate far reaching and unexpected business results. Could you please explain this for the event business?
A tool that I intend to demonstrate at IBTM World, called “What If”, will demonstrate how to break the rules in event planning and build new ones. For example, one of the rules for most events today is that no major indoor firework displays are allowed for safety reasons. Well, what if that rule no longer existed? Imagine a world where you could make that happen. I believe drones can eliminate the need for fireworks at events.

As keynote speaker you attend many conferences. Do you perceive them as platforms for creativity and innovation?
I think the entire conference and events industry needs innovating. Everyone wants to be inspired and motivated, but what they really want are some tangible tools they can use to help them back in their own line of business to think differently and innovate. That is what I intend to share at IBTM World.

You worked 25 years for The Walt Disney Company. Walt Disney believed: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Which three ideas have you given life to?
I worked with NASA to give Buzz Lightyear – a fictional character in the Toy Story franchise – his dream of flying. I sent him into space on Space Shuttle Discovery. He served 18 months on the International Space Station (ISS) and is now at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington DC. It is my son’s Buzz Lightyear. I also helped launch Disney parks in Paris in 1992, Tokyo in 2001, Hong Kong in 2005 and Shanghai in 2015, which was truly rewarding seeing all the different cultures of the world enjoy Walt Disney’s legacy. Bringing a smile to people around the world is a nice way to earn a living. I created an Olympic-size swimming pool for Michael Phelps to swim down Main Street USA in Disneyland on his return from the Olympic Games. As an engineering feat, to accomplish that in 36 hours was an incredible design challenge.

“Always ask ‘How can we…?’” Image 2


... was one of the primary creative forces behind The Walt Disney Company. Duncan was part of the team that led the delivery of Disneyland Paris and Disney cruises and held several roles in the company before being appointed Vice President of Innovation and Creativity. Duncan is now an independent Innovation Consultant and founder of iD8&Innov8. He works with companies such as the NBA, Coca Cola, Ford and Johnson & Johnson.

As head of Innovation & Creativity you probably faced some barriers to being more innovative and creative at work. How did you overcome them?
During my session at IBTM World I will present some examples of challenges I’ve faced in my career and the methods and tools I use to overcome them. These include how to deal with people who constantly shut your ideas down; how to create a way in which both introverts and extroverts can participate and be equally heard; methods to get everyone to think in an ‘expansionist’ instead of ‘reductionist’ way; a study into how to turn a presentation into a conversations to create a greater level of buy in; how to get past the rules inside your organization to achieve breakthrough thinking; how to open the subconscious brain while at work to generate big ideas; a demonstration of how to get people to think differently by simply re-expressing challenges in a different, more efficient manner; and how and why diversity is innovation and how to use it to your advantage.

Founded in 1923, the Walt Disney Company reinvented itself constantly and aims today to be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information. Tell us: What is the secret?
The secret is to never rest on your laurels and always ask “How can we…?” to encourage great ideas. If you only focus on quarterly results you won’t need take risks and if you don’t take risks in today’s day and age, you’re gone. There is too much disruption coming into the marketplace, from AI to Gen Z; the days of a product centric approach are over. It's about deeply understanding your consumer and starting with their needs, not yours. That’s what ‘Design Thinking’ is all about.


IBTM, part of Reed Travel Exhibitions (RTE),

is the showcase for the international meetings and events industry with a portfolio of four global and regional events, IBTM World, IBTM Arabia, IBTM Americas and IBTM China. IBTM World, the flagship event, which will take place from 27 to 29 November in Barcelona. For more information on IBTM World 2018 visit

Back in 1986 you absolutely wanted to work for Disney and called the Marketing office relentlessly. After 27 days of calls you got a job... Why did you leave Disney?
After decades of working with some of the most incredible people at Disney, and the planet for that matter, I received a bronze Jiminy Cricket statue in honour of my 30th anniversary. Reflecting on my career I thought to myself, if I could do what I’ve done for the most creative and innovative company in the world, I could surely go out and do that for everyone else. And so, I left to do just that.

For your keynote in Barcelona, if you can bring with you one of your old “colleagues” on stage – Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Goof – or any other famous fictional character. Who would it be and why?
Out of all the Disney Characters I could bring with me in Barcelona, I would actually choose Walt Disney, the single, most creative person of the 20th century who has brought joy and happiness to millions of people around the world. I always look at my various roles at Disney as a guardian of his legacy to ensure we pass it on from one generation to the next. He was a constant risk taker and failed many times, but he was perhaps the first person to deeply understand what his consumers wanted. He stretched all of us and our boundaries to think bigger every day.

You can bring Walt Disney with you, but which would be the fictional character?
I would bring Buzz Lightyear as I love his attitude “to infinity & beyond” and I sent my son’s Buzz Lightyear into space on Space Shuttle Discovery. He spent 18 months on the ISS and is now in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum in Washington DC.  KERSTIN WÜNSCH