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Innovation Can Be Magical

January 4, 2010

“I believe in being an innovator” – Walt Disney – The passing of Roy E. Disney in December 2009 led me to thinking about the legacy of his uncle, Walt Disney. Walter Elias Disney (along with his brother) formed what ultimately became the Walt Disney Company, which created the first animated short film with a synchronized soundtrack of music, dialogue and sound effects in 1928’s Steamboat Willie, produced the first full-length animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, created a multiplane camera used in such films as Pinocchio, Fantasia and Peter Pan, re-conceived theme park design in Disneyland, and developed audio-animatronics with the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln attraction at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, among other innovative, imaginative creations. So, it’s clear that he did believe in being an innovator.

But, what is innovation? Merriam-Webster defines innovation as “the introduction of something new” or “a new idea, method, or device.” We can also use another Walt Disney quote to illustrate innovation: “I do not like to repeat successes; I like to go on to other things.”

Both the definition and the quote are pretty broad in scope, which is probably why innovation is such a powerful force in enduring. It is also necessary in all aspects of a business – product development, operations, customer service, to name a few.

Innovation is also important in environmental stewardship or sustainability. That is why it is one of the four building blocks for Practical Environmentalism. In fact, there was an excellent article in the September 2009 edition of the Harvard Business Review, entitled Why Sustainability Is Now the Key Driver of Innovation, by Ram Nidumolu, C.K. Prahalad, and M.R. Rangaswami. I am pleased that they highlighted some of FedEx’s environmental innovations, including efficiency programs, the FedEx Office Print Online service and our FedEx Solutions consulting services. However, these are only examples that the authors used to recognize the value environmental stewardship can play, rather than simply being a cost to the organization. A key takeaway is that innovation is necessary – critical, in fact.

So, it’s certain to me that innovation is a powerful ingredient at enduring or sustaining in business, including environmental stewardship. It is also powerful in general since everyone can innovate. In fact, it’s most effective when team members in an organization look for opportunities to innovate and better those areas that they oversee and know best.

Think about it – Walt Disney didn’t create the innovations listed above. He visualized, challenged, questioned and, ultimately, empowered his team to create and perfect them. I agree with Walt Disney’s two quotes above. Here’s one from him with which I disagree, however: “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.” The company’s success wasn’t started by a mouse, but by the innovative spirit of Walt Disney and his team in creating Mickey Mouse and all the other innovations they unveiled. We can all learn something by that.

Happy New Year. Here’s to new beginnings…through innovation.

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