What can a necktie and a virtual reality thrill ride teach us about the power of shared language and innovation? A lot, actually!

I recently spent a week in Orlando with my family enjoying the breadth of entertainment offered by the area’s theme parks. Having visited the parks for many years, we have seen innovations that enhance our visits and continued to draw us back. This year, we experienced more audience interactions, dazzling light shows and virtual reality rides that left us a little wobbly but thrilled and running to line up and ride again. I became interested in learning a little more about the companies who bring innovations to the entertainment world to see if there might be some lessons I could learn and apply in the business of software product design and delivery. Of particular interest to me is one aspect of product strategy and innovation that is not often examined: the role of shared language. Here are a couple things I learned.

If you want to change how people act, change your language.

Walt Disney was one of the greatest innovators of the entertainment industry. A wealth of books, articles, and films document his many contributions and inspirational quotations.   One of the innovation lessons we can take from his work illustrates the use of shared language.  If you want to innovate, change the words to describe the work or product and create a shared language for innovation. Disney parks are about creating great stories and the teams who do that work have a shared language.

Walt Disney trademarked “Imagineering” as part of the name of the group of people who design and build the theme parks and other entertainment venues.  Group members are called “Imagineers”.  Some other terms associated with the work of Disney Imagineers include:

“Blue sky speculation” – ideas without limits

“Eyewash” –  start the process with the boldest and wildest idea and present it with attention to the minutest details

“Plussing” – evolving the work to demonstrate continued improvement always room

“Weenies” –  a structure that draws guests to it by being visually impressive

“Audio-animatronic” – robots with voice/music sequenced movements

Employees at Disney parks are “cast members” and those who wear the character costumes do not ‘play’ the characters, but ‘hang out’ with the characters. Walt Disney said, “Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating those who work with me and aiming their efforts at a certain goal.” Cultivating a shared language in his team of Imagineers may have been one of the many techniques he used to accomplish that.

If you want to change how people think, incorporate an image into your shared vocabulary.

If you’ve ever ridden on a virtual reality or special effects attraction, chances are you’ve experienced Dynamic Attractions’ technology. Their history is a study in innovation itself. Dynamic Attractions has a shared language for describing new special effects elements invented by their teams such as the Track Drop™, Side Slide™, Tilt and Drop™ and many more. They’ve created new phrases to describe their innovative new attractions like the SFX Coaster™, Flying Theatre™, and Circulation Theatre™.

They have had great success across the board, but I’d like to focus on their 2015 launch of an initiative called Unlimited Attractions™.  The company was expanding the focus of their work from the ride itself to the broader experience of an attraction. They created a triangular shaped logo to represent the concept of three main elements: storytelling, engineering, and business development. The company uses this triangle image to change how people think about their company both internally and externally. They established a new 3-person executive team where each person is an expert in one of the 3 elements.

President and CEO Guy Nelson refers to the team as the Dynamic Trio on their website.   In an interview, one of the three executives, Michael Haimson, VP Technical Development, stated, “The triangle represents our three-sided approach and applies in many ways.  It references time/budget/quality, show/ride/integration and client/vendor/guest.  Even our conference room table is triangular because this allows for the best balance between screen, presenter and audience.”

Members of the executive team tie their neckties in a unique trinity knot whose triangle shape echoes the company’s 3-sided strategies. On their website, they note that “triangular thinking is part of everything we do at Dynamic”. They believe the key to their successful approach is carefully balancing the time, money, and quality to provide the best total show, ride, and integration available in the industry.

If you want to change your approach, it’s time to start thinking about using a shared language. 

So, the next time you are starting a new product strategy or building a new approach, take some time to think about how you can begin to use a shared language. Start with common words and a unifying image. You may have to make up some of these words and repeat them through different communication channels, but perseverance is key. Continuously model and encourage behaviors that build and reinforce your product vision.  With commitment and consistency, a shared language will enable you to change how your teams, clients and the market think about your product and your company.

Stay tuned for my next article where I will share more details about exactly how you can create a shared language for your organization!

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