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Walt Disney: Survival of the Most Innovative

Disney_pirate_resortThis case study of Disney kicks off what I hope becomes a regular series on business innovation that I'm calling "Survival of the Most Innovative." (an obvious reference to the Darwinian concept of the "Survival of the Fittest") Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal (free feature) described the launch of a brand new innovation strategy at Disney:

"Ever since Walt Disney opened Disneyland in 1955, Walt Disney Co. has rarely strayed from his original vision of what a theme park should be. But at a top-secret development unit these days, the company is plotting a new spurt of theme park expansion that goes well beyond its traditional model of luring people to Disney resorts in Florida or California.

Disney is hatching plans to take its theme-park experience to the masses, rather than the other way around. Instead of building more big parks, the company is sketching out a string of niche resorts and attractions around the world. That could include such things as stand-alone, Disney themed hotels in cities and beach resorts, Disney branded retail and dining districts, and smaller, more specialized parks.

In the near term, the company is using the Disney name to expand in other areas of the travel business. For example, it is ramping up an operation called "Adventures by Disney," in which travelers pay for guided Disney tours to popular destinations including Italy and Ireland. The company also plans to build its presence in time-share vacation homes in places like the Caribbean. And it is bulking up its popular cruise line, with more Disney ships in the cards."

So, what are the takeaway lessons here from the Disney case study?

(1) Disney is not attempting a radical departure from its hugely successful theme park strategy. Instead of a revolutionary strategy, the company is hoping for an evolutionary strategy. After a series of failed expansions about five years ago, the company is sticking to what it knows best, looking for the types of new offerings that "already have an established consumption pattern."

(2) Disney realizes that it sits within an ecosystem of other entertainment providers, and must scale its ambitions accordingly. "Instead of saying where will the next Disneyland be, we need to think more in terms of where around the world we can deliver an immersive experience appropriate to the size of the market. Not every market can support a full-on Disney location."

(3) Disney examined its organizational DNA and decided to go with the types of offerings that seem to offer the best fit. "Another challenge is tailoring the niche attractions to local markets while keeping the Disney brand intact..."

And, like just about every other business today, Disney is keeping its eye on the long-term growth potential of Asia-Pacific. Anyway, instead of thinking itself as a "content machine" that must be re-oiled and re-engineered, Disney is thinking of itself much more as a living, evolving organism that must explore new evolutionary niches while at the same time exploiting existing niches. (if you haven't already guessed, this is going to become a big theme here on the Endless Innovation blog)

[image: Disney's Pirate-Themed Resort]

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