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To Survive the Future, Get in Touch With Your Inner Child

To Survive the Future, Get in Touch With Your Inner Child
Published April 9, 2019 by The 99U Team

When we set the theme for our 2019 conference — The Creative Future — we imagined a future where creative skills are more pervasive and prized, and how that might reshape the world around us. As we prepare for the event in May, we’re asking our speakers to share a skill they think is important for all creatives to navigate what’s to come.


After a 25-year career at Disney that included a role as head of innovation and creativity, Duncan Wardle now spends his time coaching companies on how to increase their capacity for creativity. Duncan will be at the 11th Annual 99U Conference taking place May 8-10 in New York City.

Q. What’s a skill or characteristic you’ve cultivated in your career that you find to be futureproof?

A. This one’s easythe ability to draw on the traits we are all born with. It sounds simple, but it's true. We are all born creative (remember how, as a kid, you'd play with that box your birthday gift came in?). We all have an amazing imagination (remember that crazy dream you had last week?). We were all curious once (you may not remember, but you probably spent your childhood asking "Why, why, why?"). And we are all naturally intuitive (like it or not, we make most of our decisions as consumers by going with our gut). These are the skills that will continue to push you forward in the future.

Q. Why will these skills be so important in the future?

A. Because they are the four skill sets that cannot be replicated by artificial intelligence. You cannot program creativity; you can tell the robot what to paint and it will create a masterpiece, but only once programmed. You can't program imagination or curiosity, and you certainly can't program intuition, so simply by dialing up the skills we are all born with we can become far more useful in an era where most skill sets will give way to AI.

Q. What’s a time in your career that you’ve seen these skills at play in a way that made you realize their power?

A. I believe that some of the most creative ideas are often the simplest. One example that comes to mind is when we were launching our Twitter account at Disney and I blurted out, "Let's do it with 140 characters." Everyone was like, "Duh?" No one realized what I had actually proposedlaunching with 140 actual Disney characters! So we did it. We lined 140 Disney characters to form a gigantic hashtag and took a photo from a crane. It was a simple idea that came from a place of play. The image went viral very quickly.

Wardle believes that simple ideas can be powerful. Case in point, the 140-character hashtag he helped put together for Disney. Photo courtesy of Disney.

Q. What advice would you give to anyone looking to cultivate these skills?

A. Be playful when you are looking for that big idea. For many of us, our best ideas come to us when we're in the shower, when we're jogging, when we're on the trainin other words, when we're anywhere but at work. Why? Because we can only access our subconscious brain when we are relaxed. When we're stressed, all that stimulus back there is waiting to connect the dots with the challenge in front of us, but it's off limits. So what does that mean, in practical terms? If you're holding an ideation session, run an energizeran activity that gets people thinking and moving and interacting. You're only listening for laughter; once you have that, it's a sign that everyone in the room now has access to their subconscious brain. Alternatively, you can do what many great innovators did such as Walt Disney and Steve Jobs: go for a walk!

Hear from Duncan and other creatives shaping the future at the 11th Annual 99U Conference, May 8-10, 2019 in New York City.

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