How Anne Sweeney sparks employees to find the next great innovation at Disney Media Networks

Anne Sweeney likes to think about how taking a risk on a cartoon mouse can turn into a $35.5 billion entertainment juggernaut.

That keeps Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president, Disney-ABC Television Group, from getting a big head
about how Disney and ABC programs like “Hannah Montana” and “Grey’s Anatomy” have taken over the television world. Instead, she focuses on how The Walt Disney Co. was created by a man with the ingenuity to borrow $500 to start a company in his uncle’s garage with nothing but a few drawings.

“That’s really how the company started was with great risk and seizing opportunity, being experimental,” Sweeney says. “You have to look back at Walt Disney and think, why did he believe that theme parks for families would work, why did he believe that these little animated films that starred a mouse would captivate people? Everyone that signs up to work for Disney has signed up to be an innovator and has signed up to explore new tasks.”

So Sweeney, who is responsible for the entirety of Disney’s global entertainment and news television properties — which
includes, among other things, the ABC Television Network family — has pushed the envelope by growing through innovation.
Disney has stayed ahead of the consumer curve, creating outlets for its programming through high-tech toys, like iTunes and its own Web content, while also expanding franchising capabilities.

“I decided a long time ago that not only is change good, but I’m not afraid to change,” she says. “I think the greater danger for companies and human beings is not making the changes and maintaining the status quo.”

Refusing the status quo has kept Disney surging forward. Since Sweeney took her role in 2004, her group has exploded, growing from $11.2 billion in ’04 to more than $15 billion in ’07, equaling roughly 42 percent of Disney’s overall revenue.

Keeping the momentum behind that much growth isn’t easy, so Sweeney is constantly pushing new angles for fresh ideas on what consumers want next. Here are a few strategies Sweeney uses to keep that mentality.