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

Make employees tinker with toys

Don’t feel intimidated by the fact that Sweeney is on Forbes’ and Fortune’s short lists for the most powerful women in business, you still want to work for her — especially if you want to play with the world’s latest toys.

That’s because Sweeney keeps employees thinking fresh by sending them home with the latest technology and asking them to apply it to their business.

“It really has been a great thing for our team to make sure that they have technology in their hands and are using it as it comes out,” she says. “This dates back to when TiVo and (ReplayTV) came out, I distributed them to my [executive] team and said, ‘Take them home, play with them, understand what the technology is and does, and think about it in the context of your business,’ and since then, they’ve taken home PSP [PlayStation Portable] players, and I think they were the first kids on the block with both the video iPod and the iPhone.”

The result from giving employees the latest business technology creates an interesting cycle.

“The initial reaction is, ‘Wow this is great,’” Sweeney says. “Then they take them home and, by the next weekly staff meeting, the ideas are absolutely flowing and it’s, ‘OK, can we do this,’ or, ‘What if we did that.’”

When Sweeney passed iPhones out to her top people before they became a national sensation they instantly came back with ideas on how to get Disney in on the innovation.

“Now, you can get the ABC News widgets on your iPhone, and that really came out of people taking the phone, falling in love with it, using it and thinking about their business,” she says.

Not every business can use technology as fun as an iPhone, but Sweeney’s point remains: Putting the industry’s latest technology in the hands of your decision-makers and asking them how it can fit your business creates an advantage in your evolution.

“It’s an absolute game changer,” she says. “To finally hold it and tinker with it is the thing that really gets people thinking. I
look back on the countless meetings and conversations I had about the digital future of television as recently as three years
ago, and all we ever did was talk about it, and suddenly, iTunes happened to us, and we were the first company in there with
‘Lost’ and ‘Desperate Housewives.’ It really changed the culture of our company, and we were living that change. We
weren’t just talking about it; we were figuring it out.

“I see how excited people are by the opportunity that new technologies have given us as outlets, and the great lesson and the
thing people talk about the most is, what’s going on with our viewers. That’s the greatest opportunity for everybody here.”