Romer: Leading for Creativity |

Romer: Leading for Creativity

The strategy of hope is not a particularly good strategy for communities or companies; “I hope things will magically change” has not proven to help organizations adapt to changing business environments.

Consider the Disney model as a case study for getting it right. Disney is often considered the gold standard in customer service, yet Disney’s belief is that they have no customers, only guests. They have re-positioned away from customers (transactions) toward guests (visitors) in order to frame issues to change perspectives. Consider how it feels to be a customer compared to going to a friend’s house as a guest. This model has helped grow Disney into a multi-media presence on screen and at their theme parks.

Consider the Blockbuster model as a case study for getting it wrong. The rules didn’t work for their customers (again with the transaction-oriented customer focus rather than the visitor focus). Blockbuster, for those who need a refresher, only allowed you to rent three videos at a time; they charged late fees if you didn’t return them on time; and they required you to “be kind, rewind”. Netflix came along and essentially put Blockbuster out of business within three years.   

These two organizations provide polar opposite approaches to creativity and adapting to change. How does your company develop and encourage creativity?

Many barriers to creativity exist. These include time, risk aversion, consumer insight, and different definitions of innovation. Innovation often feels awkward, but innovation is required for organizations to thrive in today’s world. And innovation is important not only for individual businesses, but for entire communities and for our economy.

The point of an economy is to provide the highest standard of living to the most people, at the lowest cost. Economies and economic growth do not die of old age, they die from bad policy. Blockbuster exhibited bad policy due to a reluctance to change and a lack of creativity, while Disney has thrived by embracing creativity and changing the framework of how they view their business.

It is important for our communities to embrace risk in order to grow our economy and move forward. Risk is always a part of decision making, yet we always seek certainty, which gets in the way of moving forward. Big decisions – around housing, health care, transportation – tend to stagnate due to risk aversion.

Leaders recognize the traps that exist when making decisions. These including anchoring (giving disproportionate weight to the first information received and focusing on the past), status quo (it often seems safer to avoid making a risky decision), sunk costs (making choices that justify past choices and an unwillingness to admit past mistakes), confirmation bias (seeking out information that supports our point of view while ignoring evidence that is contradictory), and estimating (basing predictions of future events based on memories of past events).

How do we avoid these traps in order to avoid becoming Blockbuster and striving to be more like Disney and Netflix? Recognize these traps exist and be aware of them. It is important to focus on objectives (what we’re trying to accomplish) rather than on processes; use alternative starting points and seek out those not involved in original decisions; and we need to question assumptions.

Eagle County is primed to lead by creativity; our future is not pre-determined. We can continue to thrive by avoiding the traps and embracing innovation, which will guide us forward to creating meaningful solutions to the challenges ahead.

Chris Romer is president & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at

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