Disney CEO Bob Iger at The Economic Club of Chicago

Sometimes we look at people who are extremely successful and think that everything they do must turn to gold. We can’t picture them making mistakes.

I enjoyed hearing Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, address The Economic Club of Chicago at a black-tie dinner on Tuesday, April 14, at the Hilton on South Michigan. He told us about the creative process at Disney and the importance of branding as we move forward in a changing world.

Mr. Iger also spoke about learning from mistakes, both as individuals and as companies. “You don’t get where I am today by doing everything right,” he said. He explained that admitting your mistakes is part of the process of moving toward success, because once a mistake is understood it can inform future decisions. 

To illustrate the positive attitude that we need in order not to get mired down in our mistakes, he referred to a film that didn’t do well but was followed up by one that did. He noted that losses are forgotten quickly when great gains are made.

Disney has kept pace with evolving technology while keeping the creative process in the forefront.  He described Disney’s approach to the film Frozen in particular, explaining that instead of seeing new technology as a challenge, they chose to see it as a friend that allowed such benefits as telling a story more efficiently and making each of Frozen’s snowflakes unique, as in nature.

One of the biggest challenges that brands like Disney face is consumers’ move away from a fixed television set with limited channels to a roving set of devices with many more options. Mr. Iger noted that the importance of branding is increasing, and that we have to “embrace the change” in order to stay relevant.

Understanding differences among consumers is also essential to success. Mr. Iger spoke about the thought and negotiations behind the new Shanghai Disney Resort. He explained that, while retaining the iconic Disney characters and branding, they made adjustments and additions to the appearance of the park and specific attractions to show respect for Chinese culture.

I’m always inspired by listening to successful businesspeople, especially in the creative industries. On these occasions, I’m fascinated by their stories and also by the way they tell them.

Mr. Iger is CEO of one of the most successful entertainment companies in history, with deep understanding of the importance of capturing not just the attention of consumers, but also their imagination. He was a captivating speaker, and he gave us all a wonderful learning opportunity, with lessons that we can immediately apply to our business lives.