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99U Conference

Duncan Wardle: When Getting Outside Your Comfort Zone Means Saying Goodbye to the Corporation

The 2018 99U Conference theme is about overcoming creative challenges, so we’re asking our speakers and breakout session leaders to reflect on a pressure-cooker moment and share how they navigated it.

Duncan Wardle spent 30 years at Disney, ultimately as Head of Innovation & Creativity. While anyone else would be happily contemplating their pension, Wardle left the cushion of corporate America to strike out on his own, coaching companies on cultures of creativity. Wardle will be hosting a breakout session at the 10th Annual 99U Conference taking place May 9-11 in New York City. Since our 2018 conference is all about overcoming creative challenges, we asked Wardle to reflect on a moment when he faced a tough decision and how he pushed through.

“My most daunting challenge was walking away from Disney last year, after 30 years. The moment of realization came when they handed me the bronze Jiminy Cricket Statue for 30 years of service. I had always preached getting out of your own expertise, trying something new, being brave. But I realized that I hadn’t really ever stepped out from my own comfort zone. If I was going to do it, now was the time.

I looked at a few in-house roles and was approached for a few. But one of the key challenges you face is: the more senior you get inside any organization, the more you manage the politics, not the work. I left Disney to create my own startup, helping companies embed a culture of creativity throughout their organization.

The first few months were completely terrifying. I was starting from zero as an entrepreneur after 30 years inside the safety of a corporation. The whole time, I was thinking to myself, ‘I’m bloody mad!’ My greatest fear was: would companies and agencies hire me?

I confess it took longer than I thought, but the last few months, things have taken off. I’m on a mission to prove to everyone that they are creative and give them tools to think creatively. I wake up most days 50% excited and 50% terrified. I think that’s a really good place to be.

It’s very early days. I’m still finding my way. But I learned that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams. It sounds cliche, but you only get one life. So, as Marc Anthony would say, ‘Do what you love and you’ll never work another day.’”

See Duncan Wardle along with more creative leaders, entrepreneurs, and artists, at the 10th Annual 99U Conference.

More Posts by Emily Ludolph

Emily Ludolph is a director at West Wing Writers. She has published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Artsy, Airmail, Eye on Design, JSTOR Daily, Quartz, Narratively, TED Online and Design Observer. 

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