How Merlin Entertainments Have Embraced A Culture Of Innovation

Interview with Andreia Vaz, Senior Creative Director for Merlin Entertainments


Ahead of her presentation at our Chief Innovation Officer summit, April 25 & 26 in London, we sat down with Andreia Vaz to talk all things innovation.

Andreia Vaz is Senior Creative Director at Merlin Magic Making, the global creative hub for Merlin Entertainments. She is responsible for the new product development pipeline and the mid-term innovation for the Midway Existing Estate division. With a Masters in Marketing & Advertising, Andreia’s experience has focused on entertainment and social industries such as Media, Telecommunications, Spirit Drinks and Family Attractions and created new product experiences across a diverse range of channels, from short term to futures innovation. Currently, her focus goes into inspire the “freshness cupboard” of the creative team to deliver the unimaginable.

How do you encourage a culture of innovation at Merlin Entertainments? Do you have any tips on creating a workplace that encourages innovation?

Innovation is very much ingrained at Merlin Magic Making across all of our specialist teams – from Creative to Production and Build. We are always finding new ways of doing things. It all starts with our mindset of being agile and efficient in order to deliver the best memorable consumer experiences to our guests.

The key to everything we do is to keep our 'freshness cupboard' full.

Every Quarter we have a 'Creative Day Out' for the whole team, where we do random activities that push us to do things sideways. From Toy Fairs to Build Play Machines in workshops.

I take my team every month to an 'Ice Cream Day' where we normally pick 1 activity (be it an exhibition or an immersive event) that we experiment and we take provocations away for our work but we also have fun, which is key to letting our brains think differently and later make connections.

We do other things such as Thinkubators or Brain Dumps. Overall, promoting 'headspace' is key to let innovation flourish.

Do you think established organizations should be aiming for a startup mentality in order to embrace innovation?

Absolutely. I think Merlin Magic Making and especially our Creative team are lucky because we have that mindset. We operate as a separate global team outside of the normal operational business, which gives us some space to do things differently without being stuck in too many constraints.

Our agility, our love and passion for what we do, and our willingness to fail (and succeed of course!) plays a key role in that. We create 'space' to do things in a different way and approach problems from different angles. We cannot do it always, but most of the times we instill this focus.

What are the biggest traps organisations fall into when it comes to implementing an innovation program and how can they be avoided?

In my view, it is all about 'time to market balance'.

Sometimes, companies want to launch new ideas too quickly and the product (or innovation) is not ready. Sometimes, companies take too long to get it perfect and that’s not good either. For me, it's critical to judge the right time to market, to test and launch something new.

This can be avoided in a few ways (which are not always easy to spot).

First, by aligning the key stakeholders on what 'good looks like' when going to market, so when the judging time comes it’s easy to make the right decision.

Second, on defining what 'good looks like', each company will have their criteria, but from my experience most of the time it's about having a fully functioning prototype that allows the company to test and learn about the consumer’s usage and enough flexible to make changes that will allow scalability.

Good innovation management is critical at this point to moderate this process. If these two are done right, implementing innovation will become much easier.

What do you think will be the next disruptor in the entertainment industry?

Technology will definitely play a massive role in how people experience emotions, feelings and the space around them, which in our business of location based entertainment is key.

The evolution of technology wired to our brains (from VR, MR, AI, algorithms that memorize the responses of your brain and wire them to devices, etc) will massively transform the way people live a memory and keep one. Connecting that with unexpected, unimagined physical worlds and a story, will make people want to go out and have unmissable experiences.

I think the onus on us, as an industry, will be on how we will join up those 3 elements (tech, physical spaces and story) of the new paradigm of location based entertainment and make it successful.

How do you prepare for disruption?

Mindset. We are constantly prepared for disruption. As so many things can happen within our scope of action in creativity, in experiential design, we are always prepared.

Of course, most of what we do is controlled and happens in a controlled environment, but we think that a bit of chaos is key to delivering the unimagined and I’ll uncover a bit more about this in my talk.

How is the nature of innovation and organisations' approaches to it, set to evolve over the next five years?

Innovation is simply becoming foundational in every company. Whilst in the past, it was something that companies had to plan and push forward, it is now a foundation in every part of every company: from innovating in marketing, to innovating in product, to processes - even in the work place.

Companies are becoming more aware that for 'change' to happen, certain conditions need to be in place and companies are altering their mindset and culture to achieve this.

In my view, I think 'innovation' will be a default mind-set. Special, small, nimble teams will be created to tackle innovation problems and people will vary from project to project; these teams will be flexible on location in order to fill their 'freshness cupboards' all the time.

Prototyping quickly, as small-scale entrepreneurs, will be key, especially for big companies. The teams will have a mix of external people too, where different expertise’s are at play and possibly even operate with their own P&L to play with mini projects.

Finally, I think there will be no barriers within industries and companies will possibly start to employ people from other companies for shorter periods of time in order to develop breakthrough innovations and cross fertilize. (See for example Netflix changing the paradigm of Hollywood & VOD/TV and creating their own industry on the back of it).

Hear Andreia's presentation 'Merlin Magic Making and the beauty of 5% chaos rule' at our Chief Innovation Officer summit, April 25 & 26 in London.

Coding small

Read next:

The Advantages Of Low Code Platforms