Walt Disney just appointed a "Chief Metaverse Officer". Do you need one, too?

Enter the metaverse?

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Walt Disney just announced the appointment of Mike White, a 10-year company veteran, to lead the company’s strategy for the metaverse. His official title: Senior Vice President, Next Generation Storytelling & Customer Experience. Congratulations to Mike, but what exactly does that role mean? And does it signal the rise of a new type of CMO – the Chief Metaverse Officer?

Given where we are in the current hype-cycle, from Facebook’s rebranding to Microsoft’s blockbuster Activision deal, you may be thinking that if your company hasn’t begun to stake its claim to the metaverse, you’re already too late. The fact is, what the metaverse is today and what it might become is still wildly unclear. If you’re Facebook, it might be a virtual alternative to any type of internet experience free from the tethers of traditional pc and mobile devices. If you are Microsoft/Activision, it’s a fully immersive gaming experience where the players/user become a part of the game. And if you’re Walt Disney, at least judging from the Mike White announcement, it’s a new distribution and content medium that’s ripe for princesses, talking toys and pirate-themed action-adventure stories.

👉 Want our take on the key points coming out of the Microsoft / Activision deal? Read our blog here

In the months ahead, there will no doubt be a lot of board meetings where directors are asking their CEOs, “What’s our metaverse strategy?” Take heart, CEOs, there are important lessons from the past that still apply. Think back to 1997 when boards were grilling management teams on how they were going to leverage the “information superhighway” or in 2008 when they asked about the company’s SoLoMo (social, local, mobile) plans. “Legacy” companies that have thrived in times of technology-fueled disruption develop playbooks that are still relevant today. Here are a few strategies to consider:

  • Build a “Lab.” Innovation is born from experimentation and failure. It is difficult to convince an executive or team that it is OK to try and fail when their KPIs and reward structures are based on short-term success. Established companies that have successfully nurtured new businesses and products (think Fidelity, CVS, IBM, Walmart) often have done so by creating innovation playgrounds where new ideas can germinate and grow roots before they’re subjected to the stifling pressures of quarterly results
  • Hire a champion. Let’s call this the “Mike White strategy.” Selecting an executive with the tenure and experience to yield influence inside the company but whose explicit charter is to scour the landscape for the best new ideas both inside and outside of the company. As we have seen in the recent past, roles like Chief Digital Officer played an important role in catalyzing innovation within an organization even though they later became obsolete as businesses adopted new approaches and functional organizations became digitally competent.
  • Follow Fast. It’s nearly impossible for larger established businesses to compete with the speed and agility of pure plays and start-ups. The laws of corporate physics are very hard to bend.  In the emerging market for smartphones, Samsung’s strategy for over a decade was to follow Apple’s innovation lead but use its global distribution muscle to put more handsets into more hands.  That approach helped Samsung develop a 40-billion-dollar business and ultimately led, as some would argue, to putting the company at the head of the innovation train.
  • Find Reverse Mentors. Along with experienced Champions, organizations looking to navigate new technology landscapes also need the help of their newest (and yes, youngest) employees.  Bring the voices and perspectives of these front-line staff into the management conversations and encourage them to challenge conventional wisdom and propose new ideas.

Who can honestly say they predicted that the “infobahn” would lead to Facebook, Uber, Airbnb and Superbowl ads for crypto exchanges! Likewise, organizations should not try to crystal ball the future of the metaverse. But they do need to build the talent, organizational structures, and culture that can adapt to whatever that becomes.

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