Monday, August 13, 2012

Waterpark Innovation

Both July and August issues of Park and Recreation Magazine have had articles that highlighted some of the innovative work the Northern Virgina Regional Park Authority has done with their five waterparks. Innovation is a big part of most successful organizations and it certainly is a part of the NVRPA success story.

August 2012 issue features innovation in aquatics:

The Experience Economy

Gilbert credits this strategic mindset with the recent success of three of Northern Virginia’s aquatic facilities, which, since renovations in the late 2000s, have recovered costs and generated revenues on an increasing basis. By taking advantage of the Blue Ocean Strategy (developed by Chan Kim and RenĂ©e Mauborgne), his agency created new market space targeting a specific set of decision makers—children ages 4 to 10.

For example, at Pirates Cove Waterpark in Lorton, Virginia, features such as water cannons and dumping buckets are presented with a thoroughly integrated pirates theme. Children can enjoy murals, play on a ship, and dig for “treasure”—medallions they can trade for trinkets at a treasure chest. Gilbert says the iconic images and fixtures, some visible from the road, create a sense of adventure that can’t be replicated. “The experience starts long before you get inside,” he states.

July 2012 issue featured general innovation within the field of Parks & Rec. and highlighted some of NVRPA's waterparks.

Nurturing Innovation

Innovative initiatives like Schwerner’s require an organizational culture that values and nurtures new ideas.

Paul Gilbert, executive director of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA), says this precept is more than just common sense—it is backed by libraries of leadership research. Gilbert, who teaches a course on organizational innovation within George Mason University’s Parks, Recreation, and Leisure Studies department, offers his students digests of research findings on leadership and innovation.

“In study after study,” he says, “when leadership shows that they are not interested in new ideas, innovation shuts down. Why should you? It’s not going to be rewarded….I think organizations can get stuck in the status quo without even knowing it.”

Conversely, when an organization actively encourages and rewards groundbreaking ideas, innovation tends to thrive and become the norm. Gilbert takes lessons from all this research: Under his leadership, NVRPA has formally identified innovation as one of the organization’s core values. And tangible incentives, such as annual employee recognition awards, are based upon demonstrations of innovative thinking. Gilbert says that when core values lead to new ways of thinking, fresh ways of doing business become more and more apparent. He offers NVRPA’s approach to revenue as an example:

“For quite awhile, we thought that to generate any new revenue we had to build a new facility. That was the only choice. What we realized is that that’s just one out of a number of avenues. You can actually do a whole lot in thinking about the customer and their experience and adding more onto it.”

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