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Walt Disney’s Creative Thinking Technique


Walt Disney was a high school dropout who suffered several business disasters and bankruptcy. He overcame his personal and financial challenges by using his imagination to create an entertainment empire that has touched the hearts, minds and emotions of all of us.

His summarized his creativity in one word: Imagineering. The term “Imagineering” combines the words imagination and engineering. Imagineering enabled him to transform the dreams, fantasies and wishes of his imagination into concrete reality.

Disney’s thinking strategy involved exploring something using three different perceptual positions. An insight into these positions comes from the comment made by one of his animators that:

“…there were actually three different Walts: the dreamer, the realist, and the spoiler (critic). You never knew which one was coming into your meeting.”

Disney’s thinking technique synthesized three different strategies:

The dreamer, realist, and the critic.

  • A dreamer without a realist is often not able to translate fantasies into tangible reality.

  • A dreamer and critic become engaged in constant conflict.

  • A dreamer and realist can create things but find that a critic helps to evaluate and refine the final products.

Following are descriptions of each strategy:

DREAMER. A dreamer spins innumerable fantasies, wishes, outrageous hunches and bold and absurd ideas without limit or judgment. Nothing is censored. Nothing is too absurd or silly. All things are possible for the dreamer. To be the dreamer, ask: If I could wave a magic wand and do anything I want – what would I create? How would it look? What could I do with it? How would it make you feel? What is the most absurd idea I can conceive?

REALIST. The realist imagineers the dreamer’s ideas into something realistic and feasible. He would try to figure out how to make the ideas work and then sort them out in some meaningful order. To be the realist, ask: How can I make this happen? What are the features and aspects of the idea? Can I build ideas from the features or aspects? What is the essence of the idea? Can I extract the principle of the idea? Can I make analogical-metaphorical connections with the principle and something dissimilar to create something tangible? How can I use the essence of the idea to imagineer a more realistic one?

Dreamer Realist Critic

CRITIC. The critic reviews all the ideas and tries to punch holes in them by playing the devil’s advocate. To be the critic, ask: How do I really feel about it? Is this the best I can do? What can make it better? Does this make sense? How does it look to a customer? A client? An expert? A user? Is it worth my time to work on this idea? Can I improve it?

Suppose a person wants a better way to keep her plants watered. The dreamer might suggest teaching the plants how to talk, so they can tell you when they are dry. The realist imagineers this into developing a fake bird on a probe that you stick into the soil. When the soil gets dry, the bird chirps. The realist refines the idea by exploring various sensors and lithium-powered computer chips. Finally the critic evaluates the idea.

EXAMPLE

Suppose your challenge is to improve morale at work.