Stuttgart 19.04.2016

Walt Disney method of creativity.

In my last blog, I wrote about the need for vision to fulfil the mission. Often our creativity is confined to the rules and regulations or customer expectations and behaviour that has formed the market we are in, and of course make it difficult to disrupt.

During my management training studies, I remember being in a class of budding managers and approaching innovation management, creativity management from the Walt Disney school.  From memory the idea was the iPhone of the future.  According to a close confident, Walt said that there were 3 of him, a dreamer, a realist and a spoiler and no one knew which Walt would turn up at a meeting.

It is important to note at this point that the method was not fully developed by Walt Disney. What is great about the method is that it bridges the gap between imagination and reality. Rafiq Elmansy writes in an article for the Designorate company “The creative process unlocks the mind’s capabilities to dream and form unexpected ideas and solutions for existing problems. However, these solutions may not be applicable in reality and may not can be applied as strategic plan. Therefore, one if the advantages of Disney’s creative strategy method is balancing between both dream and reality in order to build a viable layout”.

The Walt Disney method can be likened to a kind of role play in which the participant’s fantasy and imagination is put to the test. Large companies such as Häagen Dazs, Barclays, Chevrolet, Parker Hannifin and Siemens Healthcare have adopted and benefited from the Disney creativity and management models.

So what exactly is this magical method?  The method is based on the interaction between the three different roles respectively:

The dreamer (visionary, supplier of ideas)
The realist (realist. Hands on, doer)
The spoiler / critic (the quality manager, controller)

The participants in the Walt Disney method of creativity slip into the different roles at different points in time. Disney himself was apparently an expert at playing all three of these roles, and he encouraged his employees to become part of the idea process, which at the time were unseen and unheard of in the business world.

Initially Disney had 3 rooms, one for each of the roles, each designed and decorated according and fitting to the role, hence the room of the dreamer was big, bright and colourful, full of pictures and creative proverbs and sayings.  The realist had a room with a large drawing desk complete with a large array of modern tools and aids in order to fulfil the dreams.  The critic was put into a small narrow room where the drafts and ideas of the realist were to be analysed and weak points were to be found and evaluated.  Effectively the reasons can be broken down to Dreamer = What? Realist = How? and Critic = Why? this forms a loop

However, you do not need to have 3 rooms to carry out this task.  You could use a room, a hall even a garden or open space to carry through your approach at this method. You can decorate different corners of these locations according to the roles.

The idea of setting a thinking place for each stage in the method is to prepare the team mind to switch thinking modes from one to another.

Phase 1 – The Dreamer Stage

Getting your employees or participants into the character. The biggest challenge with the Walt Disney method is being able to plain of rational thinking and setting yourself free. We grow up in a society which questions everything and the aim of becoming the dreamer is being able to follow a simple rule; Everything goes. Regardless to the ideas and suggestions of others or yourself, no one in the group is allowed to halt the process and start discussing the idea or criticising it.  No halts.  Remember the creation of viable concepts is done in the realisation and critic phase.

If we look at the illustration above, we see that the visionary answers the question “Want” so in this phase the group should be answering questions like

What exactly do we want. (let us say for argument’s sake that you are a company that makes socks) the question could be tell me about the sock of the future. There are no wrong answers here, so the want is to create the needs and the product of the future

What is the solution? These are the ideas that come up

How do we imagine the solution? This is the description that comes along with the ideas

What are benefits of applying this solution? I like to see it as what USPs can I add to my solution.

Phase 2 – The reality phase

Those who read my blog about creating visions, may remember that when one is not sure about how to achieve the vision behind the mission, should look at how the vision is broken down, i.e. how a road map is set up to achieve the vision respectively achieving the mission. The team change the space / area they are in and go into planning mode. This means looking at the dreams / visions and without criticising them find steps which could be taken in order for the dream to be achieved.

This means that the following kinds of questions are asked:

How could this idea be implemented in reality?
What would the road map look like to achieve the implementation?
What kind of timeframe would we need to achieve this?
How do we evaluate the idea?

Let us say that the idea with the socks is a sock with a material which can measure temperatures and heat the foot in winter and cool the foot in winter and can fight odour for 24 hours after wearing the socks at each wash.

In order for this to be implemented into reality, one will have to do research into materials already existing on the market, especially in the coat segment which keep the body warm but allow the body to breath

How could active cooling / heating look like?  Could the socks be attached to an element that is in the shoe which actively sends a cooling agent through microscopic ribs in the sock thus cooling the foot? Or perhaps as the foot sweats, it sets of a chemical reaction within the soles of a shoe and the sole cools?

The timeframe would of course look at what already exists? How much development time would be needed to create respective hardware and software or physics for the model to work.  Remember at this point in time the question is not why the idea could not work, you have to look at it as if you are forced for it to work and have to think from a creative strategic angle as to how it might be applied.

Phase 3 – The critic phase

Again the team is taken to a different area, the area where the critical mind is opened, where perhaps our inner selves comes into play to ask the question, which challenges are there why the idea may perhaps not work.  It is however important to view the idea from a constructive critical viewpoint and not blast every idea, but to critically look at the idea from the following view points

What parts of the idea may not work in practice?

Would could be done to counter act this?

What can the idea not be implemented?

What are the weaknesses in the plan?

It could be the case in our sock example that the critic will say, a cooling / heating system will add weight to the sock? How will the sock be washed without destroying the elements? What would happen if a very heavy person wore the sock? Could the lifecycle of the sock be an issue?  The sock could become too expensive?  Surely in summer people wear sandals or open shoes or not wear socks at all?

Why can we not reduce the USPs more to the wintertime and create special sock pads that we can put into our socks which soak up the warmth of the feet and stay warm, hence the feet stay warm.

The idea perhaps as the timeframe of ROI would be too long and therefore valuable time may be given to a white elephant project

The weaknesses of the plan are effectively that the sock has become over engineered, less can be done to meet the needs of the future customer and achieve the same level of happiness.

As discussed at the beginning of this article, this method can be very strenuous for a non-practiced team or individual, especially when and if the results of the individual roles are not significantly differentiated. I would certainly suggest that if you are a team embarking to implement this method, choose a moderator who can help create structure.  Help is especially needed in the dreamer and realist phase as we as human beings tend to question ideas automatically. In the case of teams who are well practiced in the Disney creative process, a moderator is not necessarily needed as the participants support each other respectively as each person is intensively playing the role in which his / her strengths lie.  Hence very effective and constructive discussions arise which lead to new solutions.

At Fordings we actively use the Walt Disney process to help our customers both in reaching their missions, visions and sustainable sales process.

I am very interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences that you have had. Feel free to email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and tell me about how you have introduced creative methods in your company or organisation and what it has done for you.

Author Andrew Lawrence