From Dream to an actionable plan: Disney’s Creative Strategy

Foto del autor

By Maria Victoria De Santiago

November 21, 2022

Unlocking creativity in organizations requires both dreaming and actionable plans to develop a particular mindset and a series of tools & methods that help structure and boost innovative thinking

Actionable creative thinking

Sometimes great solutions may come up as you unlock new possibilities, and unexpected solutions for your problem arise. But, these solutions will not always apply in the context of your company or your strategy. So the great value of Disney’s Creative Strategy Method is that it actually balances this and attempts to build a viable solution.

When might you use this method? Whenever the team gathers with a big target to achieve. This target can be a dream to turn into reality, a design to visualize, a problem to solve or a process to improve. And this method helps turn dreams into applicable projects with actionable plans.

Disney’s Creative Strategy

Let’s dive directly into Disney’s Creative Strategy today. Even though it is known that it was not fully developed by Walt Disney, it was certainly modeled after his practice. Walt Disney was renowned for his talent for discovering creative ideas and this technique was defined by NLP expert Robert Dilts as Walt’s method for turning dreams into reality.

A close associate of his used to say: “There were actually three different Walts: the dreamer, the realist, and the spoiler. You never knew which one was coming to the meeting.”

And that is the core of this method. You and your teams will move from one thinking method to another: first, you’ll be dreamers, then realists, and finally critics.

Getting ready for Disney’s Creative Strategy

First, you’ll need to prepare the space. You may run this in an office, outdoors, or where you feel comfortable. Regardless of that, each thinking method will have a specifically designated area that is clearly defined: set 4 distinct places. If you are running this in a room, it’s a good idea to set 1 corner of the room for each thinking mode. This is done to help the team prepare their minds to switch thinking modes from one to another.

The first area is for dreaming (and imagination), the second one is for realists (& planning), the third one is for critics, and the fourth area is for getting the mind outside the thinking flow. The thinking methods are to be applied in that particular sequence: dreamer mode, realist mode, and then critic mode. 

The Dreamer

Why do we embody the dreamer? It’s usual that in our regular meetings and everyday work, we prioritize reality and the dreaming thinking style is silenced or at least halted. The truth is that at some point, we all know that big, disruptive, and creative ideas tend to be born from wild passionate dreams. This is why Disney’s Creative Strategy’s first stage builds and dedicates a space for people to share dreams without restrictions, without concerns about constraints, and where no criticism is allowed

In The Dreamer mode, the main focus is on raising a pool of ideas, gathering as many as possible regardless of their viability. That analysis will come later. You’ll dream of possible avenues, and imagine possibilities. Here, the main questions you are going to be pursuing are:

  • What’s our vision? What excites and inspires us about it?
  • What do we want? What are we looking for?
  • What would we do if money, time, and resources were no object?
  • What if we could wave a magic wand, what would we create?
  • How do we imagine the solution? What are the benefits of a certain solution?
  • And one of my favorite catalysts: How big can our dream be?

The realist

We move along, change places, and go towards the space you’ve dedicated to the next thinking mode: the realist. 
Now that you’ve shifted your team’s thinking mode, it’s time to think about how the team would make those dreams come true. This means thinking about a plan, step by step, using logic, reason, and pragmatism.
Your brains will be focused on planning and figuring out an action plan for your dreams. All efforts should be on constructing plans and making things happen. Remember: criticism comes later, and all ideas should be constructive. You’ll be pursuing questions such as:

  • How might we apply this idea in reality? 
  • What would an action plan for this look like? What resources do we need to make this happen?
  • What would a timeline for this idea be?
  • How might we assess this idea?

The critic

Time to swap places once more. Now, you’ll be able to let your doubts and questions flow. Controlling ourselves from contrasting our ideas with what is feasible is harder than it seems. But now is the time to raise and discuss potential blockers to turning your dream into reality, to executing the plan you’ve just built. The team will constructively critique the ideas in order to find weak points and solve them. The focus is placed on finding weaknesses and thinking about how you might solve those for the final solution. The team will be pursuing questions such as:

  • What could go wrong? What are we missing in our plan?
  • Why might we be unable to apply this idea?
  • What are the weaknesses of our plan? How might we get around the obstacles?
  • And a great catalyst question: Is this the best we can do? Are we missing something here?

Round 1 Complete

If necessary, you can re-visit the thinking modes. In the realistic mode, you’ve selected the best 1 or 2 ideas to work on. You’ve planned for them and then moved on to the Critic mode. If there’s still room for improvement in the plan, go back to the realistic mode and work around the criticism and weak points that need revisiting. If you are struggling, that’s great! It means you’ve really stretched out on what might be possible and you are playing it safe. Big Dreams might require a few cycles to get a good plan for a great idea ready. Don’t re-visit the dream, focus on how to make it happen. 

Final thoughts and tips

Most of us are currently in a hybrid or remote environment most of the time. This tool is also great for collaborative virtual boards such as miro and they even have a great template your team can leverage easily. 

#Tip 1: Setting up the space and anchoring it. 

They say that Walt Disney used different rooms to help the teams change thinking modes while moving physically from one space to the other. Set up each space in a distinctive manner, use a specific color for each board, and use different background music.

A great way to help you and your team anchor the thinking mode and the space is to attach feelings to it. Take a minute or two, and think about a time when you were doing the activity associated with the specific space: visualize the memory before jumping to the activity. For example, for the dreamer mode, try to remember a moment you were daydreaming before starting.

#Tip 2: Redirect stray thoughts quickly.

In order to ensure this method is efficient in its goal is key to ensure that each moment and thinking mode is respected, be relentless in disarming any thought processes that are not in the right mode. Let the team know in advance you’ll redirect them in case they unconsciously stray away from the thinking mode that the team is focusing on. 

And finally, remember that is key that you apply this method in the specific order stated above. That’s one of the main differences with regard to the Six Thinking Hats approach.

Thank you for staying with me this long. I hope you enjoyed it!
Let me know how your experience goes with this tool. 

Check out miro’s template: