His story wasn’t always so rosy. Once a school dropout, he suffered several business disasters and even bankruptcy. But despite all that, he managed to use imagination to deal with his personal and financial problems.
His secret was what he called ‘imagineering’. When he was going through a creative process he used three perceptual positions: the Dreamer, the Realist, and the Critic. All three can’t exist without one another. A dreamer without a realist frequently can’t put his fantasies into reality. A critic and a dreamer are in a constant fight. And a critic is needed to evaluate and refine things created by a dreamer.
So how does it work?
A Dreamer creates numerous fantasies and wishes. No idea is absurd and there are no limits as his imagination could go. No idea is judged and all things can be done for a Dreamer. A Realist’s job is to put Dreamer’s ideas into life and he tries to make Dreamer’s ideas work. The Critic accurately assesses all the ideas and weighs up all the good and bad points about them.
Let’s suppose you have to boost staff morale at work. The Dreamer could come up with the idea of prescribing a happy pill that makes people happy and positive. According to the Realist the core of this idea is to improve employee’s attitude and he would ask himself how to achieve it. This can be done for instance by bringing in motivational speakers during lunch breaks every now and then, celebrating employees’ accomplishments or granting time off to employees to pursue projects they are passionate about.
The same strategy can be applied to keep staff creative while they work on a particular project. Disney moved ideas around three rooms – Room 1 was the Dreamer Room, room 2 was the Realist room and room 3 was the Critic room. The Critic’s room was caressingly called “the sweat box” by the employees, as it was a small room under the stairs, where the whole team would review the idea with no restraints. Sometimes the idea would return to Room 1 for further consideration. With Disney’s teams, the usual result was that either an idea did not survive the room 3-sweat box and was abandoned, or if it met with silence, it was ready for production.
Disney’s tool has been developed as an NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) tool and is a strategy for success in any creative undertaking. Creativity as a total process involves the coordination of these three: Dreamer, Realist and Critic. It’s best if you have some skill in all three roles. Most of us are normally better in one or two of them, and definitely weaker in a third. It’s good to be aware of that fact and then set yourself a goal of developing this one skill that needs work. You may be for example very comfortable as a Dreamer and Critic (as a writer, storyteller or editor). But you may have to work much harder to develop the perspective and skills of the Realist, in areas such as technology or management. For each project you work on, you should make sure you cover all three bases. These questions may help you:
If I could have a magic wand and do anything I want ? what would I create?
How would it look? What could I do with it?
What is the most absurd idea I can conceive?
How can I make this happen?
What are the features and aspects of the idea?
What is the essence of the idea?
How can I use the essence of the idea to imagineer a more realistic one?
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?
You should be careful with mixing up the roles, though. The creative ones frequently let the Critic speak too early (before the Dreamer even had a chance to complete the initial draft or prototype). At this moment, the Critic may put paid to the work before it is even put together! It’s best when you allow the Dreamer to create a draft, and then let the Critic speak. Another typical problem occurs when the Dreamer (who is skilled at creative thinking) lacks the Realist’s perspective. There may be numerous problems like that but the key is to maintain an optimum balance between the different roles.
Practically speaking, you can achieve a lot more if you pair up with a partner whose natural strengths complement the ones that you have. If you’re a Realist, strive to work with Dreamers and Critics.
And obviously, Disney didn’t make his films all by himself. He didn’t play the three roles in his head but he cleverly made use of them to direct and counterbalance the ideas put forward by his team. When he felt that the team concentrated too much on details, he played the role of the Dreamer. On other occasions, if the team let their thoughts wander and they got lost in fantasies, he changed role to the Realist.
And all in all, Disney believed: If you can dream it, you can do it!