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Michelle PW : What we can learn from Disney

Becoming more creative — what we can learn from Disney

By Michele Pariza Wacek

When you think about the legacies Walt Disney left us, do talking mice and a multigizillion dollar company come to mind? Actually, those are only the products of his prodigious and rich creativity ­ dig deeper and you start to realize one of the most intriguing heritages Disney left was his processes.

Disney was a creative and problem-solving genius. He knew how to make fantasy come alive in the minds and hearts of millions of people around the world. He employed several techniques to do this, but one of the most interesting is his ability to seamlessly slip into different creative "people" or "roles."

The dreamer, the realist, the critic

One of Disney's coworkers once said: "There were actually three different Walts [and] you never knew which one was coming to your meeting." Robert Dilts, a scientist who studied Disney, called the three different Walts "the dreamer, the realist and the critic." Each persona had a specific role in the creative process, and only together did it become "Disney magic."

Dream a little dream — The dreamer

Roger von Oech, creative consultant and author of A Kick in the Seat of the Pants, actually divides the dreamer into two different roles. The explorer, where you search for tidbits of information and interesting facts, and the artist, where you rearrange all the different pieces of information to make new and interesting patterns.

Being the dreamer means you let your imagination go wild ­ combine random thoughts in new and unusual ways; ask what if?; try every possibility then think of a few more. There are no stupid ideas at the dreamer stage ­ every idea has some possibility, no matter how remote.

Now for the real world — The realist

That idea may sound good on paper, but how do you make it come to life? That's what the realist does. The realist, or warrior in von Oech's language, figures out a way to implement the idea — after all, it doesn't do a lick of good lying flat on the paper.

But is it any good — The critic

Okay, you've thought of a new and unusual idea and you've figured out a way to make it work. Now, the question you have to ask yourself is should you? Here's the place where you can finally label all those ideas as being really cool or really stupid. Von Oech also called this persona judge. Evaluate the idea, look for drawbacks and benefits and critically weigh the evidence — only then will you know if it's worth pursuing or not.

How can I get all this to work in my life?

Say you're looking for a new way to market your business, or you're trying to figure out a way to beat the competition, or you need a new sales tactic. Whatever your business problem, you can use these techniques to fire up your creativity.

Bryan W. Mattimore, creative consultant and author of 99% Inspiration: Tips, Tales and Techniques for Liberating your Business Creativity (where, incidentally, he goes into much more depth on Disney's creative process), recommends setting up three different rooms — a dreamer room, a realist room and a critic room. When you want to take on a different persona, you go into a different room.

Don't have three rooms? Why not put three chalk marks on the floor? This exercise, taught to me by Organizational Consultant Tracy Puett, has you physically moving to a different circle on the floor depending on which role you want to invoke. The physical act of moving helps many people take on the different persona.

Or, a third possibility invented by creativity expert and author Dr. Edward DeBono is to use different colored hats. Each color represents a different persona. When you want to think like that persona, put on a different hat. You can even add additional colors for other moods, such as feeling an emotional point of view, if you want.

But, the real point of creativity is to try to break the mold. Once you're able to step out of habits and old ways of thinking, then you're ready to let your creativity soar. •

Copyright 2004 Michele Pariza Wacek.

Michele Pariza Wacek Michele Pariza Wacek owns Creative Concepts and Copywriting, a writing, marketing and creativity agency. More »