Disney Creativity Method for Sprints and Workshops - The Big Bang Partnership

Disney Creativity Method for Sprints and Workshops

A woman with curly hair is standing in front of a clear board, placing sticky notes on it during a team meeting. Four colleagues sit at a table behind her, watching and listening attentively. The room has a casual, modern office vibe with a large window, casting natural light over the workspace. They appear to be collaborating, such as in a design sprint using the Disney Creativity Method, which involves brainstorming and developing ideas in a structured format.

What is the Disney Creativity Method?

The Disney Creativity Method, inspired by Walt Disney’s approach to bringing his creative ideas to life, is a structured framework that involves four distinct roles or phases: the Dreamer, the Realist, the Critic and the Wise Observer. Each role focuses on a different aspect of the creative process:

  • The Dreamer is where the ideation begins, allowing for the free flow of creative and crazy ideas without judgement.
  • The Realist takes these ideas and develops a strategic plan, transforming dreams into actionable steps.
  • The Critic evaluates the plans, looking for potential flaws and refining ideas to ensure they are robust and viable.
  • The Wise Observer provides a balanced, unbiased perspective. It takes the best from the Dreamer, Realist and Critic outputs and assimilates them into a single, balanced, cohesive solution.

Why use the Disney Creativity Method in innovation sprints and workshops?

In innovation sprints and workshops, where time is limited and productivity is essential, the Disney Creativity Method channels creative energy efficiently. It ensures that participants generate a breadth of ideas but also move systematically towards a practical, thought-through plan of action.

Benefits of using the Disney Creativity Method

Here are some of the benefits of using the Disney Creativity Method.

Diversity of perspectives

The method values different ways of thinking, which encourages participants to look at problems from multiple angles. This diversity leads to more comprehensive solutions and is ideal for collaborative settings where different perspectives can lead to innovative breakthroughs.

Giving structure to people’s natural tendencies

The Disney Creativity Method structures people’s natural tendencies for imaginative, practical and risk-aware thinking into ‘roles’, providing a constructive space for each viewpoint. This separation can prevent conflict and keep the team focused on the goal.

Full cycle thinking

The method mirrors the full cycle of product development or problem-solving, from concept to critique. This makes it particularly useful in design sprints and innovation workshops, as it aligns with the rapid progression from ideation to prototype to feedback.

Iterative refinement of ideas

In a workshop setting, the Walt Disney approach offers a framework for iterative refinement. Ideas are are honed and improved on, helping to achieve better quality outcomes.

Flexibility across workshop themes

The Disney Creativity Method is flexible and can be applied to various workshop themes, from service design to product development. It provides a clear structure for ideation that can be tailored to the specific goals of the sprint or workshop.

Balanced consideration of ideas for implentation

It is a powerful tool for organizing thoughts and actions during creative sprints and workshops. It leads to the generation of novel ideas and ensures that these ideas are both actionable and well-considered before implementation.

Simple to use

Finally, the Disney Creativity Method is a simple and straightforward tool for facilitators to use, and for delegates to apply.

Disney’s Creative Method – the four-part approach

Disney’s creative strategy involves a four-part approach that Walt Disney himself leveraged to build the empire we recognize today. The Walt Disney method, outlined by neurolinguistic programming (NLP) expert Robert Dilts, uses different roles played by Disney and his close associates in the creation of theme parks and animations. The approach consists of the Dreamer, the Realist, the Critic and the Wise Observer– each offering a different perspective on the creative process.

The Dreamer phase: imagining the ideal

The first part of the Disney creative strategy is the Dreamer phase, where the role of the Dreamer is to envision ideal solutions without limitation. Walt Disney encouraged his team members to think creatively, using their imagination as if they had a magic wand.

The Realist phase: crafting a plan of action

Following the Dreamer phase, the Realist takes over. The role of the Realist is to progress a promising creative idea into a realistic plan.

The Critic phase: managing quality and risk

The Critic phase is vital, acting as the devil’s advocate to ensure a high degree of quality in the final plan by spotting risks and weaknesses. The role of the Critic is not to shoot down good ideas but to refine them, by asking and answering questions such as: “What could go wrong?” “How can we improve?”

The Wise Observer: bringing everything together

The Wise Observer stage helps integrate the insights from each phase into a coherent whole. It guides the session towards synthesis, where the imaginative, the practical, and the critical coalesce into a unified strategy or solution.

The Wise Observer is an important part of the Disney Creativity Method, particularly in group settings, because it brings an extra layer of reflection and oversight that increases the effectiveness of the creative process. Including it in your facilitation ensures that the dynamic interplay between dreaming, planning, and evaluating is productive, and aligned with your sprint or workshop’s ultimate objectives.

How to Facilitate the Disney Creativity Method in innovation sprints and workshops

Disney’s strategy goes beyond simple idea generation. It’s about embracing different ways of creative thinking. Small teams within Disney’s studios would often use different rooms to symbolize separate roles, moving from the Dreamer room to the Realist room, to the Critic room and then finally undergoing a Wise Observer stage. Each room had a different function, and it was this separation that allowed Disney’s ability to extract the best ideas and forge them into tangible expressions of creativity.

Use warm-up exercises

Start with exercises that warm up the group to different ways of thinking. For example, quick brainstorming sessions where each idea is followed by a question typical of another perspective. The alternative uses or random stimuli techniques are great ones to use if you’re short of time.

Set the stage

Start by setting the stage for your design or innovation sprint by explaining the Disney Creativity Method to your participants. Describe the roles of the Dreamer, Realist, and Critic, and the Wise Observer. Make sure everyone understands these are roles they will adopt to explore different facets of creative thinking.

Create physical zones for each perspective

Allocate different sections of your workspace to each role, creating distinct zones where participants will embody the Dreamer, Realist, Critic and Wise Observer in turn. This physical movement helps in shifting mindsets and makes the transitions between roles more tangible. If you’re facilitating an online session, use different zones within a virtual whiteboard.

Start in the Dreamer zone

Kick off the session in the Dreamer zone. Encourage participants to unleash their creativity, dreaming up bold, innovative ideas without concern for feasibility or constraints. Encourage free-form discussion, sketches, or any form of expression that captures their visions. There are lots of creative thinking techniques you can use with your delegates. Have a look at my articles on brainstorming techniques, the Lotus Blossom method and SCAMPER technique, for example.

My YouTube video on Creative Thinking Techniques for Strategy and Innovation

Move to the Realist zone

Transition to the Realist zone once you have a collection of ideas. Guide participants to transform these concepts into actionable steps. Ask them to identify what resources, time, and actions are necessary to turn these dreams into reality, capturing their thoughts into an action planning template.

Scrutinize the plans

Move into the Critic zone. Here, invite participants to scrutinize the plans developed in the Realist space. Look for potential flaws, challenge assumptions, and stress-test the ideas against real-world constraints. Remind your teams to come up with potential solutions and mitigations, rather than just a list of problems and risks. Idea bulletproofing techniques are helpful for this stage.

Bring everything together

Now’s the time for participants to step back and reflect in the Wise Observer zone. Participants should look at the ideas and feedback gathered from all three perspectives to make objective decisions and refine the action plan.

Encourage participants to cycle through these roles multiple times, refining and improving ideas with each rotation. This iterative process is essential for developing well-rounded and robust outcomes.

Conclude by asking everyone together to consolidate the ideas, plans, and critiques into a set of final concepts, plans and solutions. These should represent the best of the creative, practical, and critical work done throughout the sessions.


Wrap up by having a debrief session. Discuss what was learned, which ideas are worth pursuing, and decide on the next steps for developing the chosen concept further.

Additional tips for facilitating the Disney Creativity Method

Keep the energy high and transitions clear

Remember to keep the energy high and the transitions clear. Facilitate with enthusiasm and keep participants focused on the task at hand, ensuring they fully commit to each role as they adopt it. This approach will help your team tap into the full scope of their creative potential, guided by the inspired methods of one of history’s most prolific creators.

How to work with strong thinking style preferences

When facilitating a group with a strong preference for one of the Disney perspectives, it’s important to guide them to appreciate and use the full range of perspectives that the Disney Creativity Method offers.

Highlight the value of each role

Begin by emphasizing the importance and benefits of each role in the Disney Creativity Method. Explain how each perspective contributes to a more rounded and comprehensive approach to problem-solving and innovation..

As the facilitator, model the behavior you want to see. Actively demonstrate how to inhabit the Dreamer, Realist, Critic or Wise Observer role to show the group the kind of thinking you expect from each.

Reinforce and praise the contributions made from each perspective. When the group sees the value in different types of thinking, they may be more open to adopting a new approach.

Encourage empathy

Encourage participants to empathize with the perspective they’re less comfortable with. Ask them how someone they admire might think in the Dreamer, Realist, or Critic role.

Bring in external perspectives

If the group is heavily skewed towards one perspective, bring in someone from outside to play the role of the missing perspectives. This can provide a fresh viewpoint and challenge the group’s predominant thinking style.

Set clear objectives

Make it clear that the objective is to explore different perspectives, not just to validate what the group already knows. Frame the session as an experiment in thinking differently.

Reflect and debrief

After each role switch, hold a speedy debrief session. Discuss what it felt like to adopt a different perspective, what was learned, and how it could be applied to their work in the sprint.

Ensure creativity flows in the right direction

To prevent conflict between the roles, it’s essential to engage them in an appropriate order. Dreamer’s ideas are fragile; they can be easily dismissed as crazy ideas if the Critic intervenes too early. Therefore, the Walt Disney method suggests that one should only move to the critic room after the realist has developed a complete and viable plan.

Disney Creative Method vs Six Thinking Hats

I personally find the approach just as effective and much easier to facilitate than a method such as de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, another tool with a similar purpose.

Six Thinking Hats

De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats is a thinking framework designed to streamline discussions and decision-making processes. Each “hat” represents a different perspective, encouraging users to shift their thinking mode to analyze issues from multiple angles.

The Hats

1. White Hat

Focuses on data and information. It’s about objectively looking at the facts available.

2. Red Hat

Represents feelings, hunches, and intuition. No need to justify emotions; it’s about understanding the emotional response.

3. Black Hat

Considers the negatives and what could go wrong. It helps identify risks and barriers.

4. Yellow Hat

The opposite of the Black Hat, focusing on positivity, benefits, and value.

5. Green Hat

Encourages creativity and new ideas. It’s about exploring alternatives and solutions.

6. Blue Hat

Manages the thinking process. It organizes the other hats and ensures the guidelines are followed.


This method is used in group discussions or individual thinking to explore different perspectives, make decisions, solve problems, and enhance collaboration.

I generally opt for the Disney method over Six Thinking Hats for my creative problem solving workshops, innovation and design sprints around 90% of the time.

The key similarities and differences are detailed here.


Structured thinking

Both methods provide a structured approach to thinking, breaking down the process into distinct stages or roles that allow individuals or teams to tackle issues from various angles.

Role switching

Each encourages changing mental ‘hats’ or roles to explore different perspectives. This prevents cognitive biases that might arise from only using one style of thinking.

Creative and critical thinking

They integrate both creative and critical thinking processes. They recognize that generating ideas is just as important as evaluating them.


Both methods are used for problem-solving and decision-making, particularly in group settings like meetings, workshops, or brainstorming sessions.

Sequential process

Each method suggests a sequential process, moving from one type of thinking to the next, to build upon the outputs from the previous stage.


Number and type of roles

De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats has six distinct roles signified by colored hats, each representing a different type of thinking (emotions, information, optimism, caution, creativity, and management). In contrast, the Disney Creativity Method uses four primary roles (Dreamer, Realist, Critic, Wise Observer).

Complexity and flexibility

De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats can be seen as more complex than the Disney method due to the larger number of perspectives. However, this also allows for more flexibility, as any of the hats can be used at any time as the situation demands, not necessarily in a linear fashion.


This article is informed by the work of Robert B. Dilts and the works on Disney’s creative processes. Dilts’ exploration of Walt Disney’s strategy provides a roadmap for turning creative potential into a solid creative output. The NLP community has widely documented these principles, and they can be found in detail within Dilts’ publications on the subject, such as Strategies of Genius (1994/5), Volume 13, Capitola, Meta Publications.

About the Author

Founder and CEO of The Big Bang Partnership Ltd & Idea Time. Innovator. Author. Business Coach. International Keynote Speaker & Facilitator. Director Technology & Transformation at Port of Tyne. Leader of the UK’s Maritime 2050 Innovation Hub. Non-Executive Director.  Associate in Business Innovation and Creativity at University of York and Lancaster University.

Dr Jo North creative facilitation