Big picture thinking

Written by
Nigel Malone

This story is part of a series of  articles on “Seven Pathways to Strategic Thinking” written by Nigel Malone, Strategy Director at Archetype. If you would like to receive a notification when the next article is published, register here.

There once was a man who ran a small animation studio. He had a particular way of working with his team. He created three rooms in the small studio. One was called the DREAMER ROOM. Another was called the REALIST ROOM. And the last was called the CRITIC ROOM.

When a new project or idea came into the studio, the entire team would first sit in the DREAMER ROOM. Their singular goal was to create the boldest idea imaginable. No idea was too absurd or silly. No idea was criticised or written-off as unrealistic. It was as if you were given a magic wand – what would you create? It was a space for asking “What if?” and “Why not?”.

The team then moved into the REALIST ROOM and figured out how to turn their big ideas into something realistic and feasible – and create an executable plan. It was a space for asking “How can we make this happen”.

Finally, they all moved into THE CRITIC ROOM, where they all played the Devil’s Advocate and tore the idea to shreds. What could go wrong? How can we make it better? It was a space to ask, “How do I really feel about this idea?”.

The longer the man adopted this approach, the bigger his studio grew, until it was the biggest animation studio in the world. That man’s name was Walt Disney.

Walt Disney’s simple, yet incredibly successful, strategy for creative development was founded on an ability to assume three different roles — Dreamer, Realist and Critic — each of which involved a particular type of thinking and action.

Disney the Dreamer could visualise extraordinary scenarios, for new business projects as well as animated films. In Dreamer mode, Disney had the ability to immerse himself in his imagination, to the exclusion of everything else.

“What I see way off is too nebulous to describe. But it looks big and glittering. That’s what I like about this business, the certainty that there is always something bigger and more exciting just around the bend; and the uncertainty of everything else.” Walt Disney

Disney wasn’t just a creative thinker. He made things happen. Disney the Realist had a phenomenal ability to motivate and co-ordinate teams of diverse workers to bring his dreams to life. He brought the necessary perspiration to the Dreamer’s imagination.

“Our success was built by hard work and enthusiasm, integrity of purpose, a devotion to our medium, confidence in its future and, above all, by a steady day-by-day growth in which we all simply studied our trade and learned.” Walt Disney

Disney the Critic subjected every piece of work to rigorous scrutiny.

“Every foot of rough animation was projected on the screen for analysis, and every foot was drawn and redrawn until we could say, ‘This is the best we can do.’ We had become perfectionists…” Walt Disney

The key point here for entrepreneurs, inventors, innovators and anyone in the business of being creative is that it’s not just about the roles themselves — it’s when to play them or, more importantly, when not to play them.

We’ve all been in that brainstorming session, with Dreamers, Realists and Critics all in the same room, cancelling each other out, and arriving at a less than exceptional outcome.

Walt knew to create truly big ideas you can’t put Dreamers, Realists and Critics all in the same room at the same time. The good news is you don’t actually need to create three rooms. You just need the right mindset, or right people, at the right time.

The point of the story is if we want to win awards and create phenomenal results for our clients, great ideas need nurturing and time to grow. That way they still stand much taller than any other ideas, even after you apply realism and criticism.

Written by
Nigel Malone