Keeping Boundaries the Disney Way

Robert Dilts, expert in hypnosis and its recent variants, has made a study of the working mindsets of all sorts of people, of the very past and the recent past. He found that Walt Disney had a distinctive way of keeping hard boundaries between stages of creativity and creative production. The boundaries protected one stage from being contaminated by others too soon in the creative process. This allowed Disney, and therefore his staff, to give each phase its due, taking a project in all directions and depths without worry about how that stage would fit with the others. However, when the time was right, Disney would pull away the boundaries and let things mix.

This makes great sense. How often have we killed a good idea within minutes of it popping up? How fast have we moved from creative vision to creative destruction brought on by the Inner Critic? Disney held off the critic (inner and outer) until it was time for the critic to enter the stage.

Holding boundaries between parts of the creative process we let our creative juices to flow unfettered. Sometimes that means keeping up boundaries for an hour, a day, a week, or even a month.  With this approach, we can: immerse ourselves in an idea; this immersion will fire up other creative insights, and, not to be overlooked, we can have time to enjoy our work.

Ideas need: space to grow; time to develop; energy to percolate; other ideas to relate to and mingle with; a dark place to incubate.

Walt Disney kept boundaries with conceptual personas in mind.

Disney’s personas included:

  • The Dreamer – the visionary who brings creativity into the world
  • The Realist – the pragmatic producer who makes things happen
  • The Critic – we all know this one; the critic refines or convinces us to dump ideas

I think his Realist can be cast into better terms:  The Builder, The Doer, or The Mechanic capture the notion that this persona puts their focus on getting things built and done, turning a vision to a real thing.

Personas of What, How, and Wait, Let’s Take a Close Look At This

The Dreamer is the what of creativity.  What are you seeing/envisioning?

The Builder is the how of creativity. “Ok, I get your vision, here is how it might be constructed.” Caution: Most of us bring the critic along with The Builder. We ask, “Do I know how? I don’t? Kill the idea immediately.” Or, “I’ve heard it is hard to build this so….dump the idea.”  Let’s keep the Critic out of the picture (boundaries, remember boundaries). How can we go about building the idea without concern? We can concentrate on the assumption that our dream can be built. Now is not the time to question, now is the time to figure how the heck the vision can brought into this world.

Enter the Critic. The Critic differs from the Dreamer (the what) and the Builder (the how) and gets into the issues of: why, probabilities, comparisons, weighing, testing, leaving open uncertainty so we might be driven to look at other options (the good side of doubt), and slowing us down to look both ways before we race across the street. Not fun stuff but must be done.

The Critic should not be confused with the painful Inner Critic. The Critic brings purposeful, healthy, and sound examination and judgment to the process. The Inner Critic brings fear, doubt, and pain to the situation that has been haphazardly programmed into our brains to stir our heart and guts when we get out of line, in its opinion. The Critic is like an accountant or lawyer at work whereas the Inner Critic is like the drunken bar-room brawler.

Doing Boundaries

-Setup a safe zone in terms of time, judgement, and even space (Disney had a room set aside for The Dreamer and non-dreamers were not invited in).

-Setup a safe zone for your builder and don’t let your dreamer come in and constantly revise the vision you are building towards until you have given a dream time to be figured out logistically.

-Setup a safe zone for the critic and don’t let it be smashed by the dreamer or builder because each is disappointed that it can’t go ahead. That disappointment can be very hostile and hostility is not very open minded.

-Set a safe time for each persona to thrive, without criticism from the others.

-Go deeper with your imagination and turn these conceptual personas into flesh and blood characters in your mind. Give them a face, a voice, a style. This well make boundaries more real and more air-tight when you need them to be sturdy.

-Set a time to mingle personas to learn what they all have to offer. You will have to revise, rebuild, or maybe, drop an idea.

For more, see:

Detailed paper by Robert Dilts on the whole Disney method

Dilt’s CD on Disney’s method and includes a guided imagination to work with each persona

Dilts on YouTube


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