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The dreamer, the realist and the critic

Gordon, Bart and Espen combined to represent the dreamer, the realist and the critic.

The ultimate creative genius...

Walt Disney: visionary, creative genius, anti-Semite… Whatever you may think of him, I’m sure we can all agree that he was one hell of an entrepreneur. Like most entrepreneurs his success didn’t happen by chance, it was all down to the way in which he tackled problems. It was his unique approach to problem solving that enabled him to take his seemingly impossible ideas and make them happen. Of course, Walt didn’t do this all on his own, he had a little help.

Walt Disney had multiple personalities: The dreamer, the realist and the critic. It was these characters that formed his entire creative process, from idea generation to final execution, all three characters had their role to play.

There were actually three different Walts: the dreamer, the realist, and the critic. You never knew which one was coming into your meeting.

- Ollie Johnstone, The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation

Walt’s three personalities were his internal drivers, but he also used them to change his entire company’s thinking. This process helped to motivate teams, generate ideas and then refine those ideas so they were the best that they could be. Undoubtedly, this is the reason he was so successful, and if you look at his ethos in the context of a digital design agency it seems more relevant than ever.

The dreamer

A no-holds-bard, blue sky thinking, anything is possible, ideas machine. A role that designers excel in.

The realist

Someone who is more cautious and thinks about the practicalities. Realistically, how can this be achieved? This is where developers work best.

The critic

Now, I think there can be some misconception around the critic. This isn’t someone who shoots down ideas for fun, this is about being measured. The critic takes a step back from the project and asks, what’s the big picture? Is this the best we can do and if not how can it be improved? Business managers and art directors will find themselves in this role.

On the surface this might seem like a three step program, a simple beginning, middle and end where designers pass their work to developers; they build it, then it’s reviewed and finally launched. However key to the success of this process is the feedback loop, where ideas are continually examined, developed and refined.

Divide and conquer

As straight forward as this all sounds, your office could very quickly descend into chaos as people try to analyse, rectify and generate new ideas all at once. The way that Walt got this feedback loop to work was with the distinct separation of each stage. The realist isn’t allowed in until the dreamer has finished dreaming and the critic should be locked away until the realist has had his turn. How often have you been in a kickoff meeting and someone has said ‘That won’t work’? That isn’t a productive way to start a project. No idea should be too big or too out there, worry about that at the next stage.

Once all the ideas are down then it’s time to look at how they can be achieved. Now you can talk about budgets, timescales and resources. What’s realistically achievable within these constraints?

Finally take a step back, is this working? Does it solve the problem? If not, it’s back over to the dreamer for more ideas. This provides the perfect environment for such ideas to developed and grown.

Back to reality

You’re probably sitting there thinking, ‘that all sounds great but can this process realistically be implemented in a modern digital agency?’. Well first of all, congratulations. You’ve just used your inner critic to vet this solution, and second, yes it can be…to an extent.

As the success of any project realise on your wider team, it’s important to bring in the realists and the critics early on. There is no sense in coming up with a solution that’s completely out of scope. As we all know, budgets and timescales are what keep our industry moving forward. However, extending involvement to your developers and art directors will give you access to a more diverse pool of knowledge, and you never know, that big budget idea might not be out of scope after all. Maybe it just needs a more creative execution to come in on budget. We’ve all heard the saying ‘everyone’s a critic’ but don’t forget that inside everyone there is a dreamer and realist too.

So the next time you’re starting a project, keep these three characters in mind. Think big, involve the right people and don’t be afraid of a little criticism. That way a good idea will have the chance to grow into something truly amazing.

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Author: Steve Brown

If Steve were made of red velvet cake he'd eat himself.

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  1. Bart November 7, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    Should be titled ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’

  2. Chris November 8, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    We’ll written Steve, nice one :-) Bart, who exactly would be the good, who would be the bad, and worst of all the ugly? Ha, best left unsaid. Look forward to your next post Steve.

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