Improve Your Creativity with the Disney Model

In a world of increased automation, creativity is the one thing that remains exclusively human. Machines might take over the world, but they will have to be created first. Creativity, in other words, is inherently human. 

But just because something’s natural, that doesn’t make it easy. Most of us struggle with the tap of creativity, which splutters, coughs and spews but never quite works how we want it to. Entire industries have sprung up around releasing creative blocks, but, despite all this, the blocks remain. 

In fact, most obstacles which exist solely in the mind cannot be undone with outside help alone. We can go to external sources for knowledge or information on how to unblock our creative potential, but, at the end of the day, only we can help ourselves. 

This is where NLP comes in. It provides you with the tools to unblock your own creativity and, in doing so, empowers you to help yourself. 

NLP and The Creative Flow

In 1994, Robert Dilts created the now-famous Disney model of creativity. This was based on a conversation that Dilts had with someone close to Walt Disney, who told him that the renowned cartoonist and entrepreneur was “actually three different Walts: the Dreamer, the Realist and the Critic. You never knew which one was coming into your meeting”. 

Inspired by this, Dilts created a model which sought to separate out these three roles, which are all integral to the smooth progression of any creative project. In doing so, he came up with a clear solution for the problem of creative block. Here’s what the roles represent: 

The Dreamer. This is the part of you that comes up with ideas, brainstorms, and is unashamedly creative. The process is unfiltered, with no thought for anything but getting the creative work done. This is the closest to a Flow State

“A Flow State is the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter” 

– Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi, Flow

The Realist. The Realist is practical. They take the Dreamer’s ideas, and figure out how these can come true. They plant creativity into the ground, by basing it in reality. 

The Critic. The job of the Critic is to go over the idea with a fine-tooth comb. This can make them a formidable adversary to creativity. But they are also completely integral to the execution of any creative idea. It’s better that the Critic sense-checks your idea, than the world does. 

The Disney model, which is taught on Module 3 of the NLP School Practitioner Programme, is one of the most popular and powerful training exercises in NLP – and beyond!

In fact, these days, it is widely used by many businesses to help employees and CEOs alike achieve their full creative and entrepreneurial potential.

The Creative Solution

The Disney model, therefore, is essential for breaking down the romanticised myth of the creative block into an actionable psychological reality. 

After all, under this model, what is a creative block but your Dreamer and your Critic arguing in your head? 

Dilts postulates that each character — the Dreamer, the Realist and the Critic- have a crucial role to play in the creative process. Each is equally important. Problems, however, arise when they forget to wait their turn. 

When the Dreamer is at work, ideas are generated and creativity is in full flow. When the Realist is the one in charge, we can revise these ideas in light of how they will actually function in the world. The Critic’s role is to challenge the idea, forged by the Dreamer and the Realist, and leave no stone unturned. 

If that is the order in which creativity happens, everything goes smoothly. However, if the Critic arrives too early, creativity stalls. If the Dreamer doesn’t turn up at all, we re-hash old ideas. If the Realist is missing, ideas are likely to be brilliant, but completely unactionable. 

A Better Way

The best way to ensure the smooth flow of creativity, then, is to make sure that every character knows their role, and sticks to it. 

So, in every creative endeavour, divide your time into three, and make sure that every role is accounted for during that time. 

That way, if you find your Critic showing up when your Dreamer is hard at work, you can politely ask them to wait their turn. If you notice yourself being creatively blocked, ask yourself who’s in the editing room right now. You will probably find that it is the Critic. 

The Worker, Manager, Boss Model 

But dividing your time can be hard, in any creative effort, and especially if you’re self-employed. It can be hard to motivate yourself, and hold yourself accountable to boundaries. 

In these times, I like to use my Worker, Manager, Boss model. 

The reason why traditional businesses run so well, is because everyone has well-defined roles. They know its boundaries, and stick to them. 

The Worker, Manager, Boss model runs on the same premise:

  • The Worker carries out tasks set for him by the Boss.
  • The Manager keeps things running smoothly, but isn’t responsible for the overall direction of the company.
  • The Boss looks at the big picture, but doesn’t concern themselves with the nitty-gritty. 

Doing multiple jobs simultaneously is overwhelming. If the average worker was in charge of their 9–5, as well as setting the agenda for the entire company, and triple-checking their own work on top of this, they would burn out really quickly. 

Creativity operates no differently. The best way to achieve results, then, is to divide your time into these roles, and stick to them. 

A Model Day 

On a daily basis, I like to use the following schedule: 

A.M. — Worker

P.M. — Manager 

EVENING — Boss

  • In the evening , I will review the work that I have done that day, but from the perspective of my larger goals and aims. I will then set myself goals and tasks for the next day. 
  • In the morning, I will complete these tasks, without reviewing them, obsessing over them too much or falling into the traps of perfectionism. 
  • After lunch, I will review the work that I did in the morning. For example, if I was writing that day, I will edit the work that I did and make sure it’s of a high standard.

The Manager slot is also when I first make contact with the outside world, by sending emails, pitching, responding to requests and submitting to publications. Why?

Because the Worker is best suited to carrying out the role of the Dreamer, the role which needs undisturbed time in which to execute creativity. The enemy of this process, as we have seen, is the Critic coming in too early. And the Critic loves to project its own criticisms. This gives it power and authority. 

So, one way to ensure that the Critic remains in its own slot is to minimise your interaction with the outside world, the most fertile ground for projection, until you have finished your Worker slot for the day. 

Summary

  • Creativity is made up of three roles — The Dreamer, the Realist and The Critic.
  • The Dreamer is responsible for coming up with ideas, the Realist makes these ideas actionable in the world, and The Critic test-drives the ideas, to make them as fail-safe as they can be. 
  • Creative blocks happen when these roles are not kept separate.
  • The best way to keep them separate is by breaking your day up into three slots. 
  • The first slot is for the Worker, who executes the tasks set for it by the Boss the night before. The Boss works in the evening, and is responsible for big-picture work — strategy, planning, goal-setting etc. In-between, the work of the Manager takes place, who checks over the Worker’s work and sends it out into the world. 

By using these two techniques, you can avoid creative block, because your mind knows that there is a set time for everything. It will all get done. Just not at the same time. 


Sophie Leane is a guest contributor to The NLP School on Medium and the NLP School blog. You can also find her writing on Medium HERE


More About The Disney Process

The full version of the Disney Process is covered on Module 3 of our Practitioner Programme. Click HERE to find out more.

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