Advanced NLP Patterns

Creativity Strategy (Walt Disney Pattern)

Although the Creativity Strategy was developed within the realm of NLP it has become one of the most widely accepted processes and it will often be used by management consultants in brainstorming sessions and the like as it is a great way for getting multiple perspectives on a problem.

The strategy is a simple one, whereby we take three different perceptual positions to create a solution (Dreamer), fit it into the world and get it working (Realist) and poke holes in it to spot the pitfalls (Critic).

Overall the process is similar to Edward De Bonos ‘Thinking Hats’ which is an expanded model covering additional components. If you find this pattern effective and want to extend it further (with additional perceptual positions) then the work of DeBono is well worth reviewing.

  1. Create 4 Spacial Anchors

    For the most effective application of this pattern it is useful to define 4 physical locations, one for each of the perceptual positions (Dreamer, Realist, Critic & Executive) so that you can really move between them.

    If that isn’t possible then creating some other indicator can be just as effective, such as holding a particular object for each of the positions.

    The idea is to ensure that there is a separation of roles and that there is no overlap. You are trying to create clear and distinct positions that can be easily accessed.

    When defining the positions it is vital that you fully associate into them, taking on as many attributes as you can. Remember, you are creating anchors for these roles and in doing so it is best to recall times when you were naturally a Dreamer, Realist or Critic.

  2. Move in to Meta-Position & Review

    Step into the Meta-Position (the position above all others i.e. Executive Position) and review the three other positions. Understand what the role of each is and confirm the boundaries associated with each role. Understand that the Meta-Position is the final decision making position taking in all of the learning from the others.

  3. Define the Problem

    What are you trying to achieve? It’s an interesting question, and all too often it pulls us down into mode of thinking. It is key that this problem is (a) stated in the positive and (b) is content free i.e. the answer shouldn’t be in the question. 

  4. Step Into Each Perceptual Position

    Move to the perceptual positions from Dreamer to Realist to Critic and fully immerse yourself in the role. Apply the thoughts and behaviours of each role in turn, ensuring that there is no overlap.

    In the Dreamer role anything is possible, no matter how outlandish it seems. No criticism, no reality checks, just ideas. Ask the question ‘If there were no limits, what could be done?’.

    As the Realist look at the ideas produced by the Dreamer and discard the ones that are impossible. In this position it isn’t about whether the idea is a good one, just if it is feasible. Here our question moves to ‘With the limits in place, what can be done?’.

    The Critic will evaluate what comes out of the Realist and answers the question ‘Why it can’t be done?” and looks for the reason that the solution will fail.

    The success of this strategy comes from keeping all of the parts separate. No matter how strange an idea seems in the Dreamer position it must be deemed valid, reality checks and criticism comes later.

  5. Move Back to Meta-Position & Review

    As a final step move back into the Executive and review what has come out of the process and if necessary go through the cycle again until you come up with a solution that really resonates. 


About the Positions

DREAMER – Anything is possible and none of the normal rules apply. This role doesn’t conform to convention and believes that there are no boundaries and as such will create solutions that are completely off-the-wall.

REALIST – To the Dreamer anything is possible, to the Realist anything is possible within reason. Here you know that there are limitations on time, money, experience and resources, you are well aware that some flights of fancy are just impossible and so you apply logic and knowledge to the solution to fit it into the real world.

CRITIC – “We’ve tried it and it didn’t work…”, “That’ll never take off…” and so forth. The critic will tell you why any idea won’t work, they can come up with a reason for every failure. Yes, it’s a wonderful idea, Yes, we can do it, but No, it’s just not what we do. If there is a reason why not, then the critic will know it.

EXECUTIVE – The final decision maker who will choose which idea to go with based upon the input of all of the other roles. It weighs up the pros and cons and identifies the solution(s) that will actually be moved forward.

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