When a close colleague of Walt Disney’s was asked what he thought were the secrets of Walt’s success, he reportedly replied “There were actually three different Walts: the dreamer, the realist and the critic. You never knew which one was coming to your meeting.”
- Walt the dreamer was optimistic – the creative, self-actualised, “big picture”, inventor of new ideas.
- Walt the realist was the practical one – the planner, the organiser, the one focused on “getting stuff done”.
- Walt the critic was skeptical – testing dreams and plans against reality, looking for gaps, obstacles and risks.
With the inclination and ability to look at a single issue from multiple perspectives, Walt Disney was able to creatively solve complex problems and consistently make sound decisions that ultimately led to his significant success.
Walt Disney was not alone in recognising the value of looking at things from different perspectives, and indeed Edward de Bono’s renowned Six Thinking Hats technique is all about using multiple points of view to improve problem solving and decision making.
We all have preferred ways of looking at and responding to things. Some of us will gravitate toward the details for example, and take a practical, logical approach to tasks – identify the steps required to get things done, establish milestones and organise people and resources. Others will tend to focus more on the “big picture” – using creativity and emotional insight to look for new and broader possibilities and identify the connections between issues and relationships.
Looking at a task or problem from different points of view can reveal new information, allows us to tap into different aspects of our thinking and experience, and in so doing help us achieve a better outcome.
A Practical Approach – The Dreamer, the Realist, the Critic
The following technique provides a practical means to apply Disney’s notions of the dreamer, the realist and the critic to improve our own effectiveness as managers and leaders:
- Create three separate spaces representing the three states of Dreamer, Realist and Critic. Ideally, create a physical space or something tangible (eg. 3 positions in the room, 3 chairs, 3 pieces of paper on which you write the 3 states)
- Move to or focus on a neutral state. Think about what it is that you want to achieve – what is the problem you are keen to resolve, the goal you are working towards?
- Once you are clear on the issue, move to or begin to focus on the Dreamer state. Apply your creative, “big picture” thinking to the issue, allow yourself to visualise the resolution or goal without constraint. If you’re finding it difficult, think of an unrelated time when you have applied this sort of thinking – try to fully immerse yourself in the memory – then go back to the issue at hand. It’s important to stay in the Dreamer state until you’ve come to a conclusion – resist the temptation to begin thinking of an idea and start pulling it apart before you’ve had the opportunity to refine it.
- Focus next on the Realist state (again, go to that position in the room, sit in the chair or focus on the “Realist” piece of paper). Apply a hands-on, practical approach to the idea, resolution or goal you identified in the previous step. What will it take to achieve it? Are there specific milestones you need to work toward? What support or resources might you need?
- Move to or begin to focus on the Critic state. Identify the flaws in your Realist plans – what might go wrong, are there threats to you achieving the plan? It’s important here to ensure that any criticism is focused on the plan and not the dream.
- Move back to or refocus on the Dreamer state. Work to identify possible solutions to issues raised by the critic. How can actual obstacles and potential threats be overcome? How can you access the support and resources you need? Are better alternatives now apparent? Remember at this point to dream without constraint before moving again to the Realist state.
- Work through steps 3-6 a few times until you feel there’s nothing further to explore.
- You should by this point have explored a range of options, identified a clear path forward, determined your plan of attack and identified threats, obstacles and measures to address them.
Most of us will have a strong preference toward one of the three roles. You may, for example be a natural “dreamer” or a born “critic”. It may therefore be a little uncomfortable at first to slip into the other roles.
That said, it will begin to become more comfortable over time and should in the end pay off in terms of better outcomes – creative, clear, planned and “tested” ideas, resolutions to problems and goals.
We have a range of programs available to help improve your personal effectiveness and leadership capabilities – call Greg Mitchell, Partner, on 0423 365326 to discuss the opportunities.