What Is The Walt Disney Method? Walt Disney Method In A Nutshell

The Walt Disney method is a parallel thinking technique used by groups to analyze problems, generate and evaluate ideas, and construct and critique a plan of action. The Walt Disney method was invented by author and trainer Robert B. Dilts in 1994. It moves along three role-playing figures: the dreamer, the realist, and the critic.

Understanding the Walt Disney method

Dilts named the method after Walt Disney, whom he considered a highly creative individual who also displayed the ability to harshly critique his own ideas. In fact, Disney himself apparently once said to a close associate that “There were actually three different Walts: the dreamer, the realist, and the spoiler. You never knew which one was coming to the meeting.

As a result, the Walt Disney method helps small teams develop new ideas and solutions by adopting the various roles Disney adopted during his own creative process.

In the next section, we’ll discuss these roles in more detail.

The three roles of the Walt Disney method

Though the method was not fully developed by Disney, the method for which he is named enables practitioners to bridge the gap between imagination and reality.

The three roles are described below:

  1. The dreamer – this role is all about fantasizing. The team is encouraged to list the most fantastic or absurd ideas possible without worrying about their viability or criticism from others. What is the dream solution for the problem? What if it were possible?
  2. The realist – the realist takes the ideas generated by the dreamer and assesses them for practicality. In other words, how might the solution be achieved or implemented? How might the idea be evaluated? Can a realistic timeline or action plan be created?
  3. The critic – as Walt Disney suggested earlier, it is vital to be able to assess each idea by identifying potential weaknesses, obstacles, or risks. Critics determine who might oppose the solution and what could go wrong. They also assess whether the solution is the right fit for the organization or customer and importantly, whether it is affordable.

Implementing the Walt Disney method

Here is a very general approach to implementing the Walt Disney method for businesses:

  1. Establish separate brainstorming rooms – the Walt Disney method should be performed in three different rooms, with every room representing one of the roles described above. Designating different rooms for different ideation strategies helps the team get into the appropriate frame of mind.
  2. Begin brainstorming – for around 60-90 minutes, the group assumes the various personas and associated traits of each perspective to generate ideas.
  3. Rotate rooms – after the required time has elapsed, the group moves to the next room and assumes the traits of the next perspective. 
  4. Generate viable ideas – once the group has had a turn at playing the three perspectives, it is time to refine the list of ideas. Open questions posed by the critic regarding idea viability must be revisited by the group returning to the dreamer role, which starts the process once more. The Walt Disney Method is considered complete when the critic can no longer poke holes in the viability of ideas generated by the dreamer and realist.

Key takeaways:

  • The Walt Disney method is a parallel thinking technique used by groups to analyze problems, generate and evaluate ideas, and construct and critique a plan of action. It was created by author and trainer Robert B. Dilts in 1994.
  • The Walt Disney method is based on three roles loosely adapted from the way Walt Disney would generate creative ideas. These roles are the dreamer, the realist, and the critic. 
  • For best results, the Walt Disney method should be conducted in three different rooms. A single team must adopt each of the three perspectives sequentially, repeating the process until the critic can no longer find fault with a list of generated ideas.

Other Brainstorming Frameworks


Starbursting is a structured brainstorming technique with a focus on question generation. Starbursting is a structured form of brainstorming allowing product teams to cover all bases during the ideation process. It utilizes a series of questions to systematically work through various aspects of product development, forcing teams to evaluate ideas based on viability.

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciate Inquiry (AI) is an organizational change methodology that focuses on strengths and not on weaknesses. Appreciate Inquiry was created by management professors David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in the 1980s. The Appreciate Inquiry is also known as the 5-D Cycle, an iterative cycle describing five distinct phases, made of define, discover, dream, design, and destiny.

Round-robin Brainstorming

Round-robin brainstorming is a collective and iterative approach to brainstorming. Brainstorming is an effective way of generating fresh ideas for an organization. Round-robin brainstorming is a balanced approach, employing an iterative, circular process that builds on the previous contribution of each participant.

Constructive Controversy

Constructive controversy is a theory arguing that controversial discussions create a good starting point for understanding complex problems. A constructive controversy discussion is performed by following six steps: organize information and derive conclusions; presenting and advocating decisions; being challenged by opposing views; conceptual conflict and uncertainty; epistemic curiosity and perspective-taking; and reconceptualization, synthesis, and integration.

Affinity Grouping

Affinity grouping is a collaborative prioritization process where group participants brainstorm ideas and opportunities according to their similarities. Affinity grouping is a broad and versatile process based on simple but highly effective ideas. It helps teams generate and then organize teams according to their similarity or likeness.

The Fishbone Diagram

The Fishbone Diagram is a diagram-based technique used in brainstorming to identify potential causes for a problem, thus it is a visual representation of cause and effect. The problem or effect serves as the head of the fish. Possible causes of the problem are listed on the individual “bones” of the fish. This encourages problem-solving teams to consider a wide range of alternatives.

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