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The Walt Disney method: brainstorm like Walt Disney

Effective brainstorming is critical in a retrospective. It is the very first thing you do during your retrospectives and serves as the foundation for the discussions that follow. So it’s not unexpected that I’m regularly asked how to have more engaging and effective brainstorm sessions.

Today, I want to talk to you about the brainstorming method that Walt Disney used to come up with some of the ideas in films that we all grew up watching. Appropriately named The Walt Disney Method, this method walks participants through 3 sequential steps that aim to generate new ideas at every level and encourages people to dream the impossible.

The first step requires participants to put on their “dreamer” hat. Here, everyone takes the approach that anything is possible. What are the craziest things that we could achieve if there were no limitations to our resources? What is the ideal state? How can we be the biggest, best, fastest, etc.? One important note here is that there is no room in the first step for criticism. No idea is a bad idea. Yet.

The second step moves participants from dreamers to realists as the ideas generated in the first step are evaluated based on what’s really possible. Teams should ask themselves “what do we need” and “when can we do it” to help set some parameters and narrow in on opportunities for improvement that are more attainable.

Just like in the first step, the second step is free of criticism. That comes in step three when everyone puts on their “constructive critic” hats. While it is important for teams to generate ambitious goals, you must also evaluate these ideas constructively to ensure success. Here, the team should ask questions like “are you sure it will work?” And “if we fail, will we fail quickly?” “Who internally may object the idea and what are the downsides they may identify?” “Is it even possible at all?” “Who will be accountable for the idea?”

By walking through the same three steps as Walt Disney, it’s possible to generate innovative and creative ideas that help your team become more engaged and invested in the outcome.

Have you used the Walt Disney Method of brainstorming before? Plan to use it in an upcoming session to generate new ideas? Let me know what you think about Disney’s approach and if it worked for you.

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