The Disney Brainstorming Strategy

Brainstorming is an important part of effective decision making and team planning! If you do it well, then it can be fun and extremely profitable to your organization! But most people are doing brainstorming all wrong! As a result, it is often a waste of time and money. This is why it is important to use proven brainstorming strategies to help your team achieve goals and move projects forward! One of our favorite tools is the Disney Brainstorming Strategy. Our team uses this strategy to help teams improve projects and planning.

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Walt’s Magic Brainstorming

Walt Disney developed the key elements of this strategy to maximize his team’s creative output as he was building the Disney empire. The Disney Strategy is still used today at Disney University. Over time our team has refined this strategy to meet client goals. One of our favorite clients asked us to help with a leadership conference in Asia for top CEOs from around the world. They asked us to plan their conference breakout sessions to produce actionable results. So, we combined the Disney Brainstorming Strategy with another decision model that we value. The results “far exceeded” their expectations! The participants actually produced valuable results in a short period of time. The following is a summary of the Disney Strategy along with some of our team’s refinements.

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Brainstorm Preparation

Before you schedule a brainstorming session there are some important preparation steps to consider. Too many people go into a session without clear goals. This is the equivalent of asking a travel agent to plan a vacation for your family without giving them your most important criteria. Therefore, identify the specific problems you want to solve or the goals you want to reach. We highly recommend that you use a goal setting tool like the Well-Formed Outcome model. Second, equip your people with a solid analysis of known stakeholder issues and perspectives that could be impacted by the ideas they generate.

Ready to “Go Disney”

There are three foundational keys to the Disney Brainstorming Strategy. You will see these below, along with some of our suggested refinements. We hope you can put these to great use!

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Stage 1: The Dreamer

The first stage of the Disney Brainstorming Strategy is simply called “the dreamer”. In this stage you should encourage your team members to unleash their “inner dreamer”! They should be free to dream ideas to solve the problem or reach the stated goal. No one criticizes during this stage! Rather, all judgment is suspended, and it is a time for a free flow of ideas! You should assign a facilitator or two to collect all ideas during this brainstorming session. All ideas are accepted and captured for consideration without judgment. 

Benchmark’s Refinements: 

It is important to remember that your team members are diverse in how they think, learn and communicate. You will also have a mix of introverts and extraverts. This is why you should set aside at least 15 minutes to let each person write down their “dreamer” ideas before sharing them aloud. 

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Stage 2: The Critic

During this brainstorming phase you instruct people to unleash their inner critics. This is the time to challenge all ideas and thinking! Team members should dissect and criticize all of the ideas created during the dreamer stage. The goal here is to identify weaknesses, obstacles and risks in the dreamers’ ideas. By the time the critics are done only the best three or four ideas should still be standing.

Benchmark’s Refinements: 

We recommend assigning someone to be the team observer. The observer should capture the major arguments for or against certain ideas. This is important because you will glean the major criteria that team members consider important for solving the problem or achieving the goal. The criteria can be then applied to the next phase of the strategy. Also, sometimes great ideas are shot down by the critics. The observer should be on the lookout for ideas worth revisiting. Another great refinement is to assign different identities or perspectives to team members to dislodge them from their “self” perspective.

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Stage 3: The Realist

In this stage it is time for the “realist” to rule. You ask team members to quiet the “critic” and move into the realist realm. The realist looks at the three or four ideas still standing from the critic’s session. They weigh those ideas in relation to the stated goals. It is a great idea to provide your team members with other decision models to help them make the best choice. Our team often uses the Well-Formed Outcome and other tools to help teams make the best decision.

Benchmark’s Refinements: 

We like to layer this final “realist” stage of brainstorming with other decision models to help people choose the best option to achieve their goal. We typically choose decision models that get them to think from multiple perspectives and to also consider the data and emotions. You want to provide your team with sound guidance tools so they can make the best choice for your organization.

Brainstorming Sessions

The great thing about using a proven brainstorming strategy is that it saves time, money and helps you get the very best results. Brainstorming is a crucial part of effective decision making and team planning. With the right communication strategies it can be fun and extremely profitable for everyone! You can call on Benchmark Communications to help improve project outcomes or facilitate your team’s next brainstorming session! We will ensure it is fun, actionable and relevant to your team and goals!

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