Creativity Lessons From Disney

Before Disney became a dominant corporate brand, a very familiar company name and a respected industry icon, first there was Walt Disney, the man. From having been an animator to being the head of the 2nd largest entertainment organization in the world was certainly one great creative leap.

On hindsight, behavioural experts saw that Disney early on had all the necessary and correct mix of creative drive from the start. In layman’s terms, he was a dreamer, a realist and a critic – a very potent mix of attitudes that with the right mix can be very powerful.

Today, it is being modelled and developed as an NLP tool by Robert Dilts, author of Strategies of Genius. (NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programming is a tried and successful motivational tool used in training company managers and executives.)

Power of passion

In Dilt’s words, Disney’s “ability to connect his innovative creativity with successful business strategy and popular appeal…qualifies him as a genius.” Added to this is the man’s chosen art medium, the animated film.

In animation [and in films, in particular], practitioners have the chance of taking something that exists only in the imagination and create something real to produce a positive experience on others. Again, in layman’s terms, this amply demonstrates the awesome power of passion.

Three roles

With Disney, the three vital roles of being a dreamer, a realist, and a critic were explored separately for better clarity and results. The most important ingredient, however, was his ability to effect the right balance between these roles.

In Disney’s own words: “The story man must see clearly in his own mind how…a story will be put. He should feel every expression, every reaction.” This was the dreaming part.

He continues: “He should get far enough away from his story to take a second look at it…to see whether there is any dead phase…whether…they are going to be interesting and appealing to the audience.” Disney played the realist part here.

Finally, he ends: “[The creator] should also try to see…that his characters are doing [something] interesting.” This was Disney, the critic, assessing the work.


Experts are of the opinion that Disney’s genius was his innate ability to strike the right balance into this mix.

Dilts wrote: “A dreamer without a realist cannot turn ideas into tangible expressions. A critic and a dreamer without a realist just become stuck in a perpetual conflict. The dreamer and the realist might create things, but they might not achieve a high degree of quality without a critic. The critic helps to evaluate and refine the products of creativity.”


Many believed Disney was a creative and problem-solving genius. His most interesting ability, however, was his seemingly seamless way of slipping into any creative person or role (dreamer, realist, and critic) on any occasion he decided on.

One remark from a co-worker summed it up: “There were actually three different Walts [and] you never knew which one was coming to your meeting.”

Dilts added: “Those [three different Walts] were the dreamer, the realist and the critic.” Each one played specific creative roles. Together, they become the “Disney magic.”

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