Creativity and innovation are at the heart of all things Disney. The creative force behind Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is the team at Walt Disney Imagineering that dreams up and designs the magic our guests experience every day. Walt was fond of the term “Imagineering;” he thought the blend of imagination and engineering perfectly summed up the organization he created in the 1950s to bring to life his vision for the original Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California.  

Today this dynamic creative think tank consists of professionals at the top of their fields, from engineers to design artists that push the boundaries of innovation to create unforgettable experiences at our Disney destinations around the world. So, what does Imagineering have to do with organizational management?  More than you might think.  

One of the things I love about working for Disney is that creative thinking is not limited to one team or department. Beyond our team of Imagineers, everyone is encouraged to use their imaginative power, whether they work on the frontline, in finance, marketing or dozens of other support areas.  So there’s the first parallel – everyone in your organization has creative potential, so how do you nurture that in your staff and yourself?  

That’s where our Imagineering friends can help.  Creativity tools and exercises the Disney Imagineers use can be just as effective in your organization.  

Here are just a few of the dozens of exercises from The Imagineering Workout: Exercises to Shape Your Creative Muscles, a book created by our Disney Imagineers to help shape and tone your imagination. From finding your inner “creative you” to establishing objectives and prioritizing the perpetual to-do list, our Imagineers offer simple, but effective exercises that can help you manage your organization and your personal life. 

The Creative You
Creativity is about options and decisions that we make on a daily basis.

We start our day making creative decisions: the tastes we assemble for breakfast or the colors and style of clothing we choose to wear for the day’s events. 

Every day is filled with myriad decisions as to decorating personal or work space, listening to music, or reading books. Even the cars we drive are a reflection of our creative selves revealing how we think, feel and solve problems. To become more aware of your creative self make a personal storyboard, a visual display of all things that express who you are, to tell your creative story. 

Supplies needed for this exercise: Scissors, glue, tape, note cards, pushpins, large corkboard or 8.5” x 11” or larger notebook and writing utensil. 

Start by using a large corkboard or, if space is limited, a notebook. Cut out, group and display the ideas and images that you are drawn to or passionate about from magazines, books, photographs; use samples of colors, textures or fabrics, as well as making your own sketches and notes. Be sure to include music, poems, quotes and other written information. The wider the variety of materials and images, the more it will define your creative self and stimulate your creativity. 

Once images are gathered and attached, put your personal storyboard in a place where you will see it daily and draw inspiration from it.

Your personal storyboard will never be complete. As you learn, grow, and change, feel free to edit those things that are no longer of interest to you and add you new experiences and ideas.

Dealing with a Full Page
Consider stepping away from your project to energize it.

Equal to the creative challenge of dealing with the blank sheet of paper is dealing with the full page. Creative pressure increases as concepts approach realization. These pressures come with challenges of their own: time is of the essence; people can see the end result and tend to make changes accordingly; budget constraints tend to be greater than at other phases. 

The creative process can be energized by selective avoidance. That means stepping away for a time and engaging in other activities that give the mind time to make new connections. One idea is to step away with hobbies that involve creative challenges; one is building things, another writing. 

Do this exercise when you’re building something. Step away from it. This is the most productive when you distract yourself by doing something that enforces the process, such as mowing the lawn, doing dishes, or doing several crossword puzzles. Building things requires patience. These alternative activities slow down your pace, making you more patient – or maybe tiring you out and relaxing you. 

Consider how you might step away from your project’s development and production phases to gain a fresh perspective. What hobbies, activities, or interests might help you gain new insights or keep your mind distracted long enough for a solution to develop? Might there be another project that you could work on while your ideas are cooking?

Dealing with a full page of requirements is the challenge of producing any creative project. A plan for handling your full page is both people and project smart.

Establishing Objectives 
Objectives are about choices that determine a project’s success or failure. 

A classic design problem, such as planning a child’s birthday party, involves pragmatic considerations, artistic/creative opportunities, and financial and schedule constraints. Identifying objectives is a valuable exercise when planning a project. 

Make a list of your project’s objectives. Write them down as they come to mind, rank them according to importance, and asterisk the objectives that would invalidate the purpose of the project if not met.  

Take the highest-priority objective, expand it with a list of subobjectives, then expand the next. As you complete the first two or three, a broad outline of a creative concept will emerge. From this, write a description of the final project, even if it is vaguely defined. 

For example, objectives for Bobby’s Birthday Party might be:

  1. Bobby and his friends feel his party was the best he ever had.
  2. I want to help in planning and hosting the party so I can enjoy it. 
  3. Bobby’s younger sister, Debbie, is to feel included but must not embarrass Bobby. 

The first objective is pretty broad. Subobjectives would then be used to ensure its realization. The following subobjectives will enable Bobby to feel his party was the best ever. 

  1. His friend’s “thumb’s up” the party.
  2. The people he cares most about attend. 
  3. He receives the new video game system he wants.

By articulating the subobjectives, a creative vision of the event begins to take form. How Bobby’s friends judge the party will be a big factor in how he feels and will influence the theme. What’s in with 13-year-olds – pirates or skateboards? If you skateboard, is there a skate park nearby? What are the safety concerns? Would all the guests participate? These objectives and subobjectives provide a basis for considering, accepting, or rejecting various options. 

By articulating and prioritizing objectives, invaluable time and effort is given to the planning phase of the project, ensuring its success.

Getting to the Real Solution 
Solving a problem is a matter of process, assumptions and learning. Applying these elements in discovering the real problem will help discover the best solution. 

A department administrative assistant complained about being cold. Her desk was in the middle of the work area, yet no one around her was experiencing the cold. There was definitely a problem, but what was it? Was it cold at her desk or was she perhaps just more intolerant of temperature changes? When interviewed, she indicated that sometimes it was very cold and other times it wasn't. How do you solve a problem like this?

So early one morning, a colleague stuck a vanilla incense stick on her chair to watch the smoke from it rise. For more than two hours, he watched that darn smoke move straight up into the air. Suddenly, the air conditioner turned on and the smoke turned in the opposite direction heading for the floor. The team realized her desk was right under the Niagara Falls of cold air coming from the air conditioner. They located the vent and diverted the air to a different part of the floor, thus solving the problem. 

There are many solutions to a problem depending upon how the problem is perceived. In this story, what are some immediate solutions that could have been offered to the department’s administrative assistant? How many can you offer? How effective or practical do you think they would be over time?

Think back to your own problem solving and identify those solutions that you figured out were immediate but were not really solving the problem at hand. What could you have done different to identify the real issue? What did you learn about problem identification? 

You have to figure out the problem in order to think about the solution. This is true at any phase of a project because factors change as the project moves through the process from concept to completion.

Your organization probably isn’t in the business of building castles, monorails or fantasy worlds, but you and your team have more in common with Disney than you might realize.  Underlying our entertainment product is an organization committed to taking care of its Cast Members (or “staff” in the organizational world), creating exceptional experiences for our Guests (whom we view much the same as you do members).  And we’re relentlessly focused on fostering leaders who understand the role that quality business practices play in creating the Cast and Guest experiences.  Creativity is the thread that ties together the quality Cast experience, the quality Guest experience and quality business practices.  

We think that’s true for every organization too, and I hope the exercises we've shared will help you and your organization meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Excerpts from the book THE IMAGINEERING WORKOUT by the Disney Imagineers. © 2005 by Disney Enterprises, Inc. Published by Disney Editions.