NLP, or Neuro-Linguistic Processing, is a set of inter-and-intra-personal communication techniques first developed by psychotherapist Richard Bandler and linguist John Grinder (who worked together under the tutelage of British anthropologist Gregory Bateson). It’s purpose was to discover the linguistic underpinnings of mental states and how they effect our behaviors, and to later use this knowledge to modify our habits. It can be practiced through introspection (now more scientifically known as metacognition) or guided conversation.
Specifically, the goal of NLP is to model how others think and behave, including those who are creative. What are the strategies a so-called “creative person” plays out in their heads? What is the structure of their experience, and what mental steps do they take before producing a creative outcome? Or, is it all spontaneous? And if so, how does one increase the chances of such a spontaneity occurring? These are the types of questions an NLP practitioner would ask.
The Disney Creative Strategy
The most popular NLP technique designed to enhance creativity is the “Disney Strategy,” (4 page PDF) first modeled by Robert Dilts based on his conversations with filmmaker Walt Disney.
- >”Dilts noticed that Disney had three separate approaches to his creative work and he alternated between these roles, which Dilts identified as Dreamer, Realist, and Critic. Each role has a distinct orientation in relation to the creative process: the dreamer is the place of free association, brainstorming and even fantasies; the realist is the place of action, of imagining putting the dreams into the physical world; and the critic is the place of testing the soundness of your idea’s, checking in on what will or won’t work.”
Dilts believes that we each have a part of us that can identify with these roles. However, some of us are more of one than another. What happens if we don’t find a balance?
- “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. A dreamer and a realist might create things, but they might not be very usable ideas without a critic. The critic helps to evaluate and refine the products of creativity.”
So the main question is: throughout the creative process how can we develop each of these roles? The answer Dilts provides says that we should set aside a time and place for each of these mental attitudes:
1. First put yourself in the role of The Dreamer. Write down any and all ideas that come to mind. Make as many freely associated connections as possible, let your thoughts just flow without any limitation or worry on how to put these ideas into action.
2. Next put yourself in the role of The Realist. Now ask yourself, “How can I put these ideas into a reality? What resources (money/time/skills) do I need?” Write these down.
3. Then put yourself in the role of The Critic. Now it is time to try and find the flaws of your strategy. What don’t you like? What potential obstacles are there? What needs improvement? Write these down.
4. Now step outside your triangle of roles. Observe your reaction to each – are you being a good Dreamer, Realist, and Critic? How can you improve each?
5. Cycle through each role again. Using any insights from #4, cycle through the roles again, this time being an even better Dreamer, Realist, and Critic.
6. Take your ideas to action Do the above as many times as needed until you can begin putting your ideas to action. Even as you carry out your plan, keep these three elements in mind at all times.
How much time you spend in each session is up to you. I recommend at least 5-10 minutes of brainstorming, idea-jotting, and question-asking per role. When I first tried this strategy I used to even light different-scented candles; which became a self-conditioned stimuli (an anchor, for those familiar with NLP lingo) to help me get into each mindset. You can use other habits (or “rituals“) to help amplify your creative roles as you practice them more and more.
Another Way To Deconstruct Creativity
The other day I came across an article on the blog Litemind called, “Deconstructing Creativity: The 4 Roles You Need To Play To Be Fully Creative,” and although I don’t think the author Luciano Passuello intended it, his strategy is actually very similar to Walt Disney’s.
The 4 roles Luciano identifies are:
1. The Explorer (be curious and alert, seek out as many inputs as possible, and talk to a lot of different people).
2. The Artist (flex your idea muscles, play, use your imagination, and integrate different concepts).
3. The Judge (be real, develop critical thinking, and be aware of thinking traps/biases).
4. The Warrior (get into action, overcome resistance, be courageous, and find out how to market and sell your idea).
Passuello doesn’t mention NLP but, like in NLP, he creates a very thorough model of his own personal creative strategy.
Other possible models
1. Real world examples
Do you have a friend, family member, coworker, or acquaintance who you think makes a good Dreamer, Realist or Critic? Why not use that as a resource to improve your creative process? You’d probably be surprised how much you can learn by pretending to think as someone else. How does your physiology change? How do your thoughts change? How do your motivations change?
2. Fictitious characters
Same thing as above, but this time pay attention to the thoughts and behaviors of characters in movies, TV, books, or plays. Imagine yourself in those roles. How does your physiology change? How do your thoughts change? How do your motivations change?
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