“I prefer to entertain people in the hope that they learn, rather than teach people in the hope that they are entertained.” Walt Disney.

Why We need Strategies for Creativity

I came across this quote from Walt Disney recently while reading a favourite book & it immediately reminded me of my adventures in teaching online in the last two years. My goal was to create springboards rather than lessons, per se. In other words, a suitably concocted launching pad is all that’s needed for students to go off on their own linguistic tangents of self-discovery.

Much of this focus was in alignment with my online tribe of Edupreneuring pioneers who ‘walk’ the Disney ‘talk’. My association with George Machlan’s Edupunk movement on WiZiQ was part of a large-scale experiment in reversing overt teaching strategies and allowing learning to be incidental rather than by design.

However there was much designing inherent in this non-design, as we had fun creating activities that engaged students, yet appeared effortless, as if deep learning just springs from thin air. George Machlan was constantly warning ‘the academics’ in Edupunk of the dangers involved in over-intellectualising linguistic play.

Can deep learning spring from thin air?

Walt Disney’s words reminded me particularly of the apparent friction between the world view of academia as opposed to the bold path of Edupreneuring.

This was often played out on Edupunk turf, and I was not quite sure of the sharp distinction that George Machlan made between academic approaches to lesson planning and Edupunk content creation.

I was, of course, an advocate of ‘endorphin-rich learning’ and saw the beauty of process in learning as opposed to mere results-oriented models. Yet, I had seen many passionate ‘academics’ create wonderful, fun-loving environments for their students, and I also knew that mainstream education was already doing its best to motivate students through a playful focus.

It was with much amusement that I wondered which camp I, myself, was really in. Having enjoyed enough academia to feed my love of literature in my youth, yet not enough to become ‘institutionalised’, I decided that I was a Edupreneurial hybrid whose qualifications were so right-brained that redemption was close at hand.

If we examine the Walt Disney creative strategy in more detail, we may actually have a formula for this antagonism between play versus planning models. The Dreamer, the Realist & the Critic – (Disney’s model)

  1. Create a dream or vision of the whole film. ( In this case the film is your vision for learning which is deeply embedded in your inner teaching values.)
  2. Look at the plan realisitically. ( balance money, time, resources, and all necessary information.)
  3. Look at the whole thing again from the point of view of a critical member of the audience.

When I consider the three roles of Dreamer, Realist and Critic , I surmise that individuals have their own personality setpoints and each of us ‘has become’ a dominant role or, at least, has dominant tendencies.

Personally speaking, I am a dreamer, and have much work to do with regard to practicalities and criticism. Yet, this is the best starting point. The dream is where it all begins. As any kindergarten teacher or parents of small children can see, the yellow brick road of rapport is where a child’s imagination is best captured.

If we reverse the order in Disney’s creative strategy, the opposing perspectives of traditional academia emerge.

Disney Creative Strategy

A) The Realist, the Dreamer, the Critic..??

Most of theWestern world operates from this angle. An insanely appealing idea enters one’s mind. The Realist rears its ugly head and wakes up the Critics . The Critics are those nasty voices in our heads that ridicule the Dreamer. These inner Critics can be vicously cutting ,and yet another dream dies an early death. Soon the dreams stop coming and our lives are predictably logical and two-dimensional – tidy and stale. Learning has become a necessary evil motivated by Spartan humiliation techniques.

If our dreamer is strong or insane enough to drown out all inner critics, one gets further criticism from society and the establishment who wish to maintain the status quo .

B) The Critic, The Realist, the Dreamer??

This is the most dangerous strategy and a true perversion of Disney’s vision. Some of us operate from a critical mindset and even tell children to stop day dreaming. This mindset certainly favours left-brain dominant teaching, lecturing, and teaching through tests.

This one is responsible for killing creativity and creating future citizens who will further disrespect our planet in the name of materialism. This one takes art off the curriculum when children reach the age of seven. This one is the patriarchal factory model that Pink Floyd sang about in 1982. This one is THE WALL.

Those of us who embrace the Disney creative strategy knock down walls.

Where are we today?

As I see it, academics who create fun learning environments are making changes within the establishment. They are still hampered by bureaucracy, however, and are still cogs in a left-brain dominated, materialistic wheel of inertia. We are trapped in the Realist – Dreamer – Critic model.

Edupreneurs, on the other hand, are carving out educational Disneylands all over the world as we speak. They are unhampered by bureaucracy, freed by technology, toughened by a professional life devoid of comfort zones, and unquestionably, guided by the Dreamer.

Some of the Edupreneurs from my personal learning network have also figured out the Realist and Critical parts of the strategy, and it is they who inspire my own Edupreneurial path.

My next article will feature some of these members of my PLN and give practical examples of the creative strategy at work.

  • Great article! I once discovered a book in my grampa’s library that put it like this: First, let the dreamer go wild without judging what’s good and what’s bad. Secondly, let the realist come in and see what can be actualized. Last but not least, let the critic pore over the results and see where improvements can be made. All of these are necessary elements of the process, the only problem is when one tries to do the job of the other.

    • Sylvia Guinan

      I’m not surprised to hear that your Grampa was a Disney Dreamer, Andre:))

      Thanks for sharing that lovely memory and adding the part about ‘conflict’ – trying to do the job of the other…so much could be resolved if we got to the heart of that….more food for thought..!!

  • Spot on! I’ve never been a fan of academia, but the critic in me has come to understand that there are people that like this approach to learning. Therefore, Disneylands don’t need to take over the universities. Coexistence is the ticket.

    • Willie Henderson


      • Cheikh Omar Tidiane Thiam

        Sylvia shows in different angles how statu quo fears imagination or creativity. There appears an order and a reversed order. Each holds its stand. After all they are all inclusive . Is there a battle between them? May be they all justify our need to question the effectiveness. Anyway the aim paves the way for something better.

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  • kamala

    Super. I got chance to read about Walt Disney:) You described well the realist, dreamer and the critic. Now I can understand why W.Disney is famous

  • Samir

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking article Sylvia. I strongly believe that the “beauty of process in learning” is the main catalyst that keeps so many educators on the track of ” Dreamers” hoping for an educational Disneyland where fun, joy, and creativity are prevalent. No matter what results might be achieved adopting other models, there is always a tendency to flee the trap of the Realist-Dreamer-Critic model.

  • charisse gardner

    I believe that I am a bit of all three with the dreamer in the middle. I believe that teachers must entertain as well as teach. I participated in a professional development training course and the instructor was still asleep. How can I learn? We must be AWAKE/ ALIVE to inspire and teach our students. I hope to use the tools that I am gaining through iTDi this fall.

  • Lisa Jayne Wood

    Wow, this articile really hits the nail on the head. Oh to be an edupreneur… I do try but find myself constrained by bureaucracy, the realist and the critic. Since having the idea of setting up online as a teacher about a year ago and connecting with lots of like-minded people around the world I have managed to get the realist and the critic to take abit of a back seat for now as I pursue my goal… I am hoping that they stay there as I get ready to put myself out there and try to find some students. I work in a Spanish secondary school, itself, constrained by the Spanish education system, very much the antithesis to Walt’s creative strategy. Students are force fed information and expected to miraculously retain. So many facts and figures to learn means very little time for creativity. When will they find the path to the 21st century???

  • Ashley Van Oordt

    I believe that the concept of “Dreamer-Realist-Crictic” developed by Walt Disney can be applied with great success in teaching field. As teachers, we do often feel like the “dreamer” in which we want to achieve so much in so little time with the least amount of resources. Then we have to put the “realist” cap on where we have to consider our limitations and structure in which we have to function in. This thus often change our plans dramatically. Lastly, putting ourselves in the “critic’s” shoes is essential as in this step we do consider the best possible outcome for our students, In other words, the critic’s role provides a real view of how our students will benefit from what we plan to do.

    Thanks so much for your article which inspired me to think more creatively.