I recently jumped into a brainstorm on a new side project. My collaborators are at the top of their game in their respective fields. The concept is right in my wheelhouse. We're still in the early stages, but I'm hopeful that I will have more to share soon.

This idea got my juices flowing. I started by letting my mind wander. I imagined all the possibilities. And then I got busy. Making lists. Writing bullet point outlines of action items. Planning and scheming.

I had jumped into realist mode. This planning-oriented state is most natural for me. I love creating process and turning chaos into order.

We all have mindsets that we feel most comfortable in when evaluating new ideas. But the key is to not to be too one-sided. If you're a planner like me, you might lose sight of the big picture by getting too tactical. Or you could get lost in the nitty gritty without stopping to ask whether the idea holds merit in the first place.

Fortunately, there is a mental model perfect for evaluating creative ideas. One of the most successful creative minds of all time credited it with helping him deliver hit after hit.

The model ensures you will look at any creation from three crucial points of view:

Dreamer, Realist, and Critic

I first learned about DRC from my coach. We were discussing another side project I was working on at the time. He suggested I run it through the three filters.  

The DRC process originated with Walt Disney. He employed it to build perhaps the most successful creative empire of all time.

Growing up, I idolized Walt. I devoured every biography and history book about him I could get my hands on. Learning more about his creative process clicked for me immediately.

If it worked for Walt, it could work for me. And it can work for you, too.

How to engage the Dreamer Realist Critic creative process

The DRC process filters creative ideas by examining them through three different lenses:

The Dreamer

The dreamer ideates. In this stage, let your imagination run wild. No idea is too big. Don't filter anything. This is the classic brainstorm mode.

In startups, the role of the dreamer is typically played by a visionary founder or CEO. Disney operated with a "brain trust", the so-called "Nine Old Men."

However you approach it, the key is to get your most creative thinkers in a room. Don't get bogged down in the 'how' or the 'why'. Drop all constraints and preconceptions.

And see where your ideas take you.

The Realist

The next stage puts your grand vision through the reality filter.

In this phase, Disney's team moved from imagining big ideas into storyboarding their concepts. The storyboard, by the way, was another creative tool pioneered by Walt Disney.

The realist owns process and execution. This phase involves making plans for implementing your ideas. The analytical and logical brain should take over.

The realist just wants to get shit done.

The Critic

After the dreamer and realist have their moments, the critic arrives to tear it all down.

The critic is unrelenting. Weak or uninspired ideas get exposed. Every flaw in the plan should be highlighted and inspected.  

The key question to ask in critic mode is: "why?"

Why are we doing this? Why should anyone care?

This is the time to air all doubts. To examine the cracks in any idea. Your team should be steeled to methodically and painstakingly discuss any aspect of the project that might falter.

Only the most exceptional ideas should pass through this stage.

Ground rules

To get the most out of the DRC model, there are some key guidelines to follow.

Each stage should be distinct. One mindset can’t bleed into another for it to work.

Choose your location wisely. According to Disney lore, Walt and his team would occupy different physical spaces for each stage.  If they were in the dreamer room for a brainstorm, they knew they couldn't shift into realist mode. This is a good approach to ensure that each POV has the breathing room it needs.

In the end of the process, only the most imaginative, achievable, and unimpeachable ideas will remain.

And that’s the goal: Dream big, make it happen, and achieve creative and commercial success. That’s how you make magic.

Every founder and creator should learn to play the part of the dreamer, realist, and critic. And to know when it’s appropriate to assume each role.

When I start a new project and find myself slipping into realist mode, I pause and step back. The DRC model helps me remember to focus on the vision first. That way, I know I will think as big as possible. And only then, I consider process and logistics to assess feasibility. Finally, I apply the critical eye and truly evaluate whether the idea is worth pursuing.

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