Practice the Process of Inspiration to Generate Ideas

An exceptional concept depends on good process as well as pure inspiration.

One of my favorite shows at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is Mickey’s PhilharMagic. In the image below, notice the music notes in the background circling around the showcases in the gift shop at the exit from the theater. They’re not random. If you hum them, you will get the opening to Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – one of the most memorable sights and sounds from Disney’s Fantasia, and the core idea in Mickey’s PhilharMagic.

WDW Apr16 MK MickeyPHM

That’s the magic that “Process Practice” can produce!

Being aware of the design process and knowing what phase the team and the idea are in is a big part of the show producer’s job. You probably aren’t a producer, but all leaders have a role in pulling various people and resources together in creating something – which is the role of a producer.

Inspiration generates ideas, and the process helps to shape efforts in a way to keep the team moving towards a fully developed idea.

It’s time for you to “get” it…

  • Get going. Toss a bunch of ideas out. Direction often comes from joyous chaos.
  • Get excited. Brainstorm. Dream. Take tangents. Notice where ideas go, what’s cool about them, and incorporate this into the design.
  • Get committed. Set up a regular project meeting time, discuss ideas, or just sit and stare at the wall. Ideas will come either way.
  • Get doughnuts or cookies and some toys. Brainstorming sessions go better when food or toys are around.
  • Get different opinions. Listen to someone else’s point of view and listen for things that improve the design.
  • Get confused. Ask yourself hard questions that you can’t answer.
  • Get unstuck. Try a different direction. Throw out an impossible action. Debating a wrong answer can help reveal the correct one.
  • Get your hands dirty. Build a rough model or stage a reading. You will learn more from this than from any debate, and you’ll learn it in time to fix things.
  • Get reactions. Show the idea to others. Listen to what they say, especially if it isn’t what you want to hear.
  • Get it on paper. Take everything you’ve learned and write a description of the goals and details of the design. If you write convincingly, you’ve probably got a good idea.

If everyone is comfortable with the process, the team members have the freedom to generate the best ideas for their project.

part of a series of ideas to shape and tone your creative muscles

Inspired and adapted from The Imagineering Workout

Imagineering logo

The Disney Imagineers

Sue Bryan, Senior Show Producer


Isn’t About Time You You Made the Ordinary Extraordinary?

Anyone can dream…

But Disney’s Imagineers dream and do.

Since 1952, the Walt Disney Imagineers have been turning impossible dreams and schemes into magical rides, shows, and attractions for Disney theme parks around the world.

What is their magic?

It’s all about making the ordinary extraordinary.

Take this building in Hollywood Studios, for instance…


It’s a beautiful building, right?

Not really…


It’s really just a facade – an excellent example of how the Imagineers use a combination of imagination and engineering to make magic come to life at Disney.

Disney’s Imagineers are a highly creative group – one that isn’t slowed down by the impossible.

There are hundreds of stories about Imagineers who didn’t realize what they were capable of until they started doing it. They don’t want your fear of taking the first step get the best of you – they want to let your project get the best of you.

Imagineers try and fail and keep trying until they make magic.

Isn’t it time you got started?

Go ahead. Tackle that creative challenge head-on. Allow the spark of an idea to ignite your creativity and passion. Make the ordinary, extraordinary.

Don’t just sit there – dream and do!


Inspired and adapted from The Imagineering Workout


The Disney Imagineers

Imagineering logo

Start with a Question, Then Challenge Your Assumptions

Start with a question to discover if there is an opportunity for creativity.

Questions start the creative process by asking how, why, and in what other way can something be done. The answers you get will explore options that kick off creativity.

The most unrealistic options inspire tangent ideas that take you to new places you would never have considered.

Once you have the basic questions to ask, it’s time to add questions that are specific to your challenge. Review your list of questions with others and ask them to help develop additional questions.

Now for a critical step in the creative process:

Challenge your assumptions.

As you continue to develop your ideas, you need to constantly question and challenge your assumptions.

As you answer the questions and narrow down your assumptions, it’s most likely that you are ready to solve the problem.


part of a series of ideas to shape and tone your creative muscles

Inspired and adapted from The Imagineering Workout

The Disney Imagineers

Imagineering logo

Think Like a Director

Pixar is obsessed with only one quality measurement for every film:

It begins and ends around the story.

Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, writing in Innovate the Pixar Way, want leaders to think of their team or organization as if they were the director of a Broadway play. It’s time to sit in the director’s chair and visualize the major pieces of the production and direction of the play – the story, setting, roles, and backstage processes.

Begin with the Story

What’s your dream? What story are you trying to tell? It doesn’t matter if you are creating the next Pixar animated feature film, designing a new appliance, opening a new store, or planning a new ministry to reach people – you have to bring your vision, your story, your dream to life in an exciting and exhilarating way. Craft your story in a way that will ignite the creative energies of your team and mage magical, dream-come-true moments for your “customers.”

Instead of “meeting customer expectations,” start fulfilling their dreams. Craft the experience in terms of:

  • 3-dimensional Technicolor images
  • Dreams fulfilled
  • Magical moments
  • Doing the impossible
  • Story, plot, theme
  • Unique, memorable, and engaging
  • Passionate belief in values

Build the Set

If you were a director, you would have a set designer whose job it is to make sure the visual journey of the audience complements the overall story. Like Walt Disney, Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter is fanatical about details:

Every detail has to be thought out, designed, modeled, shaded, placed, and lit…It takes four years to make one of these films and there are no excuses after the movie’s done – it’s going to be that way forever.

The “virtual set” in your organization is immense and includes everything from the parking lot, buildings, and program to the website, graphic displays, and language used. The setting is part of the creative experience – don’t overlook or shortchange it.

Recruit the Cast

As the director of a play or movie you would search the acting community to identify and cast the perfect actor for each role, selecting someone who will make the role come to life, someone who is dynamic, exciting, exuberant, interesting, and believable. Why is it that in the organizational world we tend to look for the candidates who have the best pedigrees, not for the ones who are interesting or diverse or have ideas that might be considered eccentric?

Colorful, unique, memorable, magical moments will seldom be created by boring, myopic, unimaginable people.

Design the Backstage Processes

Imagine it is opening night of your Broadway play. You have an engaging, heartfelt, emotional story. You have an award-winning set designer and have assembled an ensemble of some of the best actors in the industry. You have rehearsed and rehearsed. Fantastic reviews will be forthcoming – or will they?

What if duplicate tickets were sold, the curtain gets stuck halfway up, and the main stage lighting goes out during Act 3? What could have been a colossal hit might struggle to stay open.

Getting your “backstage” support and “onstage” show to all work and play well together can be just as important to the success of your organization as unleashing the creative energies within each department.

Remove the barriers between “backstage” processes and the “onstage” show, and watch the magic happen.

Is it time to stop cutting and pasting your old and frankly boring service and think like a director?

Tomorrow: A New Way to Play “Follow the Leader”

13 for 13

This is not a post about triskaidekaphobia, but today would be a good day for one. No, it’s a simple question:

What if Pixar came to your church?

This is Pixar Animation Studio’s track record: 13 for 13.

That’s thirteen films since the studio’s launch in 1995, every one of them a smashing success. What’s their secret?

Their unusual creative process.

Unlike the typical studio that gathers all the necessary personnel to produce a film and then releases them after it is finished, Pixar’s staff of writers, directors, animators, and technicians moves from project to project.

The result: a team of moviemakers who know and trust one another in ways unimaginable on most sets.

My wife and I saw “Brave” recently, and it reminded me of an article in Wired magazine from a couple of years ago on how Pixar does it, using “Toy Story 3” as the example. You can read the whole article here, but take a look at their step-by-step process in a nutshell:


  • Day 1 – coming up with a great story. The creative team leaves the campus for an off site retreat, and knocks out a quick storyline – which they promptly discard.
  • Day 3 – working from a series of plot points, screenwriter Michael Arndt begins drafting the script. Director Lee Unkrich and the story artists start sketching storyboards. The storyboards allow the filmmakers to begin imagining the look and feel of each scene.


  • Day 36 – character design begins. Working in digital images, sketches, and clay figures, each character comes to life in a process called simulation – a constant negotiation between the artistic and technical teams.
  • Day 123 – the storyboards are turned into a story reel that can be projected, much like an elaborate flip book. This allows the team to watch along with an audience and determine what works and what doesn’t.


  • Day 380 – actors come into the studio to record all the lines – dozens of times. The actors are also being filmed, so the animators can watch the actor’s expressions and use them as reference points when they animate the characters’ faces.
  • Day 400 – shaders began to add color and texture to character’s’ bodies and other surfaces that appear in the film. Complex algorithms are used to simulate the effect of light and shadow on different toy surfaces like plastic, cloth, or wood.


  • Day 533 – the pictures are moving, defined by up to 1,000 points of possible movement that animators can manipulate like strings on a puppet. Each day the team starts by reviewing the previous day’s work, ripping it apart to make each scene more expressive.
  • Day 806 – technical challenges pile up. The studio’s design which places essential facilities in the center allows the team to have unplanned creative conversations while on the way for a cup of coffee or walking to the bathroom.
  • Day 898 – the animators hit high gear, working late into the night in customized and personalized offices.
  • Day 907 – rendering, the process of using computer algorithms to generate a final frame, is well under way. The average frame (a move has 24 frames per second) takes about seven hours to render, though complex frames can take nearly 39 hours of computer time. The Pixar building has two massive render farms, each of which contains hundreds of servers running 24 hours a day.


  • Day 1,070 – the movie is mostly done. the team has completed 25 of the film’s sequences and is finishing the most complicated scene of the move. It has taken 27 technical artists four months to perfect that single scene.
  • Day 1,084 – Only weeks away from release, the audio mixers at Skywalker Sound combine dialog, music, and sound effects. Every nuance is adjusted and readjusted. Director Unkrich: “We don’t ever finish a film – I could keep on making it better. We’re just forced to release it.”

And you thought getting a sermon ready for Sunday was difficult!

The process depicted above can be highly constructive for you and your team. Granted, you don’t have either the budget or the time to produce a film like Toy Story 3, but you can take the principles above and apply them in your context, resources, and time frame.

So, how about it? What Pixar creative magic can you put to use this week?