Change planning: dreamer, realist, critic

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Purpose: To work through three key aspects of planning for change―creatively developing new ideas, planning the practicalities of their implementation and assessing risks―to ensure that all three are effectively considered.

Description: This process is also referred to as Walt Disney circle, Disney creative strategy, and Disney brainstorming method.

Planning change involves four phases. The first three phases, in turn, are to 1) create new ideas, 2) plan the practicalities of their implementation and 3) assess the risks. Phase 4 is an iterative phase that reviews further input needed in each of the first three phases.

The process is conceived as involving three roles: dreamer, realist and critic. One person or a group could take all three roles in turn or different people could take different roles. What is important is that all three roles are fully brought into play.

Phase 1: The Dreamer
This role involves creatively developing new ideas, with an “anything is possible” attitude. It specifically avoids considering practicalities or constraints. Useful questions are:

  • What do we want to do?
  • Why do we want to do it?
  • What are the benefits?
  • How will we know that we have achieved the benefits?
  • When can we expect to get them?
  • Where do we want this idea to get us in the future?

Phase 2: The Realist
This role involves planning for the implementation of any new idea by considering the practicalities. It avoids specifically considering constraints and takes an “how do we make this work” attitude. Useful questions are:

  • When will the overall goal be completed?
  • Who will be involved and what responsibilities will they have?
  • How – specifically and step by step - will the idea be implemented?
  • What will provide on-going feedback to show whether we are moving toward or away from the goal?
  • How will we know that the goal is achieved?

Phase 3: The Critic
This role involves identifying and assessing risks associated with any new idea, as well as looking for ways to manage potential problems. It takes a “what could go wrong and how can we avoid that” attitude. Useful questions are:

  • Who will this new idea affect and who will make or break the effectiveness of the idea?
  • What are their needs?
  • Why might someone object to this plan or idea?
  • What positive gains are there in the present way(s) of doing things?
  • How can you keep those things when you implement the new idea?
  • When and where would you NOT want to implement the new idea?
  • What is currently needed or missing from the plan?

Phase 4: Iteration to fill critical gaps
Any change proposal is likely to be incomplete and to be missing some important information. In seeking to fill those gaps or seek that information, it is useful to employ the dreamer, realist and critic roles again. For example, if a significant piece of information is missing:

  • Dreamer role would involve looking creatively for ways to get that information
  • Realist role would involve the practicalities of those ideas
  • Critic role would involve examining the adequacy of the information found or likely to be found.

Developing a realistic plan for action can involve going through the whole process several times to refine an idea into realisable steps.

Source: This process is adapted from “The Walt Disney circle – refining personal and corporate goals” which is in The Change Management Toolbook (Nauheimer 1997). Nauheimer in turn adapted the process he described from Dilts (1994).

Dilts, RB. (1994) Strategies of genius - Part I. Meta Publications, Capitola, California USA [NB Neurolinguistic programming, which is the basis of this book has been discredited as a pseudoscience.]
Nauheimer, H. (1997). The change management toolbook. A collection of tools, methods and strategies. Open access online at:

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Posted: January 2020
Last modified: January 2020