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The Blue Sky Thinking Process



An Introduction to the Blue Sky Process | Disney Imagicademy
Disney Brainstorming Method: Dreamer, Realist, and Spoiler

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Idea Sandbox
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It is said, that film producer and innovator, Walt Disney used to think-up and refine ideas by breaking the process into three distinct chunks. The dreamer, the realist, and the spoiler (or critic).


The Dreamer

This stage was for fantasizing. Creating the most fantastic and absurd ideas as possible. No filter. Just wonderful, raw ideas. This stage was about “why not?”


The Realist

As the Realist, the Dreamer ideas would be re-examined, and re-worked into something more practical. It wasn’t about the reasons it could not be achieved, but only about it could be done. This stage is about “how?”


The Spoiler

The third stage he would become the critic… shooting holes in the ideas he had come up with.

It is said, the ideas that survived this process were the ones Walt would work on.

By compartmentalizing the stages, Walt didn’t let reality get in the way of the dream step. The realist was allowed to work without the harsh filter of a spoiler. And, the spoiler spends time examining a well-thought idea… something with a bit more structure.

When we brainstorm alone and in groups – too often – we tend to fill the room with a dreamer or two, a few realists, and a bunch of spoilers. In these conditions dream ideas don’t stand a chance.


Different Rooms for Different Stages

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An important and practical lesson to bestow upon children is that the imagination is limitless and they should hold onto the magic of the mind for their entire lives.


Creative thinking can — and will — come in handy.


This is especially true for Disney Imagineers. These lucky people let their imaginations soar to the farthest reaches, even when they know their ideas are far from possible or even logical.


It is a concept they call the Blue Sky Process.

To inspire our children, David Durham, creative development executive for Blue Sky at Walt Disney Imagineering, describes the discipline.


What Is the Blue Sky Process?  

The Blue Sky process at Walt Disney Imagineering is where all ideas begin. It’s called Blue Sky because the sky’s the limit! You’re free to explore any ideas and the possibilities are endless. Eventually, you have to come back down to Earth and make sure your ideas are achievable. But it’s important to start big … as big as the sky.


Think BIG! Imagineers always think big and outside of the box. The word “pretend” is never used, but instead “what if.” Because, in Blue Sky, anything is possible.


How It All Starts With an Idea  

Everything you see in a Disney Theme Park had a beginning and started as an idea. Without the ideas of today, we wouldn’t be able to think up the new attractions and experiences of tomorrow! Blue Sky allows us to constantly come up with ideas so that our guests will always have new experiences to see and do. And that imagination feeds the Blue Sky process; a never-ending cycle that begins with a blank sheet of paper — and ends with … well, it never ends. Walt Disney once said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”


How the Process Progresses  

We like to start with brainstorming sessions. We’ll put a few people in a room for a couple of hours and we’ll start exploring the topic of the idea. We may relate first-hand experiences or talk about research we’ve done in advance. We’ll discuss what the emotion of the experience should be. We’ll toss around snippets of ideas, fragments of story, watching what catches someone’s eye. And then … we’ll go away. Often, ideation requires you to literally “sleep on it.” The brain is like any muscle; you’ve got to work it, then you’ve got to let it rest. Some of your best thinking is just as likely to happen between brainstorming sessions as in them.


How Coming Up With Ideas is Like Fishing  

Sometimes coming up with new ideas can be hard. It’s like telling a person to go catch a fish. You can stand there holding your fishing pole with your line in the water all day long and not catch anything. Or, you might drop your line in and immediately catch a whopper! But you don’t know which will happen. Blue Sky is kind of like that. So don’t be surprised or discouraged if you don’t catch a fish every time. That’s part of what makes fishing fun. And that’s part of what makes Blue Sky exciting. You start with a blank piece of paper and when you’re finished you end up with a castle, or a pirate ship, or a roller coaster. It’s completely up to you.


That’s the freedom and challenge of Blue Sky.


— Sunny Chanel


When Sunny Chanel isn’t playing dress up, crafting or going for long walks with her young daughter Annabella, she writes for a variety of sites, including Babble, Fandango,, Café Mom’s The Stir, Mommy Nearest and her own site: Wonder and Company. In her spare time, you can find her planning her family’s next trip to the Disneyland Resort.


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