Imagineering Process Preview: The Paradox of Ideas

This post is an excerpt/preview from the Introduction of my next book, The Imagineering Process: Using the Disney Theme Park Design Process to Bring Your Creative Ideas to Life (which I’m currently writing).

I believe ideas hold a unique place in regards to creativity.

Ideas are at the same time the most important and the least important part of any creative project.

I know, that seems like a paradox, but bear with me.

Ideas are the most important part because every creative and innovative project starts with an idea. Good ideas are the basis for all successful creative projects. Consider the following:

  • Without the idea to create “a place where adults and children can have fun together”, there would be no Disneyland (or other Disney parks for that matter)
  • Without the idea to develop a technology to allow the creation of human-like robots in theme park attractions (Audio-Animatronics), we wouldn’t have attractions such as Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, The Carousel of Progress, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, or countless others

And of course, good creative ideas aren’t limited to those related to Disney parks. Some other examples include:

  • Without the idea to design and build a separate ship specifically for the Moon landing, the Apollo program might not ever have succeeded in landing man on the Moon
  • Without the idea to develop a musical adaptation of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, there would be no Wicked (the musical)
  • Without the idea to use hip-hop to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton, there would be no Hamilton: An American Musical.
  • Without the idea to create a Star Wars-based game for my son’s birthday party, my wife and I would have had to entertain 10 young boys all on our own.

Lots of people (myself included) believe in the importance of ideas, and there is no end to the number of books, blogs, and websites that offer tips and techniques to help us “be more creative” or “generate new ideas.” But generating ideas – sometimes also known as either brainstorming or ideation – is not all there is to creativity. It’s important to be sure, but it’s only a part of the challenge of employing our creativity. What’s equally (or perhaps more) important is how we follow through and develop and/or implement our creative ideas.

Put another way, ideas are only a part of being creative, and in some ways (here comes the paradox) they are the least important part. How can that be? The answer is perhaps best expressed by Guy Kawasaki in his November 4, 2004 Forbes article when he writes “Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard”

If you talk to people in traditionally “creative” fields (writers, artists, designers, etc.), ideas are never an issue for them. Most have more ideas than they could possibly follow through on in their lifetimes. Generating ideas is the easy part; it’s the execution of those ideas that’s difficult. The real work is in taking ideas and bringing them to life. Even the best ideas in the world can’t execute themselves, and without someone to execute them, even the best ideas in the world have little chance of becoming a reality.

I believe the challenge for many of us lies in finding the right model of how creativity and the creative process works so we can apply it in our own fields. I think there is an assumption that people can apply their own expertise or technical know-how to take their ideas to the next step. And while there may be some truth to that, examples and models of taking an idea and shepherding it through the process of turning that idea into a reality seem to be few and far between.


So where can look for a model or example of the creative process? I think one of the best places to look is Disneyland and other Disney theme parks. More specifically, I believe one of the best models for creativity is found in the design and development of Disney theme parks, a practice better known as Imagineering.

Thoughts? Let me know what you think in the comments!


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