Creativity in the Time of Chaos

I don’t know about you, but my level of creativity this year was at an all time low. Following my reflections on resilience, my brain turned to how to adapt to this COVID-19 world. This wasn’t a bad thing, in fact, it saw me through my most challenging moments of this year.

It took a sparkly new project suggestion to make me realize that, in focusing solely on the fundamentals of “how to adapt,” I forgot to ask, “what could be?”.

I’ll level with you, though: at that point in the year, I was sad, and as a logic-driven problem solver, I was comfortable relying on my usual methods for addressing daily project fires. I don’t know that I could have successfully asked myself that question. 

That other leaders were able to usher in an entirely new concept caused me to remember just how inspiring a spark of creativity can be, and the powerful impact it can have on others.

With that observation, I’m dialing up the creativity as part of my Leadership During Chaos Response Toolkit. But as a leader, how can one start with creativity and turn that into reality?

Anyone who has worked with me on WordCamp US knows how much I love our blue-sky thinking exercise at the beginning of the organizing cycle, where we imagine what would make for the most amazing WordCamp US ever. In fact, this is the first step in the Walt Disney Method, a handy process for translating creativity into reality. What I love about this method is that it is only three steps, and in Times of Chaos, I want as streamlined an approach as possible. 

The Walt Disney Method includes three frames of mind to walk through in order: the Dreamer, the Realist, and the Critic. In WordPress, an open source project, everyone can participate in those steps! Here is a quick explanation for the Walt Disney Method, and how it applied to the creation of Learn WordPress

The Dreamer.

The Dreamer is not bound by reality, risk, or any other hindrance. The Dreamer asks, “what could be” and brainstorms without limitation, and with all the creativity in the world. 

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the WordPress community to cancel all in-person events for 2020, so the big question was: how can we now connect as a community? A powerful community practice is to invite brainstorms and discussions, and the WordPress Community Team makes a point of having these open conversations as much as possible. We started here, with this post on reenvisioning online events, which was quickly followed by a proposal to build community beyond events.  

The Realist.

The Realist evaluates the Dreamer’s ideas for practicality. The key here is that perceived risks are not blockers, but challenges to be overcome, so that dreams can become reality. 

The proposal for building community beyond events invites more specific feedback, and community members begin to take on the role of the Realist. Questions are asked and finer points discussed to help creativity alchemize into an actionable plan, resulting in refined project details and a roadmap. Through a collaborative, multi-team effort, a live platform came to fruition – you can see how many community members/Realists participated to make Learn WordPress possible!

The Critic.

The Critic takes themselves outside of the Dreamer’s and Realist’s work, and evaluates the plan from an outside perspective, raising potential risks or gaps, and making suggestions for improvement. 

Of course, building a new platform was just the beginning. To make sure it would continue to grow and appeal to the broader community, a working group came together to focus on different success and adoption factors, such as collecting and reporting statistics, or finding more discussion group facilitators and attendees. Interestingly, as the work continues and moves towards a full launch, the Critic feeds the Realist, creating a great feedback loop that serves to improve the project. 

Pretty nifty! I encourage you to try this the next time chaos strikes: turn on your curiosity, try out the Walt Disney Method, and spark your creativity. 

You can get involved in Learn WordPress by following the WordPress Training Team and Community Team blogs.