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Breathing space: Dream on ...


Walt Disney wanted to produce a film about Irish folklore

Walt Disney wanted to produce a film about Irish folklore

Dr Edward de Bono, the internationally renowned lateral thinker.

Dr Edward de Bono, the internationally renowned lateral thinker.


Walt Disney wanted to produce a film about Irish folklore

Are you a dreamer or a doer is a question that most would-be entrepreneurs will be asked at some point. If you haven't been asked, you can be sure that a judgement has already been passed.

Dreamers are visionaries and system-busters. They have fast minds, they are risk-takers by nature and they see the opportunities in problems. Even so, their ideas are often considered to be wildly unrealistic while their heads are thought to be in the clouds.

This is because, at worst, they have a pathological inability to fill out forms and a tendency to agonise over their company name before they have even considered market research. Many dreamers also have recurring non-completion dreams, such as sitting exams for which they are completely unprepared...

Doers, on the other hand, have their feet on the ground. They have five-year plans and clear, achievable goals. They see the problems in opportunities and they are more realistic about the amount of time and money they will need to see a project through. The doer is the person in your friendship circle who organises group trips - they get things done.

However, just as the dreamer will readily admit that they lack follow through, the doer will admit that they have difficulty dreaming up original ideas.

Dreamers create that first crucial spark, even if they need the momentum of the doer to maintain it. Yes, innovation is 1pc inspiration and 99pc perspiration, but there is simply no fire without a spark. By the same token, there would be no execution without a doer's consistency.

The trick, of course, is to be both a dreamer and a doer. To paraphrase Wilferd Peterson: "Successful people have their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground".

At this point, I should admit that I have dreamer tendencies and a dysfunctional relationship with the Company Registration Office. I have at least two new ideas a day and I struggle with actualisation because I can't shift gears - the whirlwind of idea generation is so much more exciting than the slower pace of execution and business plans.

I try to motivate myself, of course. Every so often, I read the John Keats poem - "When I have fears that I may cease to be/Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain..." - and I am overcome by a sense of acute urgency. Only then I have another idea...

On the plus side, I think the last idea I had might be the solution. I'm setting up a dreamers/doers motivational group. I've pinpointed the fellow dreamers in my friendship circle and suggested that we become each other's doers. It's easier to cheerlead on someone else's behalf and people are generally more daring when they are promoting an idea that they're not emotionally invested in.

Better still, there is a certain amount of pressure when there are weekly progress meetings to attend. But first I need to learn how to focus on one idea at a time. Dreamers have to become masters rather than dabblers and accept that they cannot actualise all their ideas at once.

Doers, meanwhile, have to learn how to dream. The first challenge is letting go of the self-limiting belief that they are incapable of idea generation or non-linear thinking.

Try surrounding yourself with new sights, sounds and smells to spark different neural pathways in the brain. 'Sleeping on it' is a fantastic technique too. Write down the thrust of your idea in a notebook before bedtime and see what ideas your subconscious mind generates while you sleep.

Reverse brainstorming can be helpful when you're specifically trying to solve a problem. For instance, instead of asking "how can I get more people to download my app?", ask "how can I get less people to download my app?" This technique almost always highlights new angles.

For group scenarios, try the Six Thinking Hats technique popularised by Edward de Bono. Ideas are reviewed using different thinking modes that are represented by colour. For example, red represents emotions and gut feelings while black represents criticism and caution. It's much more sophisticated than a SWAT analysis and it unearths many hidden gems.

Otherwise, you could try the Imagineering approach created by Walt Disney. He divided his team into 'dreamer', 'realist' and 'critic' groups. Dreamers conceived big and bold ideas, realists worked out how to convert these ideas to reality while critics poked holes in the overall plan.

Elsewhere, screenwriter Shane Black uses a very original approach for idea generation. He places ideas, fragments and snatches of conversation he hears in a shoebox. "I scrawl it down, throw the scraps in the box. Every time I start a new script I start picking through the pieces. Suddenly you get five pieces together and think: this is almost the first act of a movie, if I flesh it out a bit."

Of course, sometimes doers prefer to just do. Investors, producers, agents, managers and talent scouts would be nothing without daydream dreamers. And sometimes dreamers prefer to just dream - inventors, designers and creators need doers to give them the push.

Still, it's better to have both capabilities. As Sarah Ban Breathnach writes: "The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do".

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