Monday, December 30, 2013

Between Books - Hatch! Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer

I have read several books that attempt to give you insight into the mind of an Imagineer.  But honestly many of those books gloss over the skills of theme park design and creativity without giving the reader the tools to use those skills in their professional and non-work life.  You often think to yourself, yes I want to be creative, but how do I go beyond the nugget that has been presented to skills building.  C. McNair Wilson bucks in trend in Hatch!, a book that provides a formula for successful brainstorming and a blueprint on making this formula work!

Hatch!: Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer by C. McNair Wilson showcases Mr. Wilson's expertise in brainstorming that has proven to be successful during his time as an Imagineer, private consultant (including for Disney), and within numerous stage productions.  The book is broken into two halves.  In the first portion, Wilson presents his "7 Agreements of Brainstorming", the principles that he shares with groups when he leads a brainstorming endeavor.  The second half focuses on the nuts and bolts of brainstorming from creating your own sand box to brainstorm within, setting up brainstorming teams and the ever terrifying doodling!  The author has illustrated the volume with doodles of his own, which reinforce his lessons, and inspirational quotes.

I feel like C. McNair Wilson has freed me!  That may be overstatement, but it is a fun one.  I work within a field where I brainstorm solutions to problems all the time.  And recently I even gave a professional presentation where I used Marty Sklar's "Mickey's Ten Commandments" to urge my fellow professionals to quit seeing ourselves as bland and dull writers of vanilla passages but instead as creatives who are artists when fulfilling external regulations.  I feel like Hatch! has further provided me tools to continue screaming this fact.  So for me, when reading through the "7 Agreements of Brainstorming" it was the liberating principles that stuck out to me.  For example, "Agreement No. 6: Wild Ideas" with the mental picture of putting doughnuts on the moon really hit home with me, especially after he showed it was possible to find ways to get doughnuts on the moon!  It helped show me that in brainstorming it is not just that no idea is a bad idea, but it was the fact that a wild idea may either be a good idea or provide the seed of a great idea.  For me, the six first principles that Wilson provides are about creativity and having the freedom to be creative when brainstorming.  Though he still provides space for critical thinking.  But even in this phase of planning, Wilson's formula provides plenty of space for creative thoughts.

The second half of the book is really the nuts and bolts of how to make the "7 Agreements of Brainstorming" work.  Throughout the book it becomes clear that Wilson respects doodling as a way to both foster thought and to express ideas.  But, I raise my hand and say, what about me who has little to no drawing skills?  What can I do?  I am happy to say that Wilson addresses this issue.  He provides suggestions on tools and how to practice one's doodling skills so one can have confidence in them.  Of course he also gives us a healthy reminder that we do not have to be perfect.  Honestly, as I read through this book I thought of a recent business situation where I lead a team through the critical thinking stage of brainstorming a problem without the help of Hatch!.  At one point I started doodling on our group notes.  This included simple doodles like happy and sad faces, and a burning house.  The funny thing is it helped us make a consensus decision for a recommendation, and when we presented it to others we included graphics as part of our presentation!  Though someone did have to ask me if one face was crying or just needed a shave!  So despite the fact I have no drawing skills at all, I had already seen the power of doodles.  (Recently I was faced with a project where I had to draw, an artistic friend gave the great advice of simple geometric shapes.  If you are worried about drawing it is a good place to start).

Disney fans will be interested in this book since the cover makes note of Wilson's Imagineering past.  And the Disney stories within it are enjoyable to the Disney history fan.  He recounts the day Michael Eisner asked a team to consider options for the parking lot across from Disneyland.  And one of my favorite examples was the evolution of an idea when Wilson suggested they build a hotel in a theme park (thank you, my few days there were very enjoyable).  And there are even stories of plans that never fully developed.  So overall a Disney fan will be pleased.  But one should keep in mind that included stories go well beyond Disney, with stories from his stage productions and even his 40th birthday party.

So despite the Disney connection, this really is a book for those interested in creative thinking and effective brainstorming.  As I have thought through the book I have found more application to how I support creative thinking at work than adding to knowledge of my Disney fandom.  So, one should realize this is a brainstorming book that anyone can use, with some Disney sprinkled in.  Hatch! really is a guidebook to creative thinking in group settings, not a history of the creation of Disneyland.

When it comes to the question of where to buy Hatch! there are several options.  At the author's website you can see all of the purchasing options, including one that helps support some good causes.  He has made available a PDF excerpt from the book that you can look through.  You can also read some of McNair Wilson's thoughts about Disney and non-Disney things, including his take on Saving Mr. Banks.  But being the selfish guy I am, I suggest purchasing the signed personalized copy.  My copy has a bit of whimsy to it since the author added his own personal touch.

Hatch!: Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer by C. McNair Wilson is a liberating book.  It allows the rational being to release themselves into a creative one by providing a simple set of seven agreements.  By following these steps one can make a good thing great, much like Imagineering does!  But even if you are not a Disney parks fan, you can still gain much by sharpening your brainstorming skills while having some fun. 

Review Copy Provided for Purposes of Review

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