Matt W. Kane

Disciplined dreaming

A proven system to drive breakthrough creativity

Josh Linkner


  • 5 step methodology of discipline daydreaming:
  1. Step 1: ask. The first step of the disciplined dreaming process is identifying and clearly defining your specific creativity challenge, whatever its size. In Chapter three and four, you learn how to define your creativity challenge while driving curiosity and awareness in order to focus the energy of your team.
  2. Step 2: prepare. Next, you have to make sure you are ready to meet the challenge you’ve identified. You learn key concepts for preparing yourself mentally and physically for the creative process and for positioning your environment for maximum creative output.
  3. Step 3: discover. In the discovery phase of discipline dreaming, you explore every avenue that might lead to creative ideas. Chapter 7 offers a wealth of techniques for charting your creative roadmap.
  4. Step 4: ignite. Now you are ready to let your imagination sore. Chapters 8 & 9 outline proven techniques for sparking creativity and generating more and better creative ideas.
  5. Step 5: launch. Your final step is to make your best creative ideas a reality. Chapter 10 outlines a framework for selecting your best ideas and putting them into action.

Chapter 1: the case for creativity.

  • Great companies are always built on ideas. They discover new and compelling ways to solve problems for customers. They play to win rather than playing not to lose.
  • This concept applies not only to break through corporate innovation but also to individual careers. Have you ever looked at the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans? To qualify these days, you need to be at least a billionaire – pretty high stakes. In reviewing the list, I notice something right away: there are no Forbes 400 billionaires who earned their wealth by playing it safe, cutting costs, and following the rules. Quite the opposite: every one of these people did something new and different. From retail to software to manufacturing to creating a new kind of candy bar, the ideas of these people generated changed the world.
  • At the end of the day, the only sustainable competitive advantage – – for individuals and companies – – is creativity.
  • Many of our best, most sustainable products originally came from one of client requests. The client would request a new type of promotion, and we would work around the clock to develop the product as though we already had it. Rather than building a bunch of products in the hope that they would sell someday, we would wait until we had a buyer and then use the revenue from that client to fund our product development.
  • Answer the following questions to gain a clear picture of the way you are currently approaching the creative process:
    • What percentage of your time is spent creating something new, as opposed to working out operational details or protecting the past?
    • List five ways that you can beat your competition. How could they beat you?
    • If you are entering your industry as a startup, how would you break the mold to beat the incumbents?
    • What elements of the past or status quo are you clinging to? What do you need to let go of?
    • How could placing your bets earlier drive your bottom line?
    • List five ways our company is stagnating: for each of these, list at least two ideas addressing how you can break through those barriers.

Chapter 2: disciplined dreaming, your system for creativity.

  • You may think that any framework or guidelines restrict creativity, but in fact, it does just the opposite. The structure in jazz enables creativity.
  • Studies have shown that creativity is close to 80% learned and acquired, according to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen.
  • Expanding your creative vision, tips to consider as you allow your mind to explore new directions:
    • Tolerate ambiguity. There will be times when things don’t add up or you feel as though you are off track. These are often the situations where you are getting very close to a breakthrough
    • Avoid “right” and “wrong” answers. Focus more on the questions – – especially open ended questions – – then on the answers.
    • Accept ruts and grooves. There will be times and you feel as though nothing is clicking, then out of nowhere, the ideas begin to pour out of you. Focus more on the process and on driving curiosity than trying to force results. The outcomes will happen if you let them
    • Listen. Renowned creative director and television producer Lori Weiss believes that listening is the key to creativity. She urges her colleagues to always be open minded and to listen – – to what people say, what they don’t say, and what the environment is telling them. You’re connected to a wellspring of creativity if you clear your mind and listen.
    • Don’t be rigid or stubborn. Your favorite idea may be great, but there may be an even better one if you’re willing to accept it. Don’t let your experience translate into being hard wired to the past.
    • Seek input. The more diverse minds you can deploy against your creativity challenge, the more possibilities you will be able to consider.

Chapter 3 defining the creativity challenge.

  • Building the creativity brief
    • David Sable is a prolific marketer. As the vice chairman and chief operating officer of Wunderman, the largest direct marketing agencies in the world, he has been the creative genius behind dozens of the most successful campaigns for Ford, Microsoft, Citibank, HP. Among advertising professionals, he is known worldwide for his creativity and vision and his inspiration to up-and-coming executives. David and his team start every campaign with a creative brief. This document, and established protocol in advertising and helps direct teams creativity towards a specific objective. A Creative Brief specifies important aspects of the project objectives, the brand, and the client, while serving as a guide post to help the team members coordinate their efforts. Common elements include the following:
      • Overview: a description of the project and what problem the client is trying to solve.
      • History: what has led up to this point? What has been tried before, and what were the results? What impact will this background have on the project?
      • Objective: what specific outcome is the client trying to accomplish? How will success be measured?
      • Deliverables: what is the physical output that is due at the end of the project, a TV commercial, a new positioning statement, a new logo?
      • Target audience Who will this message reach? What do we know about this audience, and how can we tell her the message appropriately?
      • Timeline: specific due dates for milestones throughout the project as well as a final completion date.
      • Client: who are the key decision-makers, and specifically which people must provide approval at each stage of the project?
      • Budget: what financial constraints must be adhered to.
  • Defining the creativity challenge.
    • What is the problem you are solving for? What is the key issue that needs changing or improvement? The most important aspects is to clearly articulate the problem you are working to solve.
    • Can you restate it in a few different ways? What about reversing it? By looking at the problem from different vantage points, you will build a deeper understanding of the problem and uncover more opportunities for solving it.
    • Write 20 questions about your challenge. Nothing spurs the imagination like asking questions. Play this version of 20 questions to really connect with the details of the problem. You may ask, for example, where did this problem come from? Who created it? Who tried to solve it before, how much is this problem costing us on an annual basis, what will happen if we do nothing about this problem, how is this problem impacting the culture and morale of our team? How is our competition thinking about this problems?
    • What is the need for change? This will help create buying, funding and acceptance for your new solution.
    • What value is created by doing something new? Is it worth it?
    • What is a simile for the challenge? Complete the sentence: my challenge is like a…
    • Can you establish a “spine” for your creativity challenge? If so, what is it? The key point here is that identifying a spine – – essential element or theme – – for your creativity challenge can help your creative process takes shape and form as you explore new ideas.
    • List key observations and assumptions about the challenge. Brainstorm a list of your assumptions about the challenge.
    • Can we paint a picture or make a model of the challenge? Different people process information in different ways. The more you and your team immerse all of your senses in the problem, the better your ultimate results will be.
  • Communication Strategy
    • How will you communicate to others about the idea?
      • You should think in advance about the way you will be communicating.
    • Will you seek feedback along the way or keep it quiet until launch?
    • What is your plan to roll out the idea once completed?
      • What is the most effective way to unleash the idea? Consider your target market.
  • Competition
    • Who else is trying to solve the same challenge right now?
      • Other teams in your company? Market place competition, corporations, universities, nonprofits, or even individuals.
    • Are there competitive ideas?
      • You may want to pursue a particular way to solve a certain challenge and find that there are other, competitive approaches already being considered to solve the same problem. Can you combine your idea with an existing proposed idea?
  • Project Plan
    • Break the creative challenge into smaller mini-challenges to make it easier to manage.
    • Establish the tone and style of the project.
    • List the rules of the road–the dos and don’ts.
    • Set specific deliverables or outputs you expect from taking this creativity challenge.
    • Establish a budget.
    • Create a timeline including key milestones dates and the people responsible for various tasks along the way.
  • Key Metrics
    • How will you define success?
    • List 3-5 key performance indicators for measuring the success of your creativity challenge.
    • If everything goes well, what level of return on investment could you realize?
  • Identify a problem and write nothing but questions about it for 10 minutes a day for 30 days. The questions will change and so will your understanding and approach to the problem. This will help you to fully explore the ideas and issues surrounding your creativity challenge.

Chapter 4: driving curiosity and awareness.

  • Why do socks always come in pairs of two? Asked Ariel, and why do they have to match? And be boring and plain? What if we did something completely different? This curious entrepreneur from New York launched and built Little Missmatched, and incredibly successful business that she originally conceived to sell socks to preteen girls. Most people crazy enough to enter this market would first think of outsourcing socks from the lowest cost factory in China and figure out how to sell them to Walmart, 12 pair for a dollar. Ariel took a very different approach. By thinking about socks from a user perspective. If a customer loses one sock, the pair is rendered useless, she realized. That’s why you can’t buy a pair of socks from Little Missmatched: instead, you’re welcome to buy a set of 3, 5 or 7. The socks with any sets are coordinated in color and style, but none of them are exact matches. That’s the fun of Little Missmatched. The socks are whimsical, cool and different. Providing customers with an element of creative expression in addition to fulfilling a utilitarian function.
  • Ariel’s curiosity led to a creative breakthrough that translated into business success. Within four years of operation, sales leads to 25 million, and were projected to continue to grow at 100% per year. The company raised 17 million for growth, landed a deal with Macy’s to have 85 Little Missmatched boutiques inside retail stores, and has expanded its products to include adult sex, mittens and even bedding and furniture. Little Missmatched questioned the established rules of engagement and challenge the existing assumptions that has socks should look, be packaged and sold.
  • Three simple questions to always be asking:
    • Why?
    • What if?
    • Why not?
  • At ePrize, we often tell the meatloaf story. A mother is making meatloaf with her teenage daughter, a ritual they have been doing together for years. As part of the tradition, the two chefs cut the end of one side of the meatloaf before putting it in the oven. One day, the teen asks, mom, why do we cut off the end of the meatloaf before we put it in the oven? Taken by surprise, the mom began to think. She had no good reason, other than that’s how her own mother made meatloaf. Together the two called up grandma to find the answer. After a brief laugh, the grandmother admitted that she didn’t know the answer either, she had learned the technique from her mother. The curiosity sparks, and the three went to visit great grandma in the nursing home where she lives. Upon hearing the question, the 98 year old great grandmother roar with laughter. I have no idea why you are cutting the end off the meatloaf! I used to do it because I didn’t have a big enough pan!
  • The big box, the five whys, zoom, tuning in.
    • A major French construction company makes new employees complete an astonishment report within 30 days after their start date. They are asked to list everything that is astonishing to them, both good and bad, about the new place of business. The rationale is that outsiders notice things that have been normalized to incumbent.
  • ” the innovator’s DNA” professors from Harvard Business School instead.
  • The researchers concluded that creative capacity is only 20% inherited, and 80% learned behavior.
  • These five skills separate the most accomplished innovators from the rest:
  1. Associating: this skill involves creating links between seemingly unrelated items. The best innovators are able to connect concepts, things and people in imaginative ways. To increase your capacity, you can increase your exposure to more and different ideas and then force yourself to think about ways in which they could be linked. Consider such connections as symphonic music with snack food, typography with travel, and catering with construction. By finding common threads and looking for similarities, overlap, or new combinations you can unlock new forms of creativity.
  2. Questioning: as we’ve already discussed, questions are at the core of creativity. In addition to asking or three magic questions, why, what if, why not, the best creative mind asks any number of open-ended questions. What could… How much… If… Then what about that… Have you thought about that… The specific content of these questions isn’t as important as the process of asking and answering them. As the name of this first phase of discipline dreaming suggests, ask!
  3. Observing: this skill involves raising your level of awareness, observing in great detail what is happening in the world, and then imagining what could be different. Scott Cook, founder of Intuit software, the maker of Quicken, first came up with the idea for personal finance software by carefully observing his wife’s paying the bills and realizing all the various subtasks that consumes her time. This observation set him on the path to envisioning a better way. In bringing that vision to life, his company change the world of personal and financial software.
  4. Experimenting: the most effective creative minds are not afraid of failure. Instead, the experiment and dabble until they stumble upon the best solutions. Thomas Edison generated thousands of versions of the light bulb before creating the one that change the world.
  5. Networking: you may think of networking as handing out business cards at a corporate mixer. In creative process, networking is about finding diverse people whose ideas challenge your own thinking and expand your perspective. Discuss your creativity challenge with people who have divergent viewpoints can spark incredible insight and solutions. Seek as much diversity as possible in this network, including diversity of age, gender, political views and educational background, career role religion and geographical location.
  • When you find yourself stymied by invisible barriers to your creative ideas, remember the pike – – a fierce and cunning carnivorous fish that eat smaller fish and always finds a way to get its prey. Scientists once conducted an experiment in which they had put a pike in a tank with many smaller fish, the experimenters stopped the feeding frenzy by separating the pike from its prey with a layer of glass. The hungry pike continuously smashed itself against the glass, but couldn’t break through the barrier. Eventually the pike became discouraged and sank to the bottom of the tank. At that point, the scientists remove the barrier giving the pike full access to its feast. What happened next surprised everyone. The pike continued to ignore the smaller fish, even when they swim right next to it. The predator eventually died of starvation at the bottom of the tank, with plenty of tasty fish easily within reach.
  • This phenomenon, known as the pike syndrome, is a great illustration of how we can become paralyzed by imaginary barriers. We may not even consider a whole set of possible solutions due to fear or some other nonexistent obstacle. The pike syndrome also can remind us that we need to respond to changes in the environment. If the pike had simply responded to change once the barrier was removed, he would have been fat and happy. Instead, he starve to death because he had held onto an out-of-date assumption even when the realities of the situation had genetically changed.
  • The costs of failing to see the information that’s right in front of your nose are quite real, as I’ve learned from personal experience at ePrize. We had recently won a great new client, UPS. When we shipped out a packet of sales material related to our first promotion, what did we do? We sent the materials in a brightly colored FedEx box! Just imagine the FedEx delivery person laughing as he walked into the lobby at the corporate headquarters FedEx biggest competitor. As you can guess, our client didn’t find the humor in this situation, and call me immediately to express their outrage. After the call, I sat down with the person at my company who had sent the package and questioned her thinking. I was stunned by the lack of awareness that would allow anyone to fill out a form with a giant purple and orange FedEx logo in the corner and address it to ups. But I was even more disappointed with my employee’s response: our shipping contract is with FedEx.
  • Creativity generally involves crossing the boundaries of domains. The most creative among us see relationships the rest of us never notice.

Chapter 5: gaining the keys to a creative mind and culture.

  • The top ten creativity warm up moves.
  1. The beach ball. Bring a beach ball to your next meeting and toss it around for 90 seconds before you get to work. You’ll be amazed at how the energy changes in the room and have a simple physical act can get creative juices flowing.
  2. Rock the house. 3 minutes of your favorite music. Loud. As a fun alternative, ask each person in the room to suggest a favorite song, then combine 30 second cuts of each song into a quick playlist. You and your team will be pumped up and ready to create.
  3. The deep breath. Have them close their eyes and do two minutes of deep breathing. After that,  2 minutes of random stretching. The blood will be flowing, just like the creative ideas you’re about to generate.
  • Here are ten suggested core values for your culture:
    • Passion, Trust, creativity, innovation, higher thinking, communication, collaboration, results, evolution, extraordinary.
  • For a short book about our culture there’s a free download at
  • You can keep your creative culture alive and flourishing by making sure your operation is guided by these 7 critical rules:
    • Fuel passion, celebrate ideas, foster autonomy, encourage courage, fail forward, think small, maximize diversity.

Chapter 6: preparing your environment to promote creative passion.

  • In an old building in downtown Chicago, catalyst ranch offers a playground that companies can rent for meetings, off sites, brainstorming sessions and presentations. The space is filled with color, texture and fun. Funky retro furniture, art supplies, toys, fabrics and even materials for prototype design are displayed in a stimulating array of possibilities. In the same way as a lab filled with all the latest equipment is exciting to a chemical engineer, Catalyst Ranch is a haven for people engaged in the creative process – – the ideal place to stimulate creativity. Business has bloomed for Eva, and she has since added a second floor and is constantly ask to open similar facilities in other cities. She clearly is onto an important trend – – they need to have inspiring physical space to engine creativity.
  • Make the most of intros and endings. In music, intros and endings to songs of the most memorable aspects to an audience. Begin and end off sites with something motivational that unites the team and gets them passionate and excited about the future. Really plan is two faces with great care to maximize the impact of your whole off site.
  • The main Reading Room of the New York Public Library is a beautiful and inspiring place.
  • Had bottles of water labeled as creativity juice. Even though the team knew it was only water, drinking their creativity juice during meetings somehow inspired better thinking.

Chapter 7: discovering the ways of creativity.

  • George de Mestral was frustrated. Had just returned from a hunting trip with his dog in the Alps. The source of his annoyance was a collection of tiny burrs that he’d picked up in the woods, covering his clothes and his pets. George happened to be an inventor so he took one of those burrs and studied it under a microscope and noticed tiny hooks that connected to the fabric of his clothes and his dog’s fur. George start to think about taking the same concept and using it as a fastener, as competition for the zipper. The product velcro was born that day.
  • Many of the best borrowed ideas come from nature. A metalworking company in the Midwest recently studied sharks and piranhas in order to model its next generation of cutting tools on the teeth and jaws of these formidable fish. Ant farms have been studied to find better ways to manage traffic in urban cities. Chirping birds have inspired countless songs and dances.
  • As a result, I launched ePrize with a single product: pooled drawings. I set up a system that allowed advertisers to share the cost of the big prize. The big draw was that each client would offer an eye catching prize without having to write a correspondingly eye catching check participants had a legitimate chance to win top prizes.
  • The “upside down” technique is about turning a product around and solving for something different in order to succeed. To discover opportunities for using the “upside down” to solve your creativity challenge, begin the process by using “instead of” variation of the what if question.
    • “Instead of trying to offer our customers low rates at our bank, what if we offered the best service.”
  • Rather than trying to take the bigger corporation head on, Minnetonka what up the world’s supply of these comps – – over 100 million of them. When the product launch, competitors were left helpless for 18 months until they could secure another source for the pumps. Minnetonka had adopted an ancient war strategy in which the attack or defense the opponent by cutting off his supplies rather than through head-to-head combat.

Chapter 8: generating creative sparks.

  • Imbizo is the Zulu expression for gathering. Imbizo groups, gathers people from diverse backgrounds and disciplines who have come together to simply discuss an idea.
  • Just as with the childhood game hot potato, put everyone in a circle – – except for one person who will be taking furious notes. Use a nerf football instead of a potato, two random people in the group, who is required to shout out one idea for a new or better service that you could offer your clients. Anyone who catches the ball has to shout out an idea that’s no more than one sentence long, they aren’t allowed to think about it, analyze it or contemplate their phrasing. Each person has to think fast and let his spontaneous creativity fly. This fast-paced exercised creates a situation that removes obstacles, blockers and fear. Let the idea flow for 15 minutes. Some ideas will be crazy, some will be stupid, and some will be astonishingly brilliant. When people get into the rhythm and let down that guard, beautiful ideas come more naturally. When we reviewed the output from doing the hot potato at ePrize, we discovered that this single exercise have yielded not only more but better ideas than other brainstorming sessions.
  • The wrong answer: you are working to solve a challenge and find the right answer. So what better way to find that right answer that to begin by finding the wrong one?
  • Stick it to the man. In this exercise, it is your job to be irreverent. To pick a fight. To shake things up.
  • Rather than just getting annoyed and moving on, keep a running list of these moments. Those lists can become one of your greatest sources of creative sparks.

Chapter 9: igniting the sparks of creativity. The 8 most powerful techniques.

The best techniques to ignite creativity:

  • Edge storming: the concept of edge storming is to take your brainstorm ideas to the absolute extremes. It forces you to break through conventional wisdom, to go far beyond small incremental changes and connect with exaggerated thoughts.
    • To begin your own edge storming session, conduct normal brainstorming session where various people from the group toss out ideas, but ask the group take each idea to its farthest possible extreme. To make this list, ideas must be outrageously big or small, loud or soft, expensive or cheap. By forcing yourself to the edges, you’ll uncover countless fresh and new ideas. Of course, later you can always taper those ideas back to more realistic stance, but edge storming helps you see Newbold possibilities. To boldly go where no man or woman has gone before.
  • The long list: the team or teams begin generating ideas. The first ideas tend to be easy and obvious. Next comes the edge ones. The inappropriate ones. Keep going until you have about 200 ideas in 60 minutes.
    • Forcing yourself to generate a long list pushes your thinking and helps you discover your best work.
    • To get the most from your long list technique follow these four simple steps.
      • Articulate the objective.
      • Set your idea goal.
      • Do short bursts
      • Let it rip.
    • Substitute
    • Combine
    • Adapt
    • Magnify or minimize
    • Put to other use
    • Eliminate
    • Rearrange or reverse
  • Line by line, Zipcar studied conventional wisdom and then had the courage to do the opposite. The results? Zipcar went from 0 to 100 million in revenue in only 4 years, and has locations in over 50 cities and more than 100 college campuses. Growth and profitability has skyrocketed, while the old guard suffers with the clines and losses. The opposite certainly provided some zip for the customers, team members and investors in this cool company.
  • The blindfold: the technique involves keeping the people who participate in the creative process a little in the dark at first to break through any preconceived notions our biases. Brian finds that using the blindfold helps generate some really original and non-obvious ideas. To use this technique, talk about a project and brainstorm around the topic without telling people what the project actually is or defining the desired outcome. It is akin to asking people to write a newspaper story without first revealing the headline.

Chapter 10: bringing your ideas to life. The launch.

  • Leaders at Virgin, the parent company of Virgin Records, are willing to consider creating just about any new business as long as it meets their value criteria period to be considered, a concept must:
    • Challenge existing rules, provide a better consumer experience, be more fun, put the thumb in the eye of the complacent incumbents.
  • Mach 10 innovation:
    • New product development at ePrize used to follow the traditional approach: come up with a new cool product idea, spend a couple months and a bunch of money building it, then take it out to market and see how it sells. Lots of upfront investment in capital and time, and the big race to see how the market will respond. In 2008, we flipped our innovation cycle upside down. We went from idea – – development – – sales, to a new model: idea – – sales – – development. Instead of betting on one idea at a time, we began to move forward with as many as 10 per month, but we built nothing more than a marketing sheet and technical specification. We generated a much higher volume of ideas and brought them to the market immediately, before the technical software was completed. From there, we let the customers vote with their wallets. Only when an idea was purchased by a real customer would we go forward with the technical development.

Epilogue: the power of one.

  • One of the most important concepts that I hope you have imparted to you in this book is the power of one. It takes only one fresh idea, big or small, to make a difference. And that one idea is inside you right now, waiting to come out and come to life.
  • One Idea
  • One idea is all it takes to change your career
  • One idea is all it takes to change your company
  • One idea is all it takes to to change your region
  • One idea is all it takes to change our country.