John Cleese on Creativity

Accessing the lightbulb moment – flickr image

Here is a talk from John Cleese on creativity. It is well worth the thirty-five minutes.

Cleese believes that we have two ways of operating when we are working – a closed and an open mode. The closed mode of operating is the way we work most time, and this stems from us feeling that there is lots of work to be done; that we have to get on with it; that our activity needs to be purposeful. He believes that creativity is not possible in the closed mode.

The open mode, however, is relaxed, expansive, less purposeful and more playful. Cleese argues that the open mode is the truly creative mode of operating. It is the mode where curiosity, for its own sake, can operate. Cleese gives five keys to accessing the creative open mode: Space, Time, Time, Confidence and Humour.

Space: You need to make space for yourself away from everyday pressures.

Time: You need to allow a specific a time period in this space, this oasis. Allowing enough time to quieten your mind, but remembering that playtime also has to stop. He cites Johan Huizinga’s play theory here.

Time: This is the time you give yourself before you need to make a decision. If you don’t need to make a decision before tuesday, then don’t feel pressured to make it before tuesday. Learn to give yourself more time, to tolerate the discomfort of uncertainty.

Confidence: While you’re in the creative mode, there is no such thing as wrong. You need to lose the fear of making a mistake.

Creativity doesn’t need to be painful

Humour: Cleese believes that humour get us from the closed to the open mode faster than anything else.

But, even in the open playful mode, you still need to stay on topic. Cleese says: ‘Keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly, persistent way and, sooner or later, you will get a reward from your unconscious.’

We need to come out of the creative mode to make decisions, so switching back and forth between these two modes is necessary to work productively and creatively.

Cleese highlights the work of several researchers into creativity, including Donald MacKinnon at Berkeley in the 1960’s.

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One Response to John Cleese on Creativity

  1. Ralf Lippold says:

    Excellent post. Included your blog into my own, as creativity, and bringing innovation into action 🙂

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