John Cleese On Creativity


John Cleese on Creativity:

You need to study creativity in order to become creative. It isn’t innate, it’s learned. Studying creativity is quite fascinating. The sort of childhood you had could impact creativity somewhat because creativity is about returning to a state of openness to ideas without judgement…..

What Creativity Isn’t: It is not a talent. It is a way of operating. Creativity is not related to IQ in the McKinnon research from the University of Sussex. Those who were regarded as most creative were not necessarily the most intelligent…. Creative people are able to get themselves into a specific mood; a mood that is open to play and be child like with ideas. Getting someone to be creative is about getting people to return to kintergarden……

focus stateThe closed mode: we are often in the closed mode. The feeling that lots has to be done, you are slightly anxious, it’s the mode of impatience, there is tension and purposefulness in this mode. It is a mode of stress, but NOT a creative mode. You get your deliverables completed during the closed mode.

TDiffuse versus Focusedhe open mode: relaxed, expansive, less purposeful, more inclined to humour, more playful. A mood in which curiousity is more interesting. Alexander Fleming who invented penasilin discovered it in the open mode. All moments of genius are in the open mode. If he had seen the dish without any culture in it while in the closed mode that uncultured dish would be deemed irrelevant HOWEVER in the open mode, Fleming was able to discover something that changed human development….

Focus mode v Difuse mode
Alfred Hitchcock would stop working when he had writers block & tell a random story from his childhood in order to overcome that dastardly writers block. We need to be in the open mode when we are pondering BUT once we have the idea, we need to return to the closed mode to make it real.

Once we have taken a decision, we should execute the task, then we need to return to the open mode to review the success of that task. So we need to be able to switch back between the two modes, in order to maximise our creative capacity.

Tunnel Vision: The problem is we are trapped in the closed mode in our lives. Creativity is not possible in the closed mode which is why so many politicians are truly problematic because they are obsessed with the closed mode of thought and not willing to explore the open mode under pressure.

Getting Into The Open Mode: You need five things:

Space for the Open Mode(1) Space: you can become playful if you are under your usual pressures but only in a quiet room. You need to create space for yourself and sealing yourself off from distractions. Meditation is an excellent means of shifting onto the open mode. You need an oasis of quiet through boundaries of space and….time.

Close up of a stopwatch

(2) Time: you need have a specific period of time to play in. It must have a begining and end point. You need to know that your time is set for a specific period, it’s only when you have a specific time that you can then close yourself off for play.  Play is distinct from ordinary life. You need to have a limited point of play otherwise it is no longer play.

Space:Time Oasis(3a) Space/Time Oasis: Getting 1.5 hours of the open mode will help you acquire creative ideas. After 1.5 hours, you will need a break from the creative mode anyway…..

(3b) How To Use The Oasis: why do you still need time? Cleese had a colleauge in Monty Python who rarely came up with anything more creative than Cleese (Terry Jones?), this fellow when faced with a problem would rush to a solution when it arose, he would always take the easy solution immediately rather than hack at it further to find an original solution. Meanwhile, John Cleese would sit there for the extra hour or two and come up with something more original, Cleese was more creative than his Monty Python colleague because he invested in the Space/Time Oasis.

(3c) Developing Negative Capability: It’s this discomfort with uncertainty that returns you to the closed mode as you are exploring the oasis. Keats coined the term but Cleese is talking about the Negative Capability mindset. It’s okay to not have the answer immediately, and it’s okay to wait for a 3rd or 4th solution before returning to the closed mode. Uncertainty is a good thing believe it or not…

Perfection on a Pedestal(4) Confidence: Nothing will stop you from being creative more immediately than a fear of making a mistake. Accept that you will make mistakes. British culture is steeped in an obsession with the closed mode and a deep fear of making mistakes which explains why Britain is overoptimised towards none creative innovation (financial sector in particular). Being perfect is placed on a pedestal and as a result, creativity is crushed. You should not be focused on being perfect but rather be open to health striving. You MUST be spontaneous, silly and illogical in the open mode. The best way to get confidence is to accept that there is NO SUCH THING as a mistake.

Laughing & Humour Mode(5) Humour: the quickest way from the closed mode to the open mode. The truth is that really original ideas were needed but that humour was taboo and the subject was too serious. The difference between seriousness and solemness. Humour makes a funeral more fun. Solemness makes people feel bigger. Humour is essential for serious problems.

Keep your mind leaning on an idea and suddenly you will be rewarded randomly while eating, showering or those moments of relaxation (but you need to put in the pondering time):

Avoid Distractions: it is easier to do trivial things that we know we can do than to do difficult things that we aren’t sure about. You need to quiet your mind in time.

The Japanese Use Groups Creatively: Japanese meetings are completely not structured and they have found a way to plan an unstructuredness. It’s easier to be creative if you have a group to work with. Never say no! or wrong, never be negative, never kill an idea. No is illegal in this discussion.

Humour: the joke occurs when you connect two frameworks that intersect in an amusing way. The moment of contact between two ideas triggers humour.

Ideas Are About Connecting Two Seperate Ideas: you can connect toasters and democracy. But it won’t be GOOD unless there is something meaningful about their new combination. You can produce juxtaposition which is used heavily in satire for example. Lateral thinking is about loosening up these connections. You need to develop intermediate impossibles in your thinking; “what if the sky was a hat?”….”how big is the blue hat market?”  Ultimately, when you are playing, nothing is wrong. Start generating random connections until you find something interesting.

How to stamp out creativity in your teamHow To Stamp Out Creativity In Your Team:

  • Allow No Humour: treat humour are subversive, blame humour for the resistance.
  • Keep Yourself Irreplaceable: always undermine their confidence, use your authority to focus on the negative, only criticise. Praise makes people uppity.
  • Keep ’em Busy: never allow employees any thinking time. Demand urgency, use war analogies, and keep that mode closed!

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