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Source: John Cleese, ‘A lecture on Creativity’ Video Arts, 1991

Thirty-six minutes of pure genius.

What follows are my notes on the lecture.

Five Factors to make your life more Creative
or, Five Requirements for an Open Mode Mindset

Creativity is associated with play. True play is experiment. And humor is an essential part of spontaneity, playfulness, and creativity.

An open mode mindset requires the following five requirements:

  1. Space – Create some space for yourself away from the normal demands of life.

“Create an oasis of quiet.” – John Cleese

  1. Time – Create space for yourself for a specific period of time. You need both a specific time to begin and a specific time to end.

“Play is distinct from ordinary life both as to locality and duration. This is its main characteristic: Its secludedness. Its limitedness. Play begins and then at a certain moment it is over. Otherwise it is not play.” – Johan Huizinga

“It’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things that are not urgent (like thinking) and it’s also easier to do little things we know we can do than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about.” – John Cleese

Note that it takes about a half hour for your brain to race and then calm down once you begin getting into the open mode. Therefore, you should allot more than a half hour to this endeavor.

  1. Time – Give your mind as long as possible to come up with something original. If you are prepared to stick with a problem longer and don’t take the obvious and easy way out, then you will almost always come up with something more original. The most creative people tolerate the discomfort of having a problem without a solution far longer than less creative people.

“The people I find it hardest to be creative with are people who need – all the time – to project an image of themselves as decisive and who feel that to create this image they need to decide everything very quickly and with a great show of confidence. Well this behavior I suggest sincerely is the most effective way of strangling creativity at birth.” – John Cleese

“What I’m suggesting to you is that before you take a decision you should always ask yourself the question, “When does this decision have to be taken?” and having answered that, you defer the decision until then in order to give yourself maximum pondering time which will lead you to the most creative solution.” – John Cleese

  1. Confidence – Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake. You’re either free to play or you’re not. Know that while you’re being creative nothing is wrong. There’s no such thing as a mistake. And any drivel may lead to the breakthrough.

“You can’t be spontaneous within reason.” – Alan Watts

  1. Humor – Nothing gets us from the closed mode to the open mode quicker than humor. Things can be Serious – and thus involve humor, spontaneity, and play – without being Solemn.

“Creativity is like humor: In a joke, the laugh comes at a moment when you connect two different frameworks of reference in a new way. Having a new idea is exactly the same thing: It’s connecting two hitherto separate ideas in a way that generates new meaning.” – John Cleese

Finally, you also need to keep your mind gently resting against the subject. It’s very much like meditating. Allow your mind free reign to mull over a problem while you go about your normal routine. This leads to those Ah-ha! moments when solutions appear.

And make sure your creative friends are people you like and trust. Never say anything to squash them. Always be positive and uplifting. Try to establish as free an atmosphere as possible. If even one person around you makes you feel defensive, your creativity will be undermined.

Managers: How to stamp out Creativity in your Organization

  1. Allow your subordinates no humor.
  2. Don’t miss an opportunity to undermine your employees confidence. Be a fault-finder. Never balance negatives with positives. Only criticize.
  3. Demand that people always be active doing things. Never let them stop and think. Demand urgency at all times. Use lots of fighting talk. Establish a permanent atmosphere of stress, breathless anxiety, and crisis.

In a phrase, keep that mode closed!

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