Wednesday, April 18, 2012

John Cleese on creativity

For the second time, I've come across some engaging comments by the British actor John Cleese, and I though I would pass them on. Cleese's model for creativity centers on the interplay of two modes of operating – open, where we take a wide-angle, abstract view of the problem and allow the mind to ponder possible solutions, and closed, where we zoom in on implementing a specific solution with narrow precision.  In the 10 minute video, he stresses the role of the unconscious. 
-Space ("You can't become playful, and therefore creative, if you're under your usual pressures.")

-Time ("It's not enough to create space; you have to create your space for a specific period of time.")

-Time ("Giving your mind as long as possible to come up with something original," and learning to tolerate the discomfort of pondering time and indecision.)

-Confidence ("Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.")
 -Humor ("The main evolutionary significance of humor is that it gets us from the closed mode to the open mode quicker than anything else.")

Further points:
Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.

We need to be in the open mode when pondering a problem – but! – once we come up with a solution, we must then switch to the closed mode to implement it. Because once we've made a decision, we are efficient only if we go through with it decisively, undistracted by doubts about its correctness.

To be at our most efficient, we need to be able to switch backwards and forward between the two modes. But – here's the problem – we too often get stuck in the closed mode. Under the pressures which are all too familiar to us, we tend to maintain tunnel vision at times when we really need to step back and contemplate the wider view. This is particularly true, for example, of politicians. The main complaint about them from their nonpolitical colleagues is that they've become so addicted to the adrenaline that they get from reacting to events on an hour-by-hour basis that they almost completely lose the desire or the ability to ponder problems in the open mode. Cleese concludes with a beautiful articulation of the premise and promise of his recipe for creativity:

This is the extraordinary thing about creativity: If just you keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way, sooner or later you will get a reward from your unconscious.

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