June 18, 2012

John Cleese on ‘How Creativity Works’

How do you explain creativity? Can creative ideas be processed, where adding effort and time into a process can end in a creative result? Or is it a less quantifiable, mystical occurrence that simply appears one morning in the shower?

John Cleese, from one of his clever and insightful lectures from the 1990s, says it’s neither – but it’s also both. To clarify his thesis, he outlines a process of five key factors which eloquently and persuasively explains how creativity really works, and how to foster an atmosphere that fits its nuances to ultimately generate genuinely creative ideas.

Cleese makes a clear distinction in the ways that we think: an open mode (for broader-scope pondering, experimenting with possibilities, encouraging wild ideas), and a closed mode (a narrowed, focused point of view for implementation, decisions, and action). He argues that both are valuable and required, but consciously balancing the two is key:

“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.”

It’s a wonderfully poignant and entertaining lecture that’s just as relevant as it was twenty years ago; and arguably even more important to appreciate today.