Creativity Essentials from John Cleese

John Cleese knows a thing or two about creativity. A founding member and driving creative force behind Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Cleese delivered a keynote address on the topic at last week’s Content Marketing World Conference in Cleveland, Ohio.

John Cleese Creativity Notes

Artist’s rendering of John Cleese #CMWorld 2015 keynote

Incredibly, he only discovered his own capacity for creativity at age 22 when he started writing early skits with Graham Chapman. A lifelong student, Cleese has not only capitalized on his creativity but academically sought answers for its source.

Referencing a book called Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less, he underscored the role of our unconscious in the creative process. We can’t will creativity to come forth, but we can set up an environment and set of circumstances conducive to creative thinking.

Cleese warned against becoming “hare brained,” in other words always rushing from one task to another focusing on outcomes rather than process. By contrast, people with tortoise mind give themselves plenty time not only to complete a task, but to rest and reflect between tasks. This rest period, and especially rest that leads to play and exploration, puts our mind in a creative state.

To be creative on a regular basis, Cleese advised creating two types of boundaries, boundaries of time and boundaries of space. Boundaries of time give us the chance to think more with tortoise mind than with hare brain. Boundaries of space give us a buffer from distractions that interrupt creative thought. Open-office floor plans, he said, may facilitate collaboration between people, but they make creative thinking almost impossible due to the incessant interruptions of conversations, music and phones.

While we can foster creativity, we can never force it. Waiting until the last minute of a deadline only creates an environment for hare brained thinking, which quickly leads to uninspired work. That’s why it seems like so many good ideas come to us in the shower. In a hare-brained life the shower is one place that necessarily creates a boundary of time and space.

To realize your creative potential, take a look at your daily routine and consider where you can protect more time and space. Your newly found tortoise mind will thank you for it.