Creativity is not a talent.

It is a way of operating. Or so John Cleese says. But let’s face it, if John Cleese says something about creativity then it is most probably right.

Friday is a very exciting day in blog-land.

One main reason for this is that Design Bridge release their “Friday Favourites” which is where I found the video for this post.

Back in 1991 John Cleese gave a talk on creativity. He identified that it is not an ability, it is not a case of having, or not having, creativity. It is also not relative to a person’s IQ. This is all very exciting stuff for me to be hearing. I didn’t feel as though I had ever learnt to “be creative” and so now, in this next half an hour of talk, I would learn this ability and sail through life.

Sadly this isn’t entirely what happened. However, Cleese did mention several frameworks for enhancing creativity that, although vaguely aware of, I don’t necessarily consciously adhere to. (You may like to skip to the bottom of the post now and enjoy the video before I dissect various elements of it.)

He talks a lot of a difference between “open mode” a playful, less purposeful, state of mind. And the practical and decisive “closed mode.” Switching between the two, he explained, was the key to working well. In order to be creative you must allow yourself to think playfully and without fear of failure in an open state of mind. However, when it came to implementing these ideas the closed mode is the one for the job.

I am, of course, paraphrasing and possibly detracting from the genius of Cleese and so I would definitely recommend finding half an hour to actually listen to his talk, but if this isn’t possible at least you understand the basic concepts of his creativity theories.

One of Cleese’s main points were 5 factors that are needed for creativity, and well, who doesn’t appreciate a 5 point plan? He highlights space, time, time, confidence and humour as integral to creativity. 

I found his references to time (the second one) and humour the most interesting and so will limit myself to discussing just those two. He emphasises a simple positive correlation between time and creativity. The more time you allow, the more creative the outcome. Although a simple premise, the application of this is something that is very rarely done. I see this a lot within the studio environment. Although we have long deadlines and are allowed plenty of time for initial experimentation, the pressure and discomfort of not having an idea means that often a less creative solution is taken forward, in order to end the strain of not knowing what the project outcome will be.

By setting a specific day or time to make a final decision would perhaps allow me to relieve the pressure of idea generation and encourage more playful and free ideas to develop. Hopefully this will, in the long-run, result in a more interesting and original solution.

Cleese articulates an interesting point in factor 5, humour, which draws attention to the difference between serious and solemn. He believes that humour is the fastest way of breaking down barriers and yet, in many of the most serious issues that need communicating, humour is seen as taboo. He berates this and insists that many serious issues would be more effective if tackled with an element of humour. Wit, he argues, detracts only from the solemnity, as opposed the the seriousness, of an issue.

The final point that I’m going to draw attention to is the notion of creativity by connection. Cleese explains that humour is created when 2 usually separate references are connected. This is true also of creativity. When 2 unassociated ideas are juxtaposed to create a new meaning then the create process has occurred. However, it has only occurred well, or effectively, if the cohesion has resulted in more meaning, or meaning that makes sense or has significance to you.

This is only the way I have interpreted his talk and I think you will gain far more from it than I have just explained. I may have got the wrong end of some points entirely so I apologise if that’s the case!


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