John Cleese — the legendary comedian from Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and movies like A Fish Called Wanda — gave a lecture on creativity that will blow your mind. It’s about 36 minutes long, and it’s a must-watch for any writer.
Cleese starts by explaining the difference between “open” and “closed” modes of thinking. The open mode is playful, relaxed, and humorous, while the closed mode is critical, methodical, and sometimes stressed. The open mode is the one most responsible for creativity.
He uses the example of penicillin to explain open thinking. Alexander Fleming originally grew multiple cultures of bacteria. He found that in one petri dish, bacteria wasn’t growing. If he had been in the closed mode of thinking at the time, he would have counted this petri dish as a failure. Since he was in the open mode, Fleming realized that the lack of bacteria was actually a success, and so he focused his research on how to replicate that one dish. Penicillin was born.
So how do you get into the open mode of thinking? Cleese has five conditions that will help you:
First, you need to seal yourself off in a quiet space where you will be undisturbed. He calls this an “oasis of quiet.”
You should seal yourself off for a specific length of time. Giving yourself a specific time makes it easier to keep the outside world out of your space. Cleese recommends an hour and a half.
Once you’re in your oasis of quiet, your mind will probably start wandering. It may start thinking of menial tasks you need to do, like appointments you need to make or emails you need to send. You should let these thoughts happen. If you wait long enough, they’ll pass.
Now that your mind has stopped thinking of your to-do list, you still need time to think up with the most creative solutions. You might come up with a solution to a creative problem right when you sit down, but if you play longer, you will most likely come up with a better, more original solution.
Nothing kills creativity more than the fear of making a mistake. There are no wrong answers when you’re in the open mode. Wait until later to be critical.
Cleese says humor gets us to the open mode quicker than anything else. Humor is necessary for playfulness and creativity.
Here’s the full video:
So there it is. Have any more tips on being creative? Leave a comment here or on Twitter!