John Cleese shares his wisdom on how to be more creative

I came across a great video the other day where John Cleese shares his wisdom and research on how to be more creative. You can watch the video below and if you don't have 30mins to spare, you can glance at my notes on his talk below.



Telling us how to become creative is a complete waste of time. Creativity can't be explained. Freud denied psychoanalysis can say anything about creativity. Our childhood has a huge impact on our ability to be creative.


How many folk singers does it take to change a lightbulb? One to change the bulb, four to sing about how better the old one was


It is easier to say what creativity isn't. Creativity is not a talent it is a way of operating.


How many actors does it take to change a lightbulb? 10000s to say they could have done that.


Research by Donald MacKinnon shows that creativity is not related to intelligence and it is not a talent. Creative people find a way to get into a creative mood that allows creativity to begin to happen. This mood is an ability to play and be childlike. Playing with ideas and exploring them for enjoyment. Play for play's own sake.

People function in the workplace in two modes, the open mode and the closed mode. Creativity is not possible in the close mode.

  • Closed mode is what we are in most the time we are at work. Under pressure we have lots to do. This can be exciting, even pleasurable. We tend to be a little inpatient and purposeful.
  • Open mode is when we are relaxed, less purposeful, more inclined to humour and more playful. Curiosity can operate, we can play, there is no presure to get things done or for them to be right.

Alexander Fleming, must have been in the open mode when he found a petri dish with no culture growing. In the closed mode he would have discarded it as a failure but in the open mode he became curious and this led him to discover penicillin.

In the closed mode the uncultured petri dish is useless, in the open mode it is a clue.

We need to find a way to be in the open mode when pondering a problem, but then we must implement the close mode to follow it through. We don't want to contemplate a jump seconds before we leap. The pressures of modern society push us into the closed mode so getting into the open mode can be a challenge.


How many psychiatrists to change lightbulb? One, but the lightbulb needs to want to change.


For those that don't easily slip into open mode. John suggests the following requirements:

  • Space: We can't be playful under our usual pressures. Create space away from demands. Seal yourself off.
  • Time: Create space for a specific period of time, have a set start and end. Give yourself time for your mind to quieten down. John suggests 1 1/2 hours is optimum.
  • Confidence: Nothing will stop you in your tracks faster than the fear of failure. You need to allow for mistakes and see them as possibilities.
  • Humour: The fastest way to get from the closed mode to the open mode. Having a laugh about something does not make it less serious. Solemnity is overrated.


"Play is distinct from ordinary life both as to locality and duration" - Johan hoisinger


Research shows that the most creative professionals play with a problem longer before attempting to resolve it. During your open mode, keep bringing your mind back to the subject (just like meditation) sooner or later you will get a reward from your unconscious, but only if you have put in the pondering time first. It is easier to be creative if you have people to bounce ideas off of.

Danger, if one person around you makes you defensive, you lose all confidence and can say adios to creativity.

A good way to trigger ideas is through juxtapositions. In a joke, the laugh comes when you connect two unique points of reference together, that create new meaning. Combing two random ideas in a new way are only significant if they generate new meaning.

(via BoingBoing)