I walked home is unconsciousness yesterday. As you probably know, this is the opposite of what I’m currently attempting to do. I am currently working on becoming more conscious and present in everyday situations. Yesterday though I was unconscious for my entire journey home from work. I didn’t appreciate the Melbourne sunset, my tram journey, the Melbourne skyline as I neared the city, nor the incredible skyscraper light show that greets me as I cross Queen’s Bridge each evening. I didn’t even appreciate the row of trees near Crown which are beautifully draped in fairy lights. I didn’t awaken from my unconsciousness until it became apparent that my lift fob key wasn’t working. It didn’t unlock my floor the first time, nor the second, nor the third. It wasn’t until the fourth try that I decided to actually look at the key and then I realised it wasn’t my apartment fob, but my work one.

Now, while my work and apartment fob’s themselves are identical, my keychains are not. One has an bright orange label attached to it, the other has my silver apartment keys. So while I frequently pull the wrong key from my bag, I never actually attempt to use the wrong key at the wrong place, because visually the keys are so different.

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But how on earth do my keys relate to John Cleese and creativity?

Well, I told this story to my colleague and it immediately reminded him of a John Cleese talk on creativity. I love a talk, especially one I’ve never heard of, so I immediately began watching it. In his talk the Monty Python writer and actor claims that we can only think creatively when we are in an ‘open’ mode and that it is impossible to be creative when we are in a ‘closed’ mode as we are often forced to in most work environments.

It wasn’t until I actually became conscious and ‘open’ last night, that I could look at my key and realise it wasn’t going to unlock my floor. I could immediately solve a problem that in a closed mode I wasn’t able to.

The talk though, is much more interesting from the perspective of intentional creativity. I began to wonder, as I watched, how one might be able to harness the power of the ‘open’ mode and apply it to work, life and hobbies.

John Cleese describes the ‘open’ mode as relaxed, expansive, contemplative, humorous, playful and naturally creative. Whereas the ‘closed’ mode is consistent with anxiety, impatience, tension, purpose, stress and can at times be manic. The ‘closed’ mode does not allow creative thinking.

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But how do we get ourselves into this open, playful and expansive mode?

John Cleese pitches five factors that will enable us to be more creative.

  1. Space 

The first of these factors is space to actually be creative. He claims that you must create space for yourself away from distractions and people to allow breathing room for creative ideas to flow.

“You can’t become playful, and therefore creative, if you’re under your usual pressures.”

       2. Time 

The next factor is time. Along with a physical space, there must be a time space for a specific period of time to actualise the ‘open’ mode. This time should have both a starting point and an end point, which concentrates the period of time to the ‘open’ mode and will hopefully allow one to switch into the space more easily. His suggestion is to set aside around 1.5 hours, then take a break whether solutions have arisen or not.

“We can create an oasis of quiet for ourselves by setting boundaries of space and of time.”

      3. Time (Part Two)

John noticed when writing Monty Python sketches, that one of his colleagues would take immediate solutions and sit with problems less time than John himself. The result was that John came up with more original and creative solutions simply because he was willing to sit with the problems longer.

This, he says, is proof of a McKinnon experiment in which it was discovered that the most creative professionals in a study were prepared to stay with a problem longer rather than taking the immediate solution.

The takeaway? Contrary to what our lecturers, teachers and colleagues have told us, more pondering time = a more creative solution.

     4. Confidence 

There is nothing more stifling to creativity than anxiety, or fear of doing something wrong. How do we get around that? He suggests that we must realise that within creativity there is no way of being wrong. We must have the confidence to be spontaneous in order to allow creative solutions to arise.

“There is no such thing as a mistake”.

     5. Humour 

Humour is open, playful and allows creativity. He claims that laughter doesn’t make a discussion any less serious, in fact, laughter can actually free us.

“Humour is an essential part of the creativity we need to solve problems no matter how serious they may be.”

As a starting point for humour, might I suggest this clip or if you’d like to watch the full John Cleese speech you can find it here.

Until next time,