“Creativity isn't a talent. It's a way of operating” – John Cleese

Work in Progress

Work in Progress

October 14 · Issue #4 · View online
The newsletter about work

Hi there,
Hope you had a wonderful weekend. I had a good one, and it’s moving day for me this week. With our full schedules, you might sometimes feel pressed to make quick decisions. In this issue: John Cleese offers a fresh perspective on taking your time.

The author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, publishes a running list of “great talks” on his website. I pick a new one to read from time to time – a practice I can highly recommend – and last week I discovered this one by John Cleese. In it, the actor and writer of Monty Python fame (and Fawlty Towers and A Fish Called Wanda and of course Nearly Headless Nick in the Harry Potter films) speaks about “creativity in management”. 
Don’t let the uninspired title fool you. It’s a brilliant talk.
Light bulb moments can’t be planned. Or can they?
Cleese talks about the work of Donald MacKinnon, a research psychologist who showed that creative professionals will play around with a problem longer than most. For many of us, not having a solution gets too uncomfortable at some point, and we’ll opt to resolve the situation at all costs. According to MacKinnon, creative folks are creative in part because they can tolerate that discomfort for longer. Here’s John Cleese:
What I’m suggesting to you is that before you take a decision, you should always ask yourself the question, “When does this decision have to be taken?” And having answered that, you defer the decision until then, in order to give yourself maximum pondering time, which will lead you to the most creative solution.
I get lots of feedback from readers who are skeptical about planning for creative time. “How can you be creative on command?” they ask. Or “My best ideas come when I least expect it!” 
I often reply with a question: “Are you satisfied with the ideas you come up with? Wouldn’t you like to generate more ideas? Or more original ones?” You need room to be creative, and that means taking the time.
That’s precisely what Cleese advises. 
Learn to tolerate that feeling of not knowing the answer
Don’t know about you, but I tend to cut my scheduled time short once I think I’ve found a solution. And that feels great! I’ve just saved myself 45 minutes, I’ll think.
But Cleese says that’s a surefire way to generate mediocre ideas. Your first idea is almost never your best idea. True creativity is about “tolerating that slight discomfort and anxiety that we all experience when we haven’t yet solved a problem”. That insight was huge for me.
If you reserve an hour and a half to ponder a certain topic, take the full hour and a half. Or as John Cleese puts it, “give your mind as long as possible to come up with something original.”
At the same time, don’t plan to sit and think for longer than an hour and a half. After an intense session that long, you’ll be ready for a break. Yet its short enough to sense the urgency from the start and get straight to work.

Good luck and enjoy your week!
Did you enjoy this issue?
If you don't want these updates anymore, please unsubscribe here.
Powered by Revue