John Cleese on creativity… or procrastination?
John Cleese argues that taking your time and tolerating the anxiety of not having a solution are crucial to exceptional creativity.
I was always intrigued that one of my Monty Python colleagues, who seemed to be more talented than I was, never produced scripts as original as mine. And I watched for some time and then I began to see why. If he was faced with a problem and fairly soon saw a solution, he was inclined to take it. Even though I think he knew the solution was not very original.
Whereas if I was in the same situation, although I was sorely tempted to take the easy way out and finish by 5, I just couldn’t. I’d sit there with the problem for another one and a quarter hours and by sticking at it, I would in the end almost always come up with something more original. It was that simple. My work was more original than his simply because I was prepared to stick with the problem longer.
So imagine my excitement when I found that this is exactly what [academic Donald] Mckinnon found in his research. He discovered that the most creative professionals always played with the problem for much longer before they tried to resolve it. Because they were prepared to tolerate that slight discomfort and anxiety that we all experience when we have’t solved the problem. You know what I mean, if we have a problem, until we’ve solved it, and we need to solve it, until we do, we feel inside us a kind of internal agitation or tension or uncertainty that makes us just plain uncomfortable. And we want to get rid of that discomfort.
And so in order to do so, we take a decision, not because we’re sure it’s the best but because taking it will make us feel better. Well the most creative people have learned to tolerate that discomfort for longer. And so just because they’ve put in that much more pondering time, their solutions are more creative.
Now the people who I find hardest to be creative with are the people who need, all the time, to project an image of themselves as decisive and who feel that to create this image they need to decide everything very quickly and with a great show of confidence. Well this behavior, I suggest sincerely, is the most effective way to strangle creativity at birth.
But please note that I’m not arguing against real decisiveness. I’m 100% in favor of taking a decisions when it has to be taken and then sticking to it while it is being implemented. What I’m suggesting is that before you take a decision, you should always ask yourself, 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 decision.
Watch the whole video… many brilliant nuggets in here.
And some light bulb jokes.
Q: How many Cleeses does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: Two. One to turn the bulb and the other to inflate the whoopy cushion.