British actor John Cleese is best known for his comedic talent as one of the founding members of Monty Python, which makes his intellectual insights on the origin of creativity particularly fascinating. This talk from the 2009 Creativity World Forum in Germany is part critique of modernity’s hustle-and-bustle, part handbook for creating the right conditions for creativity.
“We get our ideas from what I’m going to call for a moment our unconscious — the part of our mind that goes on working, for example, when we’re asleep. So what I’m saying is that if you get into the right mood, then your mode of thinking will become much more creative. But if you’re racing around all day, ticking things off a list, looking at your watch, making phone calls and generally just keeping all the balls in the air, you are not going to have any creative ideas.” ~ John Cleese
Cleese advocates creating an “oasis” amidst the daily stress where the nervous creature that is your creative mind can safely come out and play, with the oasis being guarded by boundaries of space and boundaries of time.
Another interesting point Cleese makes is that knowing you are good at something requires precisely the same skills you need to be good at it, so people who are horrible at something tend to have no idea they are horrible at all. This echoes precisely what filmmaker Errol Morris discusses in “The Anosognosic’s Dilemma,” arguably one of the most fascinating psychology reads in The New York Times this year.
Curiously, Cleese’s formula for creativity somewhat contradicts another recent theory put forth by historian Steven Johnson who, while discussing where good ideas come from, makes a case for the connected mind rather than the fenced off creative oasis as the true source of creativity.
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Maria Popova is the founder and editor in chief of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of eclectic interestingness and indiscriminate curiosity. She writes for Wired UK, GOOD Magazine, BigThink and Huffington Post, and spends a disturbing amount of time on Twitter.