creative environments

John Cleese probably isn’t the best person to take advice from for every aspect of your HR-department (hiring people for example):

But in a talk about creativity he gave back in 1991, John Cleese gives an extremely interesting insight in how creativity works. Organizations that are trying to tackle our wicked challenges by innovation, need creative skills at some point. Most organizations do this by insourcing someone creative like a designer or artist, in the hope their creativity will magically transpose into the organization’s culture. This of course never works. As John Cleese puts it:

“Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.”

This talk is pure gold for several reasons. John Cleese shows of his true craftsmanship by captivating a crowd for a little over 36 minutes without moving around or showing slides or pictures, purely by telling a story about the psychology and characteristics of creativity. Only for that, this presentation is worth looking at. In short, these are the 5 triggers fro creativity John Cleese is talking about:

  1. Space (“You can’t become playful, and therefore creative, if you’re under your usual pressures.”)
  2. Time (“It’s not enough to create space; you have to create your space for a specific period of time.”)
  3. Time (“Giving your mind as long as possible to come up with something original,” and learning to tolerate the discomfort of pondering time and indecision.)
  4. Confidence (“Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.”)
  5. Humor (“The main evolutionary significance of humor is that it gets us from the closed mode to the open mode quicker than anything else.”)

Especially the conclusion on how to stamp out creativity is extremely important in an organization-context. I’ll end with some quotes from that part and the talk embedded below (it’s worth the 36 minutes!).

So, here’s how to stamp out creativity in the rest of the organization and get a bit of respect going.

One: Allow subordinates no humor, it threatens your self-importance and especially your omniscience. Treat all humor as frivolous or subversive. Blame humor for the resistance that your way of working creates. Then you don’t have to blame your way of working. This is important. And I mean that solemnly. Your dignity is no laughing matter.

Second: keeping ourselves feeling irreplaceable involves cutting everybody else down to size, so don’t miss an opportunity to undermine your employees’ confidence. Never never balance the negatives with positives, only criticize, just as your school teachers did.

Third: Demand that people should always be actively doing things. If you catch anyone pondering, accuse them of laziness and/or indecision. This is to starve employees of thinking time because that leads to creativity and insurrection. So demand urgency at all times, use lots of fighting talk and war analogies, and establish a permanent atmosphere of stress, of breathless anxiety, and crisis.

In this way we no-nonsense types can be sure that the tiny, tiny, microscopic quantity of creativity in our organization will all be ours! 

But! Let your vigilance slip for one moment, and you could find yourself surrounded by happy, enthusiastic, and creative people whom you might never be able to completely control ever again!


About leyssensjan

WHY I DO WHAT I DO As a designer and entrepreneur, I want to develop systems that have a strong impact on short term and will guide society towards a more sustainable, social and economically different system in the long term. WHAT I DO I blog about and do projects with people and organisations driven by passion. I'm always on the look for new projects, ideas and people to meet, contact me!

One comment

  1. That’s a really inspiring video – what an amazing speech!

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