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John Cleese’s Recipe for Creativity

All the credit for this one goes to Bill Hewson, who has provided digital thought leadership at agencies like Catapult Marketing, Carat and Digitas and more recently founded The Hewson Group. He introduced me to this clip on after the Buried Life post. It’s John Cleese speaking on the 5 things you can do when creativity takes a nosedive.

The video is a great help for all of us in the creative field of advertising, where we’re expected to be clever and dialed-in all the time. It’s hard to pull rabbits from hats morning, noon and night, isn’t it? To write an award-winning ad or pitch deck in an hour – especially during those times when you’re feeling less than prolific.

In case you don’t have the time or inclination right now to watch the 13-minute video (it took me 5 months!), here are the most useful bits:

1.  When battling a creativity vacuum, give yourself 90 minutes to dwell without distraction on the problem you need to solve.

2.  Don’t permit yourself to procrastinate: “It’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things – like thinking – that aren’t urgent.” You can only enter “open mode” once your mind is free from nagging chores. (3:45-4:08) Open mode describes the ideal conditions for ideation. Closed mode is best for fighter pilot-like implementation.

3.  Be comfortable that the best idea may not be your first idea. (7:11-7:43) “Give your mind as long as possible to come up with something original.”

4.  Use humor to dispel anxiety, discomfort and achieve original thought sooner. The more you agonize over how to say something, the further you travel from saying what you mean.

Cleese’s prescription reminds me of that saying, “You can’t see the forest thru the trees.” In other words, it’s hard to have an expansive view when you’re knocking around on the forest floor. You need to rise above the daily distractions. Or, as Cleese puts it:

“This is the extraordinary thing about creativity: If just you keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way, sooner or later you will get a reward from your unconscious.”

Thanks John Cleese and Bill Hewson!

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