Last night I stumbled upon a friend's Facebook link to the actor John Cleese's lecture on Creativity. The video was so spot-on that I could not sleep for excitement thinking of how to get this rich info to you. I am writing initially to the parents of my students, but others are beginning to read this site, too, and I think you will all appreciate this video.

Here is the actual link:

Here are my notes with my thoughts added in orange:


Creativity is not a talent, it is a way of operating.  It is not an ability that you either have or don't have.  Creativity is an ability to get ino a mode.  The "open mode."

There are two modes: open and closed. Both are necessary in life and creativity.

Get yourself into play mode which is open mode.

Be curious. Sometimes you are working too hard. Relax and it will come.

The process of creativity begins in open mode and goes to closed mode to carry it out.

You can get distracted by doubts.

The most dangerous thing to happen within the creative mode is to be interrupted because the flow of thought is not immediately picked up after the interruption.  Interruptions can be much more destructive when being creative with emotional things.  If you are racing around ticking things off the list, you aren't going to have any creative ideas.

Open, play, be curious, explore, then go to closed, review feedback, then go back to open. Cycle thru several times to the end.

Step back and contemplate the wider view. Take a deep breath, step back and just look. Get the wider view. Take a step back again, disengage from action, and name what you see. 


1. SPACE  -  2. TIME  -  3. TIME  -  4. CONFIDENCE  -  5. HUMOR


Create a space. Seal yourself off. Many other artists and writers have written of the importance of creating a space where you are free to create. FS Shinn says it something like "Create a space where you can hear from your soul." Away from pressures. Away from distractions.

2. TIME:

Set aside a certain time with an ending time. At a certain time it must be over, otherwise it is not play. Play is possible when separate from everyday life. Set aside this time as an oasis of quiet. Tolerate your mind racing. Wait a bit.  It will stop.

3. TIME: 

Pondering Time. This kind of time is about not taking the easy way out, or going with the first thing that comes to mind. Stick with the problem longer. Play with the problem longer. Tolerate the anxiety of not having a completed project until the problem is solved. This is pondering time.  It is most difficult to create with people who decide everything very quickly and with confidence. Sometimes confidence is the best way to strangle creativity at birth. Know what the deadline is and then give the decision maximum pondering time.  Tell yourself or anyone else who challenges you, "I am not chickening out of my creative discomfort by making a snap decision before then, that's too easy!"  Give your mind as long as possible to come up with something original.


So be slow to try to appear confident by making a snap decision, instead be confident to face the fear of making a mistake. Be confident to ask, "What would happen if…?" 

Instead of being bold to declare that "x" is the right answer and let's get on with finishing up this project, instead be bold to risk experimenting with other possible solutions which might in the longer run prove to be more creative. Dawn uses the phrase "DELIVERABLES." What is the difference between creativity and deliverables.

You cannot be playful [which equals creative], if you fear failure. Again, KUDOS to CLEESE! because Harry and I whole-heartedly embrace this teaching belief.  My greatest fear is that I will create fear of failure in my students. The heart and passion of my teaching is to help children find their inner voice. If they fear failure, how can they open that vulnerable door to their precious inner selves and dare to play, explore, experiment?

So important: While being creative, nothing is wrong.


Humor gets us from closed to open most quickly. 

Giggle all you want.  


Keep your mind wresting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way. Sooner or later you will get a reward from your subconscious, or the creative side of your brain, aka your muse, IF you have put in the pondering time first.

It is easier to be creative with a playmate. However if someone around you makes you feel defensive, you loose the confidence to play. Never use the words, "no," "wrong," "I don't like that." Instead use, "what if," "go on," "let's pretend," "would it be better if," "I don't quite understand, could you explain further." 

Plan the unstructuredness into the creative process.

When creating a joke, the laugh comes at a moment when you connect two different frameworks of references in a new way that generates new meaning. Harry's video quotes Antonio Tapies, "Art should startle the viewer into a new way of thinking."

Create random connections but use intuition to find one that leads somewhere interesting.

Consider impossibles.

When you are playing nothing is wrong.  OH hooray and hallerlooyer!


1. ALLOW NO HUMOR. Treat humor as subversive.

2. UNDERMINE OTHERS COMPETENCE. Zero in immediately on all you can find wrong.

3. DEMAND THAT EVERYONE ALWAYS BE DOING THINGS. If you catch anyone pondering, accuse them of laziness or indecision. 

4. STARVE PEOPLE OF THINKING TIME because thinking can lead to creativity. 



I hope these notes whet your appetite to watch the video. It is prime rib!

So to conclude, Cleese has given us a few key words, phrases, & questions:

  • Open & Closed Mode Cycling
  • Pondering Time
  • Don't chicken out of facing your anxiety of producing "deliverables."
  • Be playful
  • What is the deadline here?
  • Never use the words, "no," "wrong," "I don't like that." Instead use, "what if," "go on," "let's pretend," "would it be better if," "I don't quite understand, could you explain further." 
  • Plan unstructuredness
  • Consider Impossibilities

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