I came across this entertaining talk given by John Cleese to a conference in Belgium on “Creativity” via Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen Blog.

I guess many people associate “creativity” as something that artistic types have (or need). But it’s not restricted to the arts. We all need to be creative from time to time, whether it’s producing a painting, writing a poem, working out a scientific theory, designing a bridge or something more mundane such as pulling together a presentation or writing a report.

In his talk, John Cleese stresses a number of key points:

  • “sleeping on a problem” can help to solve it
  • leaving something for a while after it’s finished and going back to review or revise it can often allow you to improve the original – this ties in with my own experience. When working on a report I try to leave it for a day or two, and then reread before I issue it. I usually find there are things that I can improve.
  • the key to creativity is to avoid interruptions –
  • “we don’t get our ideas from our laptop” – ideas come from the unconscious – to be creative we need to “get off the grid”

His main conclusion is that in order to be creative you need to create a “tortoise enclosure,” with “boundaries of space and time” to provide an atmosphere that is safe and free from the threat of interruption. Again I can relate to this. When working on a problem, trying to think how to approach a report or some course notes, or problems associated with running a business, it can be difficult to think straight when working in the office. I find that things often become clearer if I get outdoors and go for a walk out on the moors or in the woods away from everything. I guess that’s my way of creating a “tortoise enclosure”.  There’s probably also an additional benefit. According to John Medina, the author of “Brain Rules”,  exercise boosts brain power. So although disappearing for a few hours out into the countryside may seem like “skiving off”. In fact it can be quite the opposite – a way of enhancing creativity and productivity. Workaholics who anchor themselves to the desk are probably fooling themselves that they’re achieving more.