This term always fills me with energy (even though, one week in, the previous Easter break seems miles away…). I think the reason I find it energising is because we spend a lot of our time looking towards September: new beginnings; changes; creative solutions. I know that I enjoy new stuff – I am not a finisher, but a starter. Thankfully I am surrounded by brilliant completer finishers, so my professional story ends happily. However, finding creative solutions to the problems we face professionally and, in my particular job, helping others also find creative solutions does not always come easily. In fact intellectual creativity needs careful preparation.
One creative thinker/speaker who has reflected upon this process is John Cleese. In a Chicago training event in 1999, Cleese described the six sure ways for organisations to stamp out creativity:
1. Always behave as if there’s a war on.
2. Strangle curiosity at birth, lest it spread.
3. Open all meetings by reciting the mantra, “The problem has not yet been born that cannot be cracked with more data and newer technology.”
4. Defend your preconceptions with your life.
5. If you spot any colleagues engaging in unfamiliar activity such as wondering out loud or gazing thoughtfully into space, poke them with a sharp stick and accuse them of wasting time.
6. Make the questioning of deadlines a capital offence. If you’re in a state that does not allow capital punishment, relocate to Texas.
Cleese talks about Guy Claxton’s notion of the tortoise mind to question whether those attributes that we think represent creativity and efficiency really are right. In this year’s World Creativity Forum, Cleese expanded upon this theme to present a positive list of features that creatives and their managers should employ to foster their creativity.
- We do not know where we get our ideas from (but we do know we don’t get them from our laptops).
- Sleeping on an idea can help make its reappearance later so much better.
- Ticking things off and keeping all the balls in the air means you will not have any creative ideas.
- In our frenzied connected world we need to make some time to make some mood for creativity: a tortoise cocoon from which we can check it’s safe to come out into a self-created oasis in our lives.
- We need to set aside time and place where interruptions are not allowed – we need to create boundaries of space with a starting time and a finish time, separate from ordinary life, and only then creating a space and place where we can play.
- The problem with some teachers is that they may not know that they are not very creative, and therefore they may not value creativity even if they can recognise it.
- If those in charge are egotistical and wish to claim credit for the work of others, then they shall directly or indirectly discourage others from being creative.
In interview after the presentation he offered the following in response to the question, ‘what is creativity?’: “I don’t know if you can define it. It’s the ability to come up with new ideas, some of which are useful—or at least better than what you’ve got at the moment. I don’t think you can say much more than that before you get into circular definitions. What you can discuss is the circumstances or the environments that encourage creativity: the value of giving yourself the time and space in which to think creatively; the need to feel safe, to get past the worry that you’ll make a fool of yourself. In the speech this morning, I mentioned some research that looked at a group of architects. The study found the most creative architects were those who would “play” with ideas, those who were curious about problems or challenges for their own sake. That sense of play seems to me to be absolutely at the heart of it. It’s all to do with spontaneity.”
So it is that I turn to the new week to plan for playful spontaneity…