I recently bought the book 'Creativity - a short cheerful guide' by John Cleese when I saw it in a local bookshop. I've always had a great interest in the creative process, I remember reading 'How to be creative' by Hugh MacCleod (later renamed to 'Ignore everybody'), which I wholeheartedly recommend.

You can read the book in 40 minutes, its tiny, that's one of the things I love about it, concise and pointed.

Me, being creative, writing about being creative.

[Aside]: As you will see from the image above, one of my creativity tips, is make a note of your thoughts as soon as they come, here you can see me writing on a napkin, I also use voice notes. Creativity seems to be a cruel recall mistress, getting down the top level ideas/points as quickly as you can will help later. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to remember what you were thinking when you had that great idea.

As a software developer at heart, I have always felt creativity sits at the very centre of what I do, but finding that spark can be difficult, creativity by design is illusive, so I was excited to read what John Cleese had to say on the topic. He certainly has the pedigree in creativity.

Creativity is a drug, alluring, illusive, rewarding and fleeting, I love hearing about how people scratch their creative itch and create the conditions to get into the zone.

Here's what I learned:

  • You can teach people how to create the circumstances in which they will 'become' creative, which, you could argue, is teaching people to be creative.
  • The unconscious mind is incredibly powerful in generating ideas and creative thoughts, many ideas come after sleep, or a break.
  • The language of the unconscious mind is not verbal. This is something that really resonated with me, sometimes creativity is a feeling that transitions into more concrete ideas, often transient too.
  • Hare brain/Tortoise mind: A really brilliant metaphor for the two ways in which we think. (Actually the title of a book by Guy Claxton). The hare brain is figuring things out, constructing arguments and solving problems. The tortoise mind is ruminated, mulling things over, it is more about pondering a problem in a less purposefull, clear cut way.
  • Donald MacKinnon: Conducted a study to find what made the most creative architects so. He found two differences between uncreative architects and creative ones:
    1. Creative architects knew how to play
    2. Creative architects deferred making decisions for as long as they were allowed.
    I find point 2 fascinating, as one of my all-time mantras (I bet most of you haven't got any all-time mantras  /sarc) is 'decide as late as possible' which is a lean software/engineering principle. I suspect this malleability of scope and output means there is more flexibility in the whole system, creating more creative outcomes, Combining this with being more playful and you can see the combination would be potent.
    MacKinnon describes play as being "enjoyably absorbed in a puzzle" i.e. not just trying to solve it so you can move on to the next problem.
  • When children play, they are not trying to avoid making mistakes, they are exploring and spontaneous. Thinking about child-like play can help us be creative as adults are unconsciously restricted at play.
  • Interruptions are a creativity killer, try to create an interruption free zone.
    It takes 8 minutes to get back to the previous state of consciousness, 20 minutes to get back to a state of deep focus.
  • When you first have a new idea, don't get too critical too soon, and spot when you are 'anchoring', let the idea sit before you dismiss.

Tips on being creative

  • Write about what you know, you are far more likely to be creative in a field you understand and have experienced.
  • Be inspired by others, don't be afraid of borrowing ideas, most of Shakespeare's plays were based on plots of other plays.7
  • Keep playing, thrive at being an beginner. The Buddhists call it the 'Beginners Mind' and it actually gives you a huge advantage as you are not weighed down with the weight of familiarity.
  • Creativity has fallow periods, roll with it.
  • Get your panic in early, you are going to panic you are not being creative enough, get over it early.
  • 'Brevity is the soul of wit' - take comfort in the fact that less, is in fact, more.
  • Remove things that aren't relevant, don't repeat yourself.

I really enjoyed this book, it was so easy to access, made relatable clear points and also contained lots of fun anecdotes from John Cleese's' life.

Good luck creating!