Creativity and the art of changing light bulbs

Written by Paper. Posted in Life, Off The Wall

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Published on July 01, 2016 with No Comments

Every so often, along comes some new and brilliant insight into the inner workings of creativity. We all say “Hmm,” or something like that and probably repeat it in the next round of party conversations. Maybe it goes into practice or not. But circa 1991, though that’s pretty much a guess, none other than John Cleese, the John Cleese, was handed the task of providing some sort of guidance on the creative process. The result is an entertaining an insightful take on creativity with a lot of light bulb jokes. The reason being that humor is kind of essential to creativity. But Cleese said he thought it was pretty much “futile” to engage in discussions about creativity because it can’t be explained by science or psychoanalysis – and psychoanalysts will only change light bulbs if they want to be changed. That is unless they are Lutheran psychoanalysts, in which case they don’t even believe in change.

Cleese noted that discussions on creativity often focus on the “type of childhood you had,” which is a moot point for an adult group. As far as he could tell, people are either in closed mode or open mode. Closed mode is the mode we’re in while immersed in the grind. We’re producing stuff and meeting deadlines. That’s not the time to be creative but it is an essential mode for acting on creative ideas. Open mode is when we’re relaxed, less purposeful and more inclined to humor. And incidentally it takes the same amount of pessimists or optimists to change a light bulb because the pessimists believe the new bulb won’t work and the optimists believe the light will soon come back on. Cleese advised that time or play time is essential to the creative process. But time for creativity should be limited rather than unending. If play doesn’t end, it’s not play. The optimal segment of creative play time is about an hour and a half. And ultimately the most creative solution is not the first one that pops up. Meanwhile, someone calculated that it takes 12.5 light bulb jokes to change a light bulb joke.

Here is John Cleese:


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