John Cleese Spends More Time on Creative Problems

John Cleese had a Monty Python colleague who was more talented than him.

But for some reason, this colleague didn’t write scripts that were as original as Mr. Cleese’s. So, Mr. Cleese watched for a bit and figured out what it was.

“If he was faced with a problem,” Mr. Cleese said of his colleague, “and fairly soon saw a solution, he was inclined to take it. Even though (I think) he knew the solution was not very original.”

Whereas if Mr. Cleese were in the same situation, he’d sit with the creative discomfort for another hour. And would, almost always, come up with something more original.

“My work was more creative than his simply because I was prepared to stick with the problem longer,” Mr. Cleese said in a 1991 lecture on creativity.

Stay with the discomfort, don’t take the easy solution or make the obvious decision. And if you feel pressured by someone to act too soon, Mr. Cleese’s recommendation was to say this:

“Look, Babycakes, I don’t have to decide ’til Tuesday, and I’m not chickening out of my creative discomfort by taking a snap decision before then, that’s too easy.”

Because, as Mr. Cleese put it, a key factor that “facilitates creativity is time, giving your mind as long as possible to come up with something original.”

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