John Cleese on Creativity


And now for something completely different. I grew up loving Monty Python, so I was delighted to find this presentation by Python John Cleese on the subject of creativity. In the video embedded below, he breaks down what he has found necessary for the creative process into five specific things: 1. Space, 2. Time, 3. Time, 4. Confidence, 5. Humor. Cleese expands on each of these five points at length in the 36-minute video, with his trademark wit and sense of humor. What follows are my notes on each point, along with the video…

1. Space
Space to be away from your normal demands. Out of the closed mode. Space to play, and be creative. Seal yourself off. Be undisturbed.

2. Time
You need to know that your space will remain undisturbed for a set period of time. And that when that time is up, you will rejoin the “normal” world. Cleese recommends an hour and a half…thirty minutes to get into the open mode, and about an hour of useful creative time.

3. Time (Yes this really is repeated on purpose)
Allow yourself time to play with the problem at hand. When you haven’t solved it, don’t look for the easy out. Stick with it, and fight through it. There is no easy button for this, it can only take time. Learn to tolerate the discomfort of not having a solution. In the end, your eventual solution will be more creative. You need pondering time, give your mind enough time to come up with something original.

4. Confidence
“You can’t be spontaneous within reason.” Understand that while you are being creative, nothing is wrong. There are no mistakes in this mode, anything might lead to the creative solution you are eventually seeking.

5. Humor
Seriousness and Humor can coexist within the same discussion. Do not mistake solemnity for seriousness, there is nothing wrong with humor in a serious discussion. Humor is a bridge between the “closed mode” and the “open mode,” and it relaxes you. Allow humor to happen, and creative solutions will be reached sooner. Cleese also talks about the use of “intermediate impossibles,” deliberately useless ideas to solve the problem, that serve not as a solution, but as a creative stepping-stone to jog your creative mind. As he says, “When you are playing, nothing is wrong.”

Watch the video below:

Matthew Jeppsen - DP Notes

Matt Jeppsen is a working DP with over a decade of experience in commercials, music videos, and documentary films. You can view Matt’s cinematography reel and contact info at and editorial ethics statement at

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