John Cleese’s secret to being creative? “Create a tortoise enclosure.”

September 10, 2015Uncategorized

Picture John Cleese. What are the first things that spring to mind? The fabulously rude and put-upon hotel owner Basil Fawlty? Indeed. The stupendously nutty Monty Python? Absolutely. But content marketing?

When Cleese hit the podium in Cleveland at Content Marketing World, an audience of marketers from 46 countries around the world erupted. No doubt expecting some ‘Cleese-ims’ (of which there were many – most notably his suggestion that the world had lost all hope if Donald Trump was being considered as a serious contender in the US presidential race), the crowd was poised for hilarity.

In typically blunt, say-it-as-it-is fashion, Cleese expanded on his wisdom that the world has gone to pot. “There are a lot of depressing things in the world,” he said. “The migrant problem in Europe, and marketing slogans are number two.”

His greatest lament, however, is the world of information and technology overload we now live in, completely depriving us of space to be creative.

And this is where Cleese turned from being the expected comedian to instead sharing something far more valuable than laughs – his advice on creativity and the utmost importance of it.

He’s pretty qualified to speak on the subject, after all. Monty Python, as the earliest and most standout example, is nothing if not brilliantly creative.

So what’s Cleese’s secret to creativity – and allowing ourselves to be creative – in this modern world of overload? “Create a tortoise enclosure.” Meaning, give yourself deliberate and dedicated time to think. Just think. No agenda, no distractions. Just think. Give your unconscious mind time to breathe.

“Back before my Monty Python days, when I was at Cambridge and had just started writing scripts with Graham [Chapman], I would work at night and I’d get stuck. I just couldn’t think of the ending, so I’d leave it. Then I’d find I’d get up in the morning and scribble away and it was done, when I couldn’t for the life of me do it the night before.

“Obviously my unconscious mind had been working away overnight and, given the space to breathe, was bringing new levels of creativity to what I’d been thinking about writing. My mind must’ve been working on the problem without consciously thinking about it.

“I began to see that my ‘intelligent unconscious’ was doing something very powerful for my creativity.”

Cleese refers to Guy Claxton’s book Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind when coining the “create a tortoise enclosure” phrase. The ‘hare brain’ is the quick, logical, thorough and analytical mindset, while the ‘tortoise mind’ is a much more meditative or contemplative state. Cleese points out that society is so ‘hare’ that we’re in danger of losing our true creativity.

“There’s a quote: ‘Neurons that fire together wire together.’ If you have similar thoughts all the time, they tend to ‘wire’ together. We tend to tread the same path, with our behaviors and our thoughts. Creativity is getting out of that wired state.

“Get out of that mental rut. Escape your wiring. Create space.

“[It’s] very hard these days – so many people and devices demanding more and more attention and everyone’s racing around demanding more, trying to do more.

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