Open And Closed Thinking Modes

Interesting list of 55 quotes to ‘inspire creativity, innovation and action’.

One that I’d not come across before was:

“We all operate in two contrasting modes, which might be called open and closed. The open mode is more relaxed, more receptive, more exploratory, more democratic, more playful and more humorous. The closed mode is the tighter, more rigid, more hierarchical, more tunnel-visioned. Most people, unfortunately spend most of their time in the closed mode. Not that the closed mode cannot be helpful. If you are leaping a ravine, the moment of takeoff is a bad time for considering alternative strategies. When you charge the enemy machine-gun post, don’t waste energy trying to see the funny side of it. Do it in the “closed” mode. But the moment the action is over, try to return to the “open” mode—to open your mind again to all the feedback from our action that enables us to tell whether the action has been successful, or whether further action is need to improve on what we have done. In other words, we must return to the open mode, because in that mode we are the most aware, most receptive, most creative, and therefore at our most intelligent.” – John Cleese

It’s probably true that the closed mode of thinking dominates the open, often due to the pace and connectedness of life these days.

I like the words ‘playful and humorous’ which typify the mood required. It made me think back to some earlier posts I’d written (here and here) on knowledge cafes that described how the change in conversational mood and tone developed through the evening leading to more open results.

By coincidence, browsing through my newsfeeds recently, I came across this YouTube video with John Cleese talking on creativity. Some of the key points he makes (which we’re all familiar with but are interesting none the same):

  • try and learn something new each day
  • sleeping on problems can be very effective
  • losing something and then recreating it from scratch often yields a better result
  • no distractions (at all) – it’s hard to get back into the flow
  • no one knows where ideas come from
  • create a mood that encourages creativity (the ‘tortoise mind’)
  • establish boundaries in both space and time (an oasis where it is ‘safe’ to be creative)
  • being busy and being creative are probably at odds with each other
  • if you’re purely busy, it probably means that you don’t really appreciate creativity

There’s a true story that provides a really good example of this approach.

The picture above is of John Cleese and some of the cast from Fawlty Towers. This famous comedy series was inspired by a visit to Torquay (see here and here) which neighbours my home town of Paignton:

John Cleese was inspired to write what became Fawlty Towers after he and the rest of the Monty Python team were staying at a hotel in Torquay called the Gleneagles (not to be confused with the world-famous Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire) whilst filming Monty Python’s Flying Circus TV series in the early 1970s. The “wonderfully rude” hotel owner (Donald Sinclair) endeared himself to the Monty Python team by throwing Eric Idle’s briefcase out of the hotel “in case it contained a bomb,” complaining about Terry Gilliam’s table manners, and chucking a bus timetable at another guest after the guest dared to ask the time of the next bus to town.

The interesting part of the story is how this odd and presumably quite unpleasant situation was turned into a creative opportunity (providing an excellent example of closed and open thinking):

Whilst the rest of the Monty Python cast relocated to Torquay’s 5 star Imperial Hotel, John Cleese decided to stay to take notes and from this the series was born!

So, in cases where things are going dramatically wrong, there may occasionally lie the seeds of a significant step forward, if looked at in an open (‘playful, humorous’) rather than closed light. This is learning from failure but in a more imaginative way than usual.

Picture credit here.


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