A long time ago, before death by PowerPoint
Presentation Zen seminar in Tokyo October 2

Presentation: A few minutes with John Cleese on creativity

Laptop.001 Below is an excellent 10-min video clip from a presentation by John Cleese expressing a few of his ideas on creativity. One of the main problems for many of use today is that we are always in a hurry and our minds are a bit scattered juggling many balls in the air. But if we are racing around all day with a busy mind, Cleese says, we are not going to have many creative ideas. We must slow down our minds to see the connections. There is some evidence that insights, for example, are best captured when we slow down, clear the noise and do not think about the problem at hand. In David Rock's book Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, he says "Having insights involves hearing subtle signals and allowing loose connections to be made. This requires a quiet mind...." In a world that is always online and always connected, it's helpful to close your computer as much as possible. Remove the distractions. As Cleese says, "We don't know where we get our ideas from. We do know that we do not get them from our laptops."

Create an oasis or "tortoise  enclosure"
Tortoise One key to being more creative, says Cleese, is to avoid interruption. This is very important, yet increasingly difficult. So the question, then, is how to become more creative in a frantic, high-paced world that is filled with interruptions and demands to multitask. Cleese's idea is that we must create a sort of "tortoise enclosure," an atmosphere that is safe and free from the threat of interruption. You have to create an oasis in your life in the middle of what is a kind of chaos for most of us. We must create clear boundaries of space and of time. Creating the space to avoid interruptions may be difficult at home and at work (ironically), but it must be done. If you have a nice private office at work or a good home office, it's easier. If you do not have one of these luxuries, as Cleese mentions you can always find some other kind of oasis such as the park or a coffee shop or the beach and so on. It's important to find alone time or uninterrupted time and space for your team in the case of collaboration. Cleese suggests that when we create this "oasis of boundaries" where we will not be interrupted, we must give ourselves a clear starting time and a clear finishing time. A boundary of time as well as space is important in order for play and creativity to flourish. Play happens when there are clear boundaries from ordinary life.

Quiet.005  Quiet.006
For introspection and for insight, we need to slow our busy minds. Often this means getting off the grid completely, if even only for a short period.


Jose Antonio Espinosa

I´m agree, and its not very easy to find time, but my best ideas appear in the morning, before to take the breakfast, I usually take a walk around the empty streets near to my house, but I never write..., following Mr Cleese, I will write everything to leave my mind work.

For other side, Mr Reynolds, congratulations for your book Ptresentation Zen, I just read and change my way to do so much things.

Thanks a lot from Spain

Jose Antonio

Christian gross

Nobody laughed at his jokes....


More important than an oasis may be to clear ones mind in a way of judging the importance of tasks and just writing a to-do list. Whatever occupies your mind which is not too important should be somewhere not in your brain.

BTW: It's a pity you didn't discuss Mr Cleeses presentation style. I'd be interested in that.

Christopher Gronlund

Thanks for sharing this. Like Graphity above, I'm interested in your thoughts about Cleese's presentation style, too.

I'm very lucky to be married to somebody who is fine when I say, "I'm going to hole up in the office and write for four hours."

So many friends insist they don't have time to pursue creative things, but many have time to watch hours of TV or play videogames for hours. And there's nothing wrong with that if it's your thing.

But most people have time, even if it's getting away from the desk and jotting ideas down during lunch breaks during the week, and an hour or two on the weekend.

Thanks for always posting great stuff; I'll have to check out Your Brain at Work.


Shame the audience seemed to be brain-dead! His best point was about people who are not good at doing what they do having a blind spot about not being good at it; as he says, this explains a lot about life.
To create your own 'tortoise enclosure' (on your [Mac] laptop), try out Ommwriter with headphones - it can take you to a different place and if you shut down Skype and your email client, without interruption.


I was there and it was a good presentation.
It's a shame people didn't laugh with his jokes, I sure did.

He presented at a conference where a lot of overly serious stiff businessmen attended. The kind of people that are anything but creative and think they will become innovators by listening to presentations. I must have been one of the youngest attendees.

I remember an anecdote Cleese made about Tomas Edison who used to fall asleep while holding a metal ball in one hand above a platter. Genius idea.

The whole conference had great speakers. Here are the original videos and reports: http://www.flandersdc.be/view/nl/6432289-Keynote+sessions.html


Paul H. Burton

Ironically, Mr. Cleese's notion of Boundaries of Space and Boundaries of Time put me in mind of my daily run. I find that all my "ideas" tend to flood into my brain at the very end of the run. It's like my unconcious mind knows that it's "running" out of time ... for today!

Tao Tao

That's probably why I'm the most creative under the shower.

Mike Byrne

Wonderful, but Mr. Cleese is really understating the value of resting on a problem. I use this process intentionally for big problems or big projects.

Often, when required to collect massive amounts of information, I'll collect and consume for days and then walk away for a least a day, sometimes 2 or 3 days.

Then I sit down and start writing, sketching, mind mapping and outlining. This process has reduced my actual work hours on projects and problems by 50-75%.

Thanks for the video Garr.


Mr. Cleese's final point about people who are incompetent at something lacking the skills required to recognize their own incompetence is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. There is an inverse relationship between real competence and perceived competence. I find this kind of funny, and I liked Mr. Cleese's spin on it. It does explain a lot.

Interesting video. Thanks Garr. Your site and your books have helped me to greatly improve my teaching.

Shannon Scott

Very simple and very true. Boundaries around space and time are critical.

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