Creativity: Two Modes of Thinking

Well, this morning I decided that I am definitely suffering from a serious and major writing block, so I started researching that subject on the Internet. In the process I came across a 1991 video of John Cleese giving a talk about Creativity’s origin and how creativity is not a matter of talent or IQ but really a matter of how one thinks. And there are two modes of thinking that impact it: Closed and Open

It was exactly what I needed, because as soon as he began describing the Closed mode, I saw myself in his words:

This is the mode we’re in most of the time when we’re at work. WE have a feeling that there’s lots to be done and we have to get on with it if we’re going to get to it all. It’s an active, probably slightly anxious mode, a mode where we’re probably a little impatient, if only with ourselves. It has a little tension in it. Not much humor. It’s a mode in which we’re very purposeful and one in which we can get very stressed and even a bit manic, but NOT creative!

Lots to be done, have to get going, slightly anxious, impatient, stressed… oh yeah. Mostly in regards to everything else in my life, but also the writing itself, seeing as the story has been stalled in the same spot for several months at least.

Yes, I know I’ve had these stalls before, but this is definitely the worst and longest I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been thinking lately that I seem to have forgotten how to do it. But when I heard Cleese’s words, and recognized myself in them, I realized that it connected in a way to the Flylady stuff.

Not so much the daily routines… those work well… but the other stuff. The lists of all the things to do around the house and yard, the way of getting it all organized so you can be sure and get it all in. Except I haven’t gotten it all in, and have the lists but they serve only to condemn me for failing to get everything done.

If I determine I AM going to get it done, then I don’t write. It seems often that whatever I decide to do in the morning is the thing that gets done. By midday I seem to have run out of energy, whether to do the actual thing in question or to make myself decide to do it. In any event it doesn’t happen. Of course, I do have to walk the dog most afternoons and do Bible class, so it’s not like I have all that much time after lunch. Especially if I have doctor’s appointments or errands… or don’t get enough sleep the night before.

Anyway, back to the video and the other mode, the one that IS associated with creativity: the Open Mode:

(This) mode is relaxed, expansive, less purposeful. It’s the mode in which we’re probably more contemplative, more inclined to humor, which always accompanies a wider perspective and consequently more playful. It’s a mode in which curiosity for its own sake can operate. Because we’re not under pressure to get a specific thing done quickly, we can play. And that’s what allows oiur natural creativity to surface.

I’ve experienced the above, as well, just not recently. I’ve been too “You must get with the program” to be playing around, or allow myself to relax and think “unproductive” thoughts. I don’t have time for that. I simply have to decide what I’m going to do about this world… will it be the small, limited empire I started with, or the larger, multinational planet I’ve been thinking about for some time but am afraid will make for too big of a story?

I haven’t allowed myself to simply ponder the matter with an attitude of patience, but instead have demanded results and conclusions, almost from the moment I begin thinking about it.

Anyway, I found the entire video to be very informative and inspiring, so I’m linking to it in case any of my readers want to sample it as well. It’s about 30 minutes long. I listened (and took notes) in two sessions

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3 Responses to “Creativity: Two Modes of Thinking”


  1. 1 insidethewriter February 5, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    This is so good, Karen. I am also in writer’s block mode at the moment and the worst of it is the well-meaning people who ask, “how many words did you write today,” and you just want to punch their lights out. I get the lack of humor thing, as John Cleese talks about. I am just going to continue standing in faith that the God of all creation cares about the creativity He’s given me, and He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it. I pray the same for you, Karen.

    • 2 karenhancock February 5, 2013 at 9:18 pm

      Thanks, Wendy. I know what you mean about the well meaning people who ask how the book is coming… Although I must admit they’re getting used to the frown and the groan and the “we’re not going to talk about that today!”

      What I loved was the “pondering” part. I’d forgotten about that. The freedom, the necessity merely to ponder, not to have to decide. That worked an incredible change in me today. Who knows if it will continue, but for today… an answer to prayer, for sure. And really so much more in line with waiting and trusting Him to deliver than all that huffing and puffing trying to make myself work, figure, come up with a solution…

      • 3 insidethewriter February 5, 2013 at 10:19 pm

        I liked the pondering part too. I read somewhere that a couple of ivy league universities actually schedule time for their professors to do nothing but think. They’ve become more productive and creative as a result. So, there is a lot to the whole pondering bit. And thank God for His answered prayers!!!


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