How to Unleash Creativity Like a Python

Those who want to incubate creativity would do well to study Britain’s sketch comedy group Monty Python who are responsible for creating The World’s Funniest Joke and coming close to figuring out The Meaning of Life.

Following is a bit of advice from each of the Pythons on how to foster an environment for creativity and innovation:

John Cleese:

Cleese is the most out spoken Python when it comes to the illusive subject of creativity and speaks at length on the subject for corporate audiences. He says, “We need to be in the open mode when pondering a problem — but! — once we come up with a solution, we must then switch to the closed mode to implement it. Because once we’ve made a decision, we are efficient only if we go through with it decisively, undistracted by doubts about its correctness.”

Creativity requires balancing broad thinking with closed thinking. Allow divergent ideas, but once an idea is selected don’t let criticism and doubt deflate its power. You must implement with courage and determination. Second-guessing and doubts mire the implantation process.

Terry Gilliam

The American artist responsible for Python’s visuals gives us a glimpse of his creative process in an interview about his film, The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus. “We read Dover Books, because you can steal from them. The medieval imagery and iconography is so good for the imagination.”

Gilliam isn’t embarrassed about stealing — nor should he be. Innovation relies on theft.

Eric Idle:

The Pythons weren’t always on good terms, but that didn’t stop them from working together and producing sharp material. If anything it elevated their productivity and urged them to create better material. Idle says, “Disagreement was the healthiest form of collaboration. If you had a sketch, and the Pythons laughed, you knew it was funny. If they stop laughing, they would then say, ‘It was funny until that happened,’ and then they would say, ‘So what if this happened?’ Criticism opened the door to where we would go next.”

Innovation does not demand consistent positivity.

Terry Jones:

The BBC gave Monty Python free reign to make 12 shows. However, as Terry reports, “After about the fourth show the head of comedy got hold of our director and said look this just isn’t funny, there’s nothing funny about a man coming out of the sea and saying ‘it’s’, you’ve got to do something about this. But by that time we were starting to get sort of audience reaction and the beginnings of a sort of cult following kind of thing.”

The lesson is — create without boundaries. Begin by doing and don’t seek out approval and acceptance. If you allow oversight you might never get off the ground.

Michael Palin:

Recently Palin has admitted that a large part of the Python oeuvre was “dross.” But he admits, “People forgive you the things that don’t work.” And there is the lesson. Not everything you create will be good and most of it might be bad, but there will be highlights, glimmers, and bits that people will never forget.

Graham Chapman:

Chapman died in 1989. His humor was by far the most subversive of the group and he always sought to upend convention for a laugh. He said, “I can’t talk to a man who bears an undeserved animosity towards ferrets.”

Creativity requires letting go and seeing things in a different light. Sometimes you have to put a stake in the ground and reject those who aren’t amiable to ferrets.