Creativity in management (and research)

(Reading time: 1m, 44s)

I’ve been thinking about John Cleese’s talk, Creativity in Management, lately. Here’s the video.

To summarize: The main idea is that there are two ways in which people function at work — open or closed. We’re often working in the closed mode, but to be creative we have to be working in the open mode.

The closed mode is characterized by purposefulness. It’s an active state where we’re getting things done — a little anxious and impatient maybe.

The open mode is less purposeful and more exploratory. We’re contemplative and playful; There’s room for humor in the open mode.

Both modes are important, but we tend to make discoveries and arrive at new ideas in the open mode.

Cleese says that there are five requirements to get yourself into the open mode. You need:

  1. Space to get away from the pressures and demands of your regular life.
  2. Time away from the noise of your day-to-day work activities. (Watching ants, for example.)
  3. Time (again) to be sure you can stick with a problem and come up with new approaches, not just the first solution that arrives.
  4. Confidence to make mistakes, to pursue illogical paths, and to stray from what may seem “right”
  5. Humor to move you from the closed to the open mode.

Now, what does all this have to do with design or audience research?

I think it’s very easy for organizations to fall into the closed mode — a production mode.

The appeal of the closed, getting-things-done mode is that the outcomes seem more certain. We’re going to issue this survey, and it’s going to give us numbers, and we can be confident in numbers, right?


(You’re going to make me dig up poor Eleanor Roosevelt again, aren’t you?)

It feels like a safe bet to issue those surveys — you more or less know what you’re going to get.

But that’s the problem, too, isn’t it?

You know what you’re going to get.

On the other hand, if you start making time for extended interviews with constituents or fieldwork — well, who knows where that might lead.

But that’s the benefit, isn’t it?

You don’t know what you’re going to learn.

More on that tomorrow — Thanks for reading,