John Cleese: How to Stamp Out Creativity

The creative and clever people are going to save us. They always have and always will.

John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) gave a talk on the subject of creativity, the full 36-minute video is posted on YouTube.

My friend David was kind enough to forward it on to me, I want to highlight the end of the speech in particular via the below transcript because it is profound. he pretends to be addressing an audience of rule-making bureaucrats, heads of corporations and such…

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And now, in the two minutes left, I can come to the important part, and that is, how to stop your subordinates from becoming creative too, which is the real threat.

Because, believe me no one appreciates better than I do what trouble creative people are. And how they stop decisive, hard-nosed bastards like us from running businesses efficiently.

I mean, we all know, if we encourage someone to be creative, the next thing is they’re rocking the boat, coming up with ideas, and asking us questions. Now if we don’t nip this kind of thing in the bud, we’ll have to start justifying our decisions by reasoned argument. And sharing information — the concealment of which gives us considerable advantages in our power struggles.

So, here’s how to stamp out creativity in the rest of the organization and get a bit of respect going.

One: Allow subordinates no humor, it threatens your self-importance and especially your omniscience. Treat all humor as frivolous or subversive.

Because subversive is, of course, what humor will be in your setup, as it’s the only way that people can express their opposition, since (if they express it openly) you’re down on them like a ton of bricks.

So let’s get this clear: blame humor for the resistance that your way of working creates. Then you don’t have to blame your way of working. This is important. And I mean that solemnly. Your dignity is no laughing matter.

Second: keeping ourselves feeling irreplaceable involves cutting everybody else down to size, so don’t miss an opportunity to undermine your employees’ confidence.

A perfect opportunity comes when you’re reviewing work that they’ve done. Use your authority to zero in immediately on all the things you can find wrong. Never never balance the negatives with positives, only criticize, just as your school teachers did.

Always remember: praise makes people uppity.

Third: Demand that people should always be actively doing things. If you catch anyone pondering, accuse them of laziness and/or indecision. This is to starve employees of thinking time because that leads to creativity and insurrection. So demand urgency at all times, use lots of fighting talk and war analogies, and establish a permanent atmosphere of stress, of breathless anxiety, and crisis.

In a phrase: keep that mode closed.

In this way we no-nonsense types can be sure that the tiny, tiny, microscopic quantity of creativity in our organization will all be ours!

But! Let your vigilance slip for one moment, and you could find yourself surrounded by happy, enthusiastic, and creative people whom you might never be able to completely control ever again!

So be careful.

Thank you, and good night. Thank you.

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Ray Dalio runs his shop in such a way as to encourage creativity and idea generation from anyone in the organization. Steve Jobs built a company – twice – based on the primacy of creativity over every other priority. 

Are you being creative in your work each day? Have you found yourself – as I have before – in a position where creativity is outlawed, frowned upon?

What are you doing about that?

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