Urgency and Creativity

Develop similarities between John Cleese’s Creativity and this.

In this wonderful address, John Cleese explores the definition of creativity and how it might best be achieved and humorously, squashed. It’s been a favorite reference point of mine for some time. Recently, I came across this wonderful article entitled Don’t create a sense of urgency, foster a sense of purpose by Kimber Lockhart. The concepts in both are extremely important for understanding how software teams become high-performing software teams and why some do not.

Kimber’s driving point is that imposing a sense of urgency is far inferior to instilling a sense of purpose, or a vision. I believe what she says when she attributes the following to a urgency myopia:

  • Shortcuts and sloppiness
  • Limited space for creative solutions
  • Micromanagement
  • An unsustainable pace (urgency loses potency quickly)
  • Commandeering the communication stream

In Cleese’s address, he goes so far as to say creativity is not a talent but rather a mode of operating.  He describes two modes of operating: closed and open. The closed mode is one characterized by intense focus, intensely active, and slightly anxious mode. In contrast, the open mode is one characterized by a sense of play, relaxation, exploration and humor. Creativity is only possible in the open mode and is actively quashed by the closed mode. The open mode is ideal for considering solutions to problems. In contrast, once a decision is made, the closed mode is necessary to carry it through to completion free from distraction. For optimal work, Cleese claims we need to get very good at switching back and forth between the closed and open modes; however too often, we get stuck in the closed mode. There are many more gems in Cleese’s video such as methods for getting into and staying in the open mode and sure ways to quash others creativity by imposing urgency and solemnity. The whole video is great from start to finish.

Developing purpose and vision are hard and becoming addicted to the adrenaline rush of responding to urgency is all too common. Despite all this, we must wrench ourselves out of the frenetic and into the fun-loving if we are to be truly successful problem solvers and solution bringers.




Jason is a developer, Scrum Master, writer, teacher, coach, husband, father, and community leader out of Tulsa Oklahoma. He's been delivering software since 2007 and absolutely loves the values and principles of agility especially as given form by the Scrum framework.