Put the “U” in Humor…

By Jeff Justice, CSP

John Cleese, a founding member of the British comedy troupe “Monty Python,” has produced employee training videos that use humor to get their messages across. He sees humor as a tool that increases openness to and retention of new information. Of course, he has to be on top of his creative game in order to be effective.

Several years ago, he was interviewed by Stephanie Armour, in USA Today, about how he can be funny and creative while also keeping his business head. His answers have been helpful to me and I hope they will be to you:

“…Switching from one to the other feels sometimes almost physically painful…I think the benefit of laughter is it relaxes us in a way that it allows us to switch more easily.” Cleese believes creativity happens best when we can slow our minds and control our activity. He gets away from interruptions with the help of is assistant but says, “Slowing yourself down is much harder.”

As co-creator of the Monty Python’s Flying Circus television series, he learned that  “co-creativity” happens best in an atmosphere of trust that removes self-defensive attitudes from the process. He says, “I noticed when I first started to write with other people that you have to get to trust the person before you can just say the first thing that comes into your head. If you want to create with a group, you’ve got to let that image down, be prepared to say the first thing that comes into your head, and, of course, not criticize.” Creativity flows in safe, accepting environments.

“Everyone can learn to be a lot more creative,” Cleese says. He thinks people can acquire the spark even if they were not born with it. “You have to create space. Shut the door to your office, and if you can’t do that, you go to a park and sit on a bench. Then you have to be able to deal with the anxiety that comes out when you can’t think of anything. And if you work with other people, you have to have a kind of moratorium that anything anyone says is not to be criticized. People have to let their defenses down before they become creative.” And again, humor that is focused in positive directions plays an important role in moving people from stress to productivity.


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