Most of us know the ensemble of Monty Python through their masterful comedic work playing upper class twits, the 12 apostles, violent grannies, bureaucrats and even egomaniacal architects. The playful way in which these comedy mavericks deliver the cult sketches and films makes it look effortless, but listening to John Cleese (the Silly Walk guy) give a lecture on creativity proved once more that geniuses are rarely born but can certainly be made.

Cleese humorously mentions that, like Mozart’s music, Van Gogh’s painting or Saddam Hussein’s propaganda, creativity simply can not be explained. Instead, he goes on to quote the findings of American researcher and psychology professor Donald W. MacKinnon who outlined three different kinds of creativity used as a basis for research at the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research Laboratory (IPAR), Berkeley, California. According to the research, creativity is not a talent-it is a way of operating. It is not something you do or do not have. It is unrelated to IQ, provided that your intelligence is above a certain minimum level. MacKinnon’s research proved that those regarded by their peers as “most creative” were not in any way superior in IQ from their less creative colleagues.

How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?
One, but the light bulb has really got to want to change.

MacKinnon recognized three types of creativity; the first-artistic creativity-reflects the creator’s inner needs, perceptions and motivations. The second type is scientific and technological creativity, which is unrelated to the personality of the inventor but results in new solutions to practical and technical problems. The third type is hybrid creativity, often associated with fields such as architecture, in which creatives are able to come up with novel solutions to problems while also incorporating into it their own personality and artistic inclinations. “Creative people have considerable cognitive flexibility, communicate easily, are intellectually curious, and tend to let their impulses flow freely,” states MacKinnon.

So, what sets the most creative people apart from the rest of the population? MacKinnons showed that the former simply acquired a facility to get themselves into an optimal mode of operating. Cleese describes these modes as “open” and “closed” modes, or as two different ways of thinking: convergent thinking, which is based on logics, reproduction of existing data and adaptation of old responses to new situations; and divergent thinking, characterized by flexibility and originality in the production of new ideas. Known concepts are adapted to new situations with convergent thinking, while divergent thinking is characterized by flexibility, and originality, and can produce a large numbers of new ideas. Both these modes are essential to the problem solving process, which creativity ultimately deals with.

How many programmers does it take to change a light bulb?
None. That is a hardware issue.

Source: Walter Cronkite,
Source: Walter Cronkite,

The divergent way of thinking, or the “open” mode, is characterized by the ability to play with ideas. What hinders the ability to ponder problems in order to find the best possible solution is the fact that, especially in business settings, we too often get stuck in the “closed” mode in the attempt to “get things done.” Under the pressure of time constraints we enter into a state of stress in which we are inclined to make the decision too soon. This paradox is found in corporate environments, where decisiveness is often overvalued and mistaken for successful problem solving. In order to rid ourselves from the anxiety that the unsolved problem brings, we jump into the decision without exploring all the options. This does not mean that the inability to make a decision equals with creativity, but reminds that there is an optimal dynamic process of combining play and decision-making which can be learned.

One has to be able to switch from open to closed mode at optimal times. This enables the ponderer to explore the solutions in a free way, chose one, go into the closed mode in which he pursues it and develop it further up to a certain point, only to go back to the open mode to review the taken course. This sounds pretty straightforward but the mental discipline required to make these shifts is difficult, although not impossible to obtain. Techniques for acquiring this ability can be learned and the major ones have to do with creating a space-time continuity. This means that we have to set aside a certain amount of uninterrupted time (no phones, internet) and designate a particular space for work. Once we’ve done this, our mind often starts racing. It is crucial not to panic at this stage and let the brain go wild for up to half hour, if necessary. This mental noise will most certainly quiet down in that time, after which we will be able to focus on the problem at hand. Calculating the time needed to get into the mood, Cleese comes up with a figure-an optimal amount of time for this process to happen is around an hour and a half-half hour to let our thoughts settle, and another hour to be productive.

Cleese consistently interrupts his speech with light bulb jokes in order to make his point-we need to practice creativity by switching on and off the open mode.

How many architects does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Jody Brown of says 21.

One to sketch out the concept;

One to model it in Revit;

One to question the concept… “Does it have to screw?”;

One to write an addendum informing the contractors;

One to find the spec section and ASTM standards for screwability;

One to fill out the LEED paperwork for said light bulb;

One to suggest a “stainless steel” light bulb;

One to suggest a skylight instead of the light bulb;

One to research alternate methods of screwing on the internet (Don’t google that while in the office);

One to suggest having a charette to brainstorm ideas about screwing in light bulbs;

One (intern) to build a chipboard model of the light bulb;

One to suggest recessing the light bulb;

One to issue addendum # 35 to have the contractor reverse the swing on the door in the room so the light switch for the light bulb can be relocated to the other wall;

One to ask the design principal in charge to call the client to let them know we’re screwed;

One to call the structural engineer to see if the beam running through the light bulb can be moved;

One to render the space showing a Louis Poulsen “artichoke” lamp instead of the light bulb;

One to ask: “what the light bulb wants to be?”;

One to discuss Le Corbusier’s use of light bulbs throughout Villa Savoye;

One to google “Snohetta / light bulbs”;

One to remove the boundary between the interior and the exterior of the light bulb;

And finally;

One to turn off the light while muttering “less is more…”