Lesson in Creativity from Hitchcock

Rear window

“I was always intrigued that one of my Monty Python colleagues who seemed to be (to me) more talented than I was {but} did never produce scripts as original as mine.

And I watched for some time and then I began to see why. If he was faced with a problem, and fairly soon saw a solution, he was inclined to take it. Even though (I think) he knew the solution was not very original.

Whereas if I was in the same situation, although I was sorely tempted to take the easy way out, and finish by 5 o'clock, I just couldn't.

I'd sit there with the problem for another hour-and-a-quarter, and by sticking at it would, in the end, almost always come up with something more original.”

[John Cleese on creativity]

    The reason why we often take the first answer is two-fold: 1) we're in doing mode and want to keep going; 2) there is a certain creative tension, a discomfort that comes from not concluding our search for an answer right away. So we go ahead and choose.

    Imagine that you are the Chief Idea Officer at your business and your job is to look to solve problems in new ways. Many of the ideas you have are often related to what you're already doing in your business. In this video talk from 1991, Cleese makes one important point — that creativity is a way of operating.

    The reason why ideas hit us when we least expect it is a combination of letting our minds open and relax, and creating a structure around space, time, and confidence building.

    Chances are we have been thinking about an issue or maybe a series of small challenges has been nagging at us while in “do” mode.

    Cleese calls this second state closed mode and in his talk says we need both.

Alfred Hitchcock tricks

    Regular readers already know I am a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock. See my SxSW survival guide based upon the themes in his movies, for example.

    In the video, Cleese provides the example of one of Alfred Hitchcock's regular co-writers who described working with him on screenplays.

    He says:

When we came up against a block and our discussions became very heated and intense, Hitchcock would suddenly stop and tell a story that had nothing to do with the work at hand.

At first, I was almost outraged, and then I discovered that he did this intentionally. He mistrusted working under pressure. He would say, “We're pressing, we're pressing, we're working too hard. Relax, it will come.” And, says the writer, of course it finally always did.

    Hitchcock's movies offer audiences two key ingredients — fear and fantasy — always tempered with good doses of humor and realism. In fact, the more realistic and reasonable the beginning, the more compelling the twist.

    The director made cameo appearances in his own movies. He was there, yet in most instances he was not visible. His presence was most felt behind the camera.

    Hitchcock used that lens to tell a story, one where the stylistic choices he made to use recurrent objects created a certain effect. It kept you glued to your seat and pulled you into the screen.

    Use what you have, and make the most of it creatively and with confidence, just like Hitchcock did in many of his movies. Can you remember that Rear Window was filmed from the angle of one single room? How about Lifeboat? His cameo here was in a newspaper ad for a weigh loss product. Masterful.

    How can we tell a story so compelling and creative, so focused on the customer, that it will have them waiting in anticipation?

    How can we make experiences both memorable and very personal?

    They are the stars, we're the cameo.


[image from Rear Window]

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