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Creativity - A Short & Cheerful Guide - John Cleese

I first heard about Creativity - A Short & Cheerful Guide by John Cleese at Nudgestock 2021.

Nudgestock is an annual behavioural science conference hosted by Ogilvy Consulting. This year John Cleese was one of the guests, giving a talk 'How To Become More Creative' if you would like to watch that, you can see it on YouTube here (start from 5.48) He was as you would expect a brilliant speaker. Joining the conference from his home somewhere in the Caribbean. His talk was very simple compared to some. No slides, no gimmicks, just John talking about his creative experience.

I found myself completely hooked for the 20 minutes or so he spoke, and when he mentioned the book he had written on the subject of creativity, I wanted to read it.

John Cleese the actor stands pointing up at orange coloured letters that say his name and the words Creativity A Short And Cheerful Guide. There are two lemurs around his legs.
How to be more creative

What does Creativity cover?

I suppose this is a rather ambiguous subheading as it could relate to the book, or the practise. In this instance I meant the overall book.

But John does lead off with the fact that he doesn't believe creativity to just relate to those in the arts.

He believes that creativity is everywhere from sports to business, and that if you have ever made an improvement to do something better than before, you are creative, you have been creative.

The rest of the book, which really isn't a long read, which I personally liked, covers lots of interesting things.

The Unconscious Mind - There were some fascinating stories in this section about how we all like things we've seen before. Which to a certain extent explains advertising awareness and recall.

Hare Brain Tortoise Mind - Author and professor Guy Claxton wrote Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind which you can watch a bit about in the clip I've linked to. A quick summary would be that we all need to utilise both fast and slow thinking. Things take time to form as a thought, and we need to give that time rather than rush to a conclusion.

The Importance of Play - Studies and experiments show that adults who build in time for play are more successful creatively. Those people respect the creative process has active and passive stages. I really liked the way John wrote about this. Talking about how, when we are all so mad about saving time, you could see the part of eating where the fork hits the plate again as redundant, but it is equally part of the eating process as the bit when the food goes into your mouth.

Interruption Is The Killer Of Creativity - John writes about the need to block off time to think and to be creative. We all need boundaries of space and time.

Mistakes Are Part Of The Process - When you are being creative there is no such thing as a mistake. In fact it has been shown that getting the bad stuff out, onto the page, if you are a writer is what leads to the breakthrough moments.


As John's book is short I thought so should my review be. Who will it suit best? I think anyone who is interested in creativity will find this book useful.

I have seen some 3 star reviews on Amazon from those who say, it's too short, it's not a book. To which I would say, I don't believe most people read whole books anyway (am I wrong?) so take this mans obvious expertise in this area, and appreciate them for what they are.

We don't need every book to be 1,000 pages long to signal expertise. The value in this book is clear to me.

Thanks for reading


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I had no idea he had written a book, it sounds really interesting! I can really relate to slow thinking. In fact it's taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that my brain needs time to process ideas. It's not a problem (Any more), I just need to make sure those around me know that's what I need.

Shona Chambers
Shona Chambers
Jul 08, 2021
Replying to

It's great you've got that self awareness. That's the best way for us to thrive isn't it. Rushing is such a bad modern habit too.


Helen Calvert
Helen Calvert
Jul 08, 2021

It is great to hear good things about John Cleese (whose work I have always enjoyed) because he's had a bad press recently. Your line "I don't believe most people read whole books anyway (am I wrong?)" brought me up short: do you mean that I don't need to read whole books? I can just dip into books without feeling guilty?? This is a revelation that I will need to consider😂

Shona Chambers
Shona Chambers
Jul 08, 2021
Replying to

Thanks so much for reading Helen. I loved all his early work too. Fawlty Towers particularly. My tongue was rather in cheek at the reading remark. I post about books often and hear the remark that people find they don't have the time to read often too. I hate to say it but I think the reason for that is the thing I hold in my hand as I type this reply.... So the shorter the book the more likely it is to be read. But, and this is a big but, I don't think there is anything wrong with dipping into books either. I don't do that, but lots of people I really respect do either for research purpos…

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