Conceptspace Wikia

"Creativity is not a talent; it's a way of operating." -John Cleese

Open and Closed mode are an idea that arose during creativity research to explain the cluster of behaviors seen in highly creative individuals.

The open mode is marked by relaxation, curiosity, playfulness. The closed mode is marked by rigidity, focus, and goal orientation. Each is necessary for optimal functioning, but because each requires certain factors to function well, trying to switch rapidly between them does not work.

Factors contributing to open mode:

Time and space boundedness: related to psychological safety, a specific time limit and area that will not be invaded allows the necessary relaxation to occur.

Negative capability: the ability to play with a problem, rather than jumping on the first solution that comes along due to ambiguity aversion, is a trainable skill with practice.

Confidence and humor: the ability to try strange and unserious ideas in pursuit of understanding the problem more fully. Humor rapidly puts us in the open mode.

Open mode is not ideal for executing on a solution once found, for that we want closed mode.

Factors contributing to closed mode:

Having an extremely clear plan: closed mode hates ambiguity, and only has a limited ability to deal with obstacles. Another formulation of open and closed mode is that open mode charts the course and closed mode actually travels it. Do not navigate closed mode into the woods.

Time pressure: similar to time boundedness with open mode, but driving a very different intuition. Remember how your thinking changes when you had a paper due the next day and it is already 1am.

Tight feedback loops: closed mode loves progress bars, deliberate practice, flow states. Video games are often designed as a superstimulus for closed mode (speedrunning includes open mode exploration of paths, and closed mode execution, making the hobby highly addicting.)