HDD v1: Hammocks, Humor, and Open Minded Creativity

There are two types of HDD that I intend to discuss, and today I will start with Rich Hickey’s Hammock Driven Development. I was reminded of his talk, and the lack of discussion that we have around being creative in our pursuit of software solutions when watching another lecture.


The great John Cleese gave a comical rendition on How To Be Creative many moons ago. It brought together his observations on watching creative people (e.g. Pythons) with research on the field of creativity.

UPDATE #1: ARGH! BOO! The video has been taken down for copyright infringement purposes which is a royal shame. I was excited to see another talk from John with a similar title, yet although it is also interesting it is not the same [and it is a few decades later!]


UPDATE #2: For now at least, the video is available on Vimeo

Open vs. Closed

Are you open minded? What does that mean? John talks about the yin and yang of open vs. closed mindedness with a different slant (e.g. not related to political thinking). He talks about how we tend to live most of our lives in a closed state, void of creative thinking. We have systems that keep us in that state, and it reminded me of our nervous system. If you are under stress, you are forced into closed.

I have done some study on how to use nutrition and breathing exercises to “shift the autonomic nervous system away from its sympathetic dominance”. Breathing and meditation can do wonders here, and getting out of metabolic syndrome meant that my body wasn’t attacking itself all day long too. There must be a link between eating well, getting good sleep, and exercise to give yourself the best chance for creative thinking.

This also lead me to wonder about meditation first thing in the morning and at night before bed. In the morning it gives you time to get your mind into the open state as you start your day, and right before you go to bed it does the same, allowing your subconscious to tackle problems while you sleep.

We have all had those “a ha!” moments when we wake up with the answer. I remember waking up with a full math proof at my finger-tips, which felt quite magical.

Closed-mindedness isn’t all bad though. We love black and white; good vs. evil. Surely open == good and closed == bad, right? No. Open is your path to have the chance to be creative, but closed has power too. Once you have decided on a course of action, getting into a closed focused state will enable you to execute and not second guess. I am now trying to think about this and prescribe to myself “ok, I need to solve this problem, lets try this open mindedly” and then “ok, I am going to do option b, so now close up shot and execute”.

Open Play

I am fortunate enough to send my kids to a Reggio Emelia style pre-school. One that favors the children learning via play, and connecting to the environment. When I drop off the kids I enjoy it so much I don’t want to leave! I often compare that thought to walking into the grey buildings of my youth. Yikes. I definitely think that more teachers and education administrators should shadow the kids!

John explains how play is another great gateway to an open mindset, and I wonder if it is partially because it helps make new connections in a variety of ways. You try different approaches, without a guarded repetitive environment and BOOM. Connection complete. You don’t have the backdrop of “am I on task!” or “am I getting done what I need too!”

If you think about the advantages of play and smile, take a look at your day and contemplate how much play you had.


Humor is obviously a serious business for Mr. Cleese, but he also makes the case for it also being a creative open-er. We all know how a good laugh can calm you down, and some even believe that fake laughing (in groups) can cause positive effects, tying again to the nervous system, breathing, etc.

Fun comes in all shapes and sizes at the work place, and you often here “we need more fun”, yet it isn’t something you can schedule. With distributed teams, it has been fascinating to see how important animated gifs are to the culture. I am sure some people would look at some of our group chat channels and think “these people are immature pests! they need to get back to work!” It is good to know that not only does this feel good, to get the camaraderie etc, but now when I see an animated cat I will think “this is making us more creative!” 😉

Stifling Corporate Life

The finale to John’s lecture mocks the world of the corporate warrior. He puts on the persona of “a corporate boss that you don’t want” and comes up with the following points on how to stop your subordinates becoming creative:

  • 1) allow subordinates no humor (threatens your self importance), humor is subversive
  • 2) cut everyone down to size to keep you irreplaceable. use authority to zero in on all the things you can find wrong, and never balance the negatives with positives. Praise makes people uppity
  • 3) demand that people are actively doing things. if you catch someone pondering call them lazy. demand urgancy and fighting talk and war analogies.

Text can’t do this all justice, so I recommend jumping to minute 33 on the video to hear it in his best pompous English accent.

Getting back to the Hammock

As the talk sinks in, I am thinking about the open/closed principle at hand here, and how we can all make sure that we aren’t always running at a breakneck speed to fight the company fight, but instead have the right balance.

Before rushing to type out some code to implement that issue, have I taken some time to get in the right frame of mind, and then have I come up with the right solution for the job? Sometimes I find that it helps to change medium. If it isn’t flowing I will ditch the keyboard and grab some pen and paper and draw out a design or take a more freehand view of things. Maybe I will go for a walk to get the blood moving and the air coming in and out of my lungs.

I find it fascinating that one cure for the yips in golf is to sing in your head while you play your shot. All these tricks to let your subconscious take over.

ASIDE: If you have any interest in the conscious and subconscious mind, give Thinking Fast and Slow a read!

And then, once I have gotten there, have I fully turned to closed so I can execute without distraction?

The yin and the yang. I am really enjoying the journey these days, even though I have a long ways to go. There are others around me who are further along than I.

One that strongly comes to mind is Stuart Argue, one of the best engineers who I have the pleasure to work with. As I reflected on these items he came straight to mind as he has both sides of the coin. He can be immensely focused and will attack with a solution with force (closed) but he will also have a beer or two, lay in a hammock, and spend quality time to make sure that when he attacks, it is in a good direction. He is able to use that time to get to first principles on a problem, and his solutions transcend “coding” solutions. He is an example of the smart creative that Google talks about.

Well, my focused closed time of writting and posting this is over, so it is time to get creative again…

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