The turtle: A symbol of creativity AND collaboration


picture of Ben Ziegler and turtles

The turtle is a central figure in mythologies around the world; including the aboriginal traditions in the Pacific Northwest region of North America where I live.  I’ve used a turtle as a logo on this blog since day one.

John Cleese on creativity and the turtle

While I have my reasons for liking turtles (read on…), the last few weeks have seen turtle credo on the upswing.  A number of bloggers (e.g. Mike Sansone, Garr Reynolds ) have highlighted a 10-minute video of John Cleese talking about creativity, and what’s needed to foster it (that’s where the turtle comes in to play).  Yes, that John Cleese, of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers fame.  The video is not new.  It was shot at a formal talk (as formal as Cleese gets) in early 2009.

In the video, Cleese talks about our frenzied lifestyle; one of constant interruptions and distractions, and the danger that poses to being creative.

At a basic level, Cleese suggests we need two things to create:

  • Boundaries of space; to avoid interruptions (interruptions/distractions are fodder for authors these days)
  • Boundaries of time; so give yourself start time and finish time

Aligned with the above, Cleese’s says if you’ve got a problem, sleep on it.  Let the unconscious do its thing.  We get ideas from the unconscious the part of our mind that goes on working while we’re asleep.

And to tie it together, Cleese suggests we create a tortoise enclosure, a place that’s safe to come out from, an oasis where we can come out to play.  And I’ll add, make it safe to fail, one of my Collaborative Maxims. ( Note: tortoise is generally considered a subset of turtle.)

Why the turtle?

Turtles have long held sway in cultures, east and west.  They symbolize Mother Earth, longevity, paying attention, awakening to opportunities, relationships.  These are also attributes of collaboration; collaboration that flows from good conversations and relationships.� Like a good conversation and relationship; turtles remind me of:

  • deliberation the turtle’s deliberate movements and long life suggests the need to think things through carefully before acting on them, and to act from intention.
  • the power of connections Mother Earth is all that we need. She will care for us, protect us, and nurture us, as long as we do the same for her. For that to happen, we must slow down and heighten our sensibilities. We must see the connection in all things. Just as the turtle cannot separate itself from its shell, neither can we separate ourselves from what we do to the Earth.
  • awareness and opportunity of awakening our senses on both physical and spiritual levels. Turtles are opportunistic and remind us to ask ourselves some questions – Am I paying attention? Am I seeing what I should? An am I being discriminate?
  • to take time and let the natural flow work for you. A turtle on some level seems to know it has all the time in the world; turtle medicine can teach us new perceptions about time and our relationship with it. We need to assess our life. Is it becoming too hectic? Are we taking time for our self? Are we too busy to really see what’s going on? Or are we going too slow and need to pick up the pace a little?
  • to have courage Just as a turtle must stick its head out from its protective shell to move forward, we too need to accept that true change may require us to leave behind comforts.

… just in case you were wondering why I used the turtle as a logo for this blog!

What creature do use/see as a logo and what does it symbolize for you?

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