Sparking Creativity in Teams: A Humorist’s Guide


The McKinsey Quarterly recently released their Top 10 Articles of 2011. You can read them here (note: free registration is required).

One of the articles in particular caught my eye because it speaks directly to humor (though sadly doesn’t mention it directly). The article?

#9 Sparking creativity in teams: An executive’s guide

The article talks about creativity and how it’s not something you are either born with or not:

Although creativity is often considered a trait of the privileged few, any individual or team can become more creative””better able to generate the breakthroughs that stimulate growth and performance.

It goes on to suggest some of the neuroscience to back up this claim:

The key is to focus on perception, which leading neuroscientists, such as Emory University’s Gregory Berns, find is intrinsically linked to creativity in the human brain. To perceive things differently, Berns maintains, we must bombard our brains with things it has never encountered….

Only by forcing our brains to recategorize information and move beyond our habitual thinking patterns can we begin to imagine truly novel alternatives.

Hmm. “Perceive things differently.” “Recategorize information.” “Brains.” All of this sounds like humor. One of the keys to humor is incongruity–the surprise, the difference, the “wait a sec” feeling.

Using humor is a great way to get people thinking differently, outside of their normal perspective. And this doesn’t mean you have to get your team to tell jokes (though it could help, check out Funny Cuz It’s True). Instead it could be as simple as creating an environment that is incongruous to what they expect.

Don’t hold the brainstorming session in the same room every other meeting is in, or play music in the background so you don’t have the same bland white noise in the background. Studies show that getting out of the office (mentally and physically) can remove creative roadblocks.

Humor also helps with creating new connections as much of humor is connecting two things together in an uncommon or new way. As the article says,

The most powerful overall driver of innovation was associating””making connections across “seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas.”

Humor can do that. And it all becomes easier when you follow the tenets of improvisation: treat your fellow peers like geniuses and poets and Yes And.

If you’re interested in learning how humor can help your creativity, check out our training workshops.

PS. Two other articles stuck out to be from the Top 10 that are worth reading: #2 Seven steps to better brainstorming and #10 Three steps to building a better top team.

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