Think Like a Comedian

While it doesn’t sound like the most obvious approach there are a number of tools that business leaders can take and apply from comedians. But the approach doesn’t require you to try and be funny, rather by better understanding how comedians do their job, leaders can learn techniques to be better at theirs.

Comedians use an arsenal of cognitive tools to develop a repertoire, one of these is what Peter McGraw author of Shtick Business refers to as “benign violation” this premise of the incongruous is when a violation (say of social norms or laws of physics) intersects with harmlessness, (or at least acceptability).

Shtick to Business

An example is where comedian Chris Rock says, “I love being famous. It’s almost like being white, y’know?” he hits an unexpected contrast and people find if funny.

That unexpected contrast is something that McGraw is encouraging leaders to explore an MIT study in 2011 found that individuals could be trained to be more creative. People who participated in an improv workshop before brainstorming increased their creativity and idea output by 37%.

In a study where 84 participants (students, professional designers and improvisational comedians) took a cartoon caption humor test and a nominal product brainstorming test, we found that improvisational comedians on average produced 20% more product ideas and 25% more creative product ideas than professional product designers. 

McGraw explains that good comedians pay attention to details, they notice a lot of things and analysis these as they consider them as opportunities for comedy. Both humour and design creativity require a person to think from different perspectives and making the connections. This is backed up by research published in the International Journal of Design, Creativity and Innovation which found that while humorous stimuli did not have any positive effect, the theories of Incongruity, Superiority and Relief did enhance the creative performance in brainstorming. (Wodehose et al 2013)

Comedians see constraints as opportunities they “make us work harder on a solution… because they crowd out a whole bunch of solutions that you would have considered automatically.”

So there might be an opportunity to think like a comedian to improve your creativity and innovation.

Synopsis of an article from Strategy + Business
Why business leaders should try thinking like a comedian - It can make you a more creative leader and problem solver — no sense of humor necessary.
By Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
Published: 23rd October 2020

and in MIT Research Journal
HaHa and Aha! Creativity, Idea Generation, Improvisational Humor, and Product Design.
By Barry Kudrowitz
Published: March 2011

and The International Journal of Design Creativity and Innovation
The best form of medicine? Using humour to enhance design creativity
By Andrew WodehouseRoss Maclachlan, Jonathan Gray
Published: 17th July 2013 

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