Using Humor for Discovery

I’m in Virginia this weekend visiting my mom, Bev Hunter, with my eldest son Charlie, and was reminded of the relationship between the Ha-ha of humor and the Ah-ha of discovery. Bev has been using humor as a therapeutic device for combating an illness (you can read in her blog), and I’ve been reminded of the power of using humor in finding new insights and ideas. As a gift she gave me a deck of creative thinking cards developed by Roger von Oech – each with their own little bit of creative provocation. I keep this deck in my bag everywhere I go and pull it out and try the next card in spare moments when reaching for new ideas.

Roger von Oech is a firm believer in using fun ideas to stimulate creativity. His company Creative Think was started in 1977. He is the author of A Whack on the Side of the Head, and this Creative Whack Pack I keep handy. Oech believes in the power of ‘creative stimulants’ and ‘mental fresheners’. They stimulate the thinking process, and open the mind to creative ideas.

I’m in Roger’s camp, who says that humor can drive creativity and the process by which new and different ideas are produced. And, there is a practical angle to it. It has to work in the given situation, or adapted in a manner that can work in the particular situation. Oech recommends that organizations have an ‘innovation requirement’ in the performance plan of employees. This way, employees would also focus on looking for innovative solutions. Asking questions that stimulate their thinking, or putting them in situations which require them to think laterally, or giving them open-ended problems to solve would get their creative juices flowing. It is important for people to approach a problem from many and different points of view.

Having a sense of humor helps. It has been found that there is a close relationship between the ‘Ha-ha of humor and the A-Ha! of discovery,’ to quote Oech.

Employees with wide-ranging interests in fields other than their field of work, or area of specialization, or have absorbing hobbies are always more creative than those who only specialize in their field of work. How does one use peripheral vision? Here again, Oech has a suggestion: ‘Look for the second right answer.’ Most problems have many solutions. The deal is that you have to look for them – have to free the mind enough to see them. It is only then that all possibilities can be found.