Why laughter is good for innovation

You need to be joking II

Many thanks to regular reader Kat for passing on these excellent words from genius comedian Stephen Fry (Blackadder, Jeeves and Wooster, V for Vendetta etc), assisted at the close by Mr GK Chesterton:

"There is an argument that comedy is a greater public service than any other genre of art or culture: it heals divisions, it is a balm for hurt minds, it binds social wounds, exposes real truths about how life is really led. Comedy connects.... Seriousness is no more a guarantee of truth, insight, authenticity or probity than humour is a guarantee of superficiality and stupidity. Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly."

(read the complete transcript here)

I've argued before that every workplace needs at least one jester - someone who is allowed tell the bitter truth with a sweet smile. Not only is a climate of laughter good for your health and your staff's motivation, it can teach you valuable stuff.

Believe it or not, poking fun at your company's structures, habits and products is a terrific way to learn a whole lot about your set up - and make plans for the future.

The key is that humor is based on truth. If comedy builds on untruths, it might be absurd but is never truly funny. Back in 1926, H.W. Fowler put together this oft-quoted table to explain the different types of gags. If you don't have super-vision, just click the image to enlarge.

The venerable H.W. argues that humor, wit and satire promote discovery, illumination and amendment (we might say improvement), and that they are based on observation, surprise and accentuation.

Two important things to note:

Firstly, there's a strong contrast there with sarcasm, invective et al, which hurt more than they help. Avoid them, unless you are trying to topple dictators this weekend.

Secondly, are not discovery, illumination and amendment just the sort of things we need in our next innovation cycle?

As an exercise, why not let your team write some gags or a wee comic sketch about your work? Show them H.W.'s chart if you like, or just let them go crazy. (You could even get a professional to help out, e.g. this guy.) Do this not as part of your annual office party, but as part of an innovation or strategy workshop.

Sit back, hold tight, and hold your tongue. Be prepared to laugh a little, and to wince in pain, and to cry. And make notes whenever you want to do one of those things - because all three of those feelings are telling you the truth.

Minijester pic by Liquid Paper at flickr