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 Innovation Blog

Innovator, Lighten Up! Laughter = Creativity!

By Shlomo Maital

  When I speak to managers in several countries about innovation, I always try hard to make them laugh. Big bureaucratic organizations all apply varies degrees of fear, pressure and stress, then wonder why they are not innovative.   At the risk of appearing ridiculous, I throw nerf balls, ring a Chinese gong, show funny videos, and in general do everything to make the groups laugh.  The reason?  I argue that laughter and fun are the only environments in which creativity thrives.  Fear, pressure, stress, all are mortal enemies of creativity.     

    Now, at last, I have scientific evidence of this claim.   Writing in the Global New York Times (Dec. 6, 2010),  Benedict Carey *  notes:

  “…. researchers at Northwestern University found that people were more likely to solve word puzzles with sudden insight when they were amused, having just seen a short comedy routine.  “What we think is happening,” said Mark Beeman, a neuroscientist who conducted the study with Karuna Subramaniam, a graduate student, “is that the humor, this positive mood, is lowering the brain’s threshold for detecting weaker or more remote connections” to solve puzzles.”

  In other words, when you relax your brain, put it in a light humorous mood, you facilitate significantly the brain’s ability to detect weak “signals” coming from remote areas not directly related to the problem-solving thinking at hand.  This is neuroscience’s version of ‘thinking out of the box’.  The ‘box’, in this case, is the narrow areas the brain calls on, when tackling a problem.  These are the same areas everyone uses.  A truly creative solution will come from far away, from a seemingly unrelated area of the brain.

       Carey goes on to note:   .

  “ … in an authoritative review of the research, the psychologists Jonathan W. Schooler and Joseph Melcher concluded that the abilities most strongly correlated with insight problem-solving “were not significantly correlated” with solving analytical problems.  Either way, creative problem-solving usually requires both analysis and sudden out-of-the-box insight. “The implication is that a positive mood engages a broad, diffuse attentional state that is both perceptual and visual…   You’re not only thinking more broadly, you’re literally seeing more. The two systems are working in parallel.” ”

   Innovator – if you are struggling with a difficult problem, seeking a creative solution – relax.  Watch a Roadrunner cartoon.  Look at a “Calvin & Hobbes” newspaper cartoon.  Look up economist jokes on the Web.   Put yourself in a mellow mood.  Then, return to your problem.  You may be surprised.  Neuroscience does not lie.

* December 6, 2010 “Tracing the Spark of Creative Problem-Solving”


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
December 2010
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