When we hear the punch line of a joke, the ‘aha’ we experience is the coming together of disparate thoughts in a novel way. Brainstorming needs humor. It frees participants from the chains of logic and makes them comfortable with tossing out any idea, no matter how far-fetched. Humor can trigger the kind of positive mood that encourages “out of the box” thinking that, though perhaps not specifically related to the issue under discussion, may often hold the critical key to a solution.
There’s scientific evidence to back up the value of humor in brainstorming.
Alice Isen, a Professor of Psychology and a Professor of Marketing at New York’s Cornell University, has proven that the introduction of humor into a brainstorming session can lead to significantly better, more productive results. Dr. Isen’s research demonstrated that showing session participants happy and humorous films before giving them complex thinking tasks repeatedly produced far more novel solutions than those from the groups shown more depressing fare. Apparently, an upbeat mood leads to more expansive thinking which opens up one’s propensity to entertain more possibilities of thinking. A somber mood, in contrast, leads to more thorough, analytical thinking.
So how does a brainstorming leader encourage humor? It’s not that difficult. Start with some jokes, show funny videos, or ask the participants to share their favorite pet peeve. How you do it is less important than just doing it. As Donald O’Connor warbled in the film classic, “Singing in the Rain”, all you have to do is “Make ‘em Laugh”. Then when you get onto the subject you’re brainstorming about, continue with the lightheartedness, and make jokes about it. Everything said is the seed of an idea when you apply the right skills. So lighten up, laugh out loud and see the ideas fly.