I have always liked having the weirdest folks in a brainstorm. The people I found the most creative also made me laugh the most. And looking back the ones were not funny didn’t really have any great ideas.
My experience validates this article. Whats your experience with funny folks in a brainstorm session?
Why You Should Include a Joker in Every Brainstorming Session
The Fast Interview: John Morreall on the link between humor and innovation, why authoritarian bosses fear humor, and the funniest CEO in America.
John Morreall, a professor at the College of William and Mary, is the founder of Humorworks, a consulting firm for companies such as AT&T, Cisco Systems, IBM and Time Warner. He has written four books on humor and is working on a new one titled “Funny Business” with New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff.
You say that humor increases productivity, reduces conflict, and fosters change. Is this a joke?
Humor is healthy, especially the way it reduces stress. Humor is the opposite of fight-or-flight emotions — especially fear and anger. I can’t be laughing with you and angry or afraid of you at the same time.
How does it encourage creativity?
Humor makes us think more flexibly. People who think funny do better on creativity studies. To put it really simply, humor loosens up your brain to think of more possibilities and be more open to the wild and wacky ones. There is a guy at the State University of New York at Buffalo named Roger Firestien who has a center for the study of creativity. When he teaches brainstorming, he says you should put a joker in the group — somebody who will come up with preposterous ideas. Very often that will stimulate people to come up with ideas that will work. Let me give you an example. A bunch of paint engineers were moaning and bitching about how hard it is to get paint off a house. One guy says, “Why don’t we just put gunpowder in the paint and blow it off the house?” That led people to think, “What could we do that would be the equivalent of gunpowder?” They came up with a chemical they added to the paint and when you wanted to remove the paint you did a light wash with a second chemical over the first one. That didn’t blow it off the house, but it allowed it to drop off.
You cite studies that suggest the majority of executives rank humor as an essential attribute but the majority of business professors do not. What does that say about the effect of MBA programs?
MBA programs make people think more narrowly, not have as many people skills, and not be as widely educated as a business leader should be. It encourages too much specialization and makes people too serious and not flexible enough. So I think the overall effect of MBA programs is negative.
Who’s the funniest person in business?
Easily, Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines. In 1992, Southwest came up with a new advertising slogan and very quickly they got a call from another airline that had been using that slogan for about 10 years. Now, the standard way to handle that in American business is to turn it over to the attorneys. But Kelleher called the head of the other airline and said, look we can work this out much quicker: I hereby challenge you to an arm wrestling match in the in Dallas Sports Arena. They billed this as Malice in Dallas. Kelleher at this point was in his late sixties, a chain smoker who drinks a lot of bourbon. Kelleher comes into the ring and across his manager’s chest is a bandoleer, except instead of bullets in the loops he’s got airline-sized bottles of Wild Turkey. The guy from the other company was in his thirties, had been a weightlifter in college, was in great shape, and just whipped Kelleher. Kelleher was chain smoking through the thing, making jokes right and left. By the end of the thing, the guy from the other airline was laughing so hard he said, “You can keep the slogan.” Now this is not taught in business schools.
Are authoritarian leaders afraid of humor?
Authoritarian types initiate the humor but tend not to accept it from an underling. In a meeting, if you initiate humor you’ve got the table. Authoritarian bosses tend to be distrustful of humor because they don’t want to give up their power.
If you’re the boss and somebody puts you down, what do you do?
I don’t have a formula, but if there’s any way you can take it, take it. Willingness to expose yourself to criticism in a playful way just makes you look so much better and so much more human. People will feel a loyalty to that person that an authoritarian boss just cannot command.