Why Humor Makes You More Creative

You can't self-monitor your way to innovation. A jovial office environment is hugely important, and a few good laughs can change everything at work.

When you're getting creative, you relax your inhibitions.

Stanford professor Tina Seelig shows us why in her book InGenius: In one study, jazz musicians were asked to improvise while having their brains monitored via fMRI.

Something harmonic happened: As the artists performed, the parts of the frontal lobe associated with judgment went quiet. This shows that while self-monitoring is often useful—you don't want to say everything that passes through your mind—it can get in the way of new ideas.

"Creative people have apparently mastered the art of turning off this part of their brains to let their ideas flow more smoothly, unleashing their imagination," she writes.

During our interview with Seelig, she explains that innovative managers make their workplaces "habitats for creativity"—which entails a break from all the stuffy self-monitoring.

That's where humor comes in.

For organizations, humor enables innovation

Why does it help? Take Pixar, where "jovial discussion" animates the culture. In Little Bets, Peter Sims writes that a playful environment is most helpful when ideas are incubated or newly hatched—and the more ideas you hatch, the more you can innovate.

People withhold their ideas if they think they're going to be judged, snuffing out innovation-sprouts before they take root. (Shame alert!) A playful culture, on the other hand, encourages ideas to be batted around, ideas which could become side projects, side projects which could become full-fledged businesses.

And for individuals, success favors the funny

As consultant Michael Kerr tells Forbes, "Humor often reveals the authentic person lurking under the professional mask."

It makes sense: A growing body of research shows that when you share a laugh with someone, you're mirroring not only one another's body language, but also the hormonal and neuronal activity, prompting a mutual investment in each other's well-being. That's a bond of kindness—and you'll need acts of kindness to make it in any career.

10 Reasons Why Humor Is A Key To Success At Work

[Gum Image: Kameel4u via Shutterstock]

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  • Andrew Tarvin

    Studies also show that using humor helps with problem solving. One famous example involved showing kids either a funny video, a serious video, or no video at all. Kids who watched the funny video were more likely to solve The Candle Problem than either of the other groups.

  • Tabs801

    I have a reality
    show, "I Never Repeat A Joke" http://www.youtube.com/tabs801. It's been 3 years; 51
    shows @ 27 Chicago venues. Lakeshore Entertainment will offer me a T.V. contract if I reach 1 million visitors.
    Right now everything is out of pocket. 

  • Rajan

    Humor and fun at work helps create a positive and friendlier work environment, surely!

  • bradhines

    I write frequently about creativity. The ideal brain set up is what's known as a theta brain wave cycle pattern. Anything that calms us, sleep, even alcohol, helps us achieve this state. Dopamine releasing laughter is no exception. Meanwhile the subject matter of what's making us laugh can often be a source of creativity. Many as startup like the "Bang with friends up" has sprung up (no pun intended) while joking around.

  • Neli Shirvani

    oh that was somthing about gum,how?Stay on face ready for picture.I was thinking about sounds like selena gomez.

  • Rationalist

    Time for some humor...
    I went to see a Muslim tribute band last
    night. They were called “Bomb Jovi”. They were brilliant. Their last song
    “Living on a Prayer Mat” almost brought the house down. Then this Muslim guy
    started bragging about how he had the entire Koran on DVD. I was interested so I
    asked him, “Can you burn me a copy?”


    Well, that was when the trouble

  • kita

    I shared your joke on my fb page coz i feel it really is hilarious but i had some outrageous response.. Damn! where is d love..n d sense o'umor? It's still stuck on my page,just not on timeline anymore! 

  • Nospam

    Oh that was gum...I thought for a sec that this was an article about Melanie Griffith or Lisa Rinna

  • Andy Thompson

    Wow. This is great. It kinda feels like a mind grenade. Of course Humor is an outward expression of internal security. 
     I have worked with several internet and otherwise hip companies where blow up animals and yoga balls for office chairs outweigh the incubation for creativity. I don't mean to be a naysayer for blow up animals, but the creative workplace doesn't flow in outward appearances but how those on the team truly feel they can contribute freely. I love the angle that humor can be an outward expression of that internal security and creativity. 
    Some of the companies I've seen have the mantra "We play hard but we work hard!" and they hire anyone that wants to join their ranks. They spend a lot of time, money and talent making sure their employees are working hard and playing hard as part of the work requirements. They fail to achieve the efficient creative and progressive work environment they wanted.
    What I see the successful do is hire the right kind of people. They hire the kind of people that truly love what they are hired to do. The passion for what they do transcends simply knowing how to have fun while at work but the actual work is fun to them. They "Play hard" at work naturally because "work is play" to them.

  • Christopher Pope

    Isn´t laughter an extension of the monkey´s fear reaction. By stimulating this reaction in a group situation we must surely help the group to conquer it´s fear.

    Of course, the joke could fall flat on its face, in which case you end up hanging around like a bad smell.

  • Marcel van Tetering

    John Gleese stated in (I think) 1991, that he felt the evolutionary meaning of humor was to bring us in an "open mind"  state - the state in which we get creative. 
    Another thing humor and creativity share: associations. 

  • Ara ohanian

    There’s another reason why humour helps creativity
    -  it shows that the normal corporate
    cultural barriers have been relaxed. Too often at work we are monitoring
    ourselves to ensure we are behaving within the accepted boundaries. Laughter
    isn’t usually part of that and it shows the constraints have been relaxed.
    Relieved of the need to conform, creativity can flourish. 

  • RobGreg

    humor itself *requires* creativity - the ability to think laterally, to view the issue at hand from a different perspective, and crucially, with a punchline. This same skill allows one to view a problem at hand from different angles, put a shape to it, and even reframe it.