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.

Why Humor Makes You More Creative

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]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.