Humor, Fear, & Creativity

Hans_Thoma_-_Kinderreigen_(1872)

Hans Toma, Kinderreigen

At my day job, I had to endure attend a week of project management training. The trainer asked for input from everyone for group rules for the session. One man in the back spoke up, “I think it’s important to make it a rule that there be no undue frivolity.”

No one objected–or even commented on this. But later I thought about his comment, and the more I thought the more I disliked it. First off, the adjective. It is a subjective term. My definition of “undue” might be vastly different from yours. As a result, people won’t say anything because they’re afraid of being judged.

In my experience, if someone in a meeting was being silly or making too many jokes, the project lead would laugh along with them, then rein the humor in with something like “That was funny, but let’s get back to the discussion.” Making it a rule at the start that there be no “undue” humor draws the line before anyone’s made a joke. It shuts down all humor as “undue” because different people have different definitions of excess.

I’m not advocating for every meeting to be a laugh fest, but I do feel it is important that people not feel constrained to be Serious At All Times. Not if you’re in a situation where you are called upon to employ lateral thinking. In a word, not if you’re in a situation where you have to be creative.

John Cleese gave a speech on being creative.  He said that creativity requires the ability to play. People have two modes: closed and open. You can’t be creative in the closed mode. You have to be open to the new ideas.

Cleese shared five conditions that help you get into the open mode:

  • Space: A place to get away from the world around you.
  • Time: The ability to be in that space for long enough to open up.
  • Time: Taking the time to ponder instead of accepting the first answer that comes to you.
  • Confidence: You need to be unafraid to make a mistake. “The essence of playfulness is the freedom to do anything.”
  • Humor: This gets us from the closed mode to the open mode quicker than anything else.

Don’t be afraid of being silly. Don’t be afraid to laugh. You were a child once. You can get that mindset back, so long as you’re not afraid to play.

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