As Rufus Scrimgeour famously says in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”: “These are dark times, there is no denying.”
Businesses today have no shortage of things to worry about. From driving growth and attracting and retaining employees to dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 and stock market volatility, organizations across all sectors are facing myriad challenges that affect their companies in a multitude of ways.
To say that injecting humor into the workplace can solve these challenges may seem glib and superficial. However, there is scientific evidence to show that it is anything but. According to research, laughter, much like mediation and mindfulness, stimulates alpha brain waves in the right temporal lobe that function as a neural mechanism to help our brains inhibit obvious associations so we can connect the dots of seemingly unrelated ideas in fresh ways.
Based on a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, too often individuals are caught in rivers of thinking, recycling the same ideas over and over again in a habitual manner. When faced with new challenges or unexpected events, we go back to these same ideas and are unable to find new solutions.
Breaking this cycle and developing truly innovative “out-of-the-box” ideas to solve real challenges requires humans to ignore obvious associations and ingrained thoughts through a shift to alpha brain wave thinking.
In the study, this was done by applying an electrical current to the brain. But in business we can mimic the same effects (in much less invasive way) through laughter. Laugher stimulates the same parts of the brain as meditation and can lead to increased levels of alpha brain waves. This enables us to emerge from the river of thinking and achieve new levels of creativity and problem solving—those crucial “ah-ha” moments.
So, should you start your next staff meeting with a knock-knock joke? No. Creating laughter to drive alpha-driven creativity starts with applying the tenets of comedy. It is not about telling jokes; rather it’s about looking at situations from a different point of view. When working on a complex challenge, the following approaches can incite laughter to drive new ways of thinking:
- Inversion. To develop a breakthrough idea, start with actions you could never do. Give your product away for free, drop your spokespeople from an airplane, photobomb the CEOs of your target clients. Then look at those same ideas through the lens of what is possible. The leap from the impossible to the unexpected can yield the big “ah-ha.”
- Repetition. Once you find the humor, apply it again and again until it is no longer funny. Then walk it back to see all the possibilities you never thought of.
- Comedic paradox. Mix the funny with the not so funny to find an association that is not obvious. Ignoring the obvious associations can lead to the breakthrough moment of clarity and creativity.
Of course, humor is not appropriate all the time. When dealing with sensitive or crisis situations you’ll want to be in beta wave, fact-based thinking. But solving many of today’s complex business challenges requires a new way of thinking, beyond the obvious. Humor and comedy are the tools to lead you to the alpha state and drive the “ah-ha” breakthroughs that keep companies flourishing.
Jaqueline Kolek is a partner and general manager of the New York office for PepperComm.