The Power of Humor

Why do elephants wear green sneakers?

Because their red ones are in the wash.

By Anne Orban M.Ed., NPDP

How many times have you heard or seen the request – “Think out of the Box”? Absolutely, and for sure, it’s important and meant well, but it’s become a bit irritating, hasn’t it? And, oh, by the way, how do you think out of the box?

Humor helps!!! For those of you who are old enough, you’ll remember that the Reader’s Digest monthly magazine always featured a section called “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” Well, it turns out that laughter is not only good for what ails you, it’s also good for kick starting thinking out of the box.

Consider the way humor works and the way idea generation works. Idea generation starts with a ‘what if’. What if… pigs could fly? Or with an ‘I wish”. I wish … pigs could fly. In both forms, that’s very silly. But in idea generation, if you need to think outside the box, you have to give yourself permission to be a bit silly – to stretch, yes, outside the box. That’s where humor is helpful. It works by creating incongruities, forcing silly connections and creating images in your mind’s eye that make you laugh. And that releases tension, relaxes you and helps you see things in fresh, new ways. Isn’t that just what we need for generating out of the box ideas?

Some of my favorite examples of useful humor come from riddles and the craze that some might remember ‘Elephant Jokes.’ A riddle teases the brain and helps liberate the subconscious. “What burns longer, a black candle or a white candle?” So, you start to think in the predictable pattern of applying existing knowledge and something about black and white and heat absorption comes to mind – you’re in the box! And, the answer is … well … candles don’t burn longer, they burn shorter. You might groan, but, remember, now you are being liberated to think creatively.

We usually try to solve problems in linear and logical ways using the things we know. By putting the problem into a different light and seeing it through various lenses, we begin to think out of the box. There’s a certain surprisingly effective lesson about lateral thinking in the incongruous propositions and causality from humor.

So, if you’ve been tasked to think outside the box, remind yourself that the ah-ha can be released by the ha-ha and use humor to get yourself out of the box. The humor of jokes – a little silliness — can help liberate us to offer what at first might seem absurd ideas that with some developmental thinking, can become creative and innovative solutions.

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