Humor can be a powerful catalyst for innovation and communications.  Think of it as an important bridge between the left, analytical side of our brains and the right, creative side.  Laughing a little allows individuals to access the full brain, for example, to “enhance their methods of finding fresh ideas and adding emotional appeal and details to potential products (Jana, 2013).”

Humor also helps us to better understand, simplify, and frame complex problems.  It’s a longstanding form of storytelling used to invoke a deep emotional connection and fun-filled response.  Marketers understand this.  It’s why you see lots of comedy in Super Bowl ads. Comic strips are another great example, which explains why they continue to be so popular even in today’s digital age.

As with any form of communications, humor can be used for good and bringing people together.  Laughter, after all, is a universal language.  It can help bridge cultural divides and generational gaps. Unfortunately, humor can also be used to degrade, belittle, bully and create division.  Needless to say, there is no place for inappropriate humor in a work setting.  If ever in doubt, simply leave it out because bad humor, especially when used at the wrong time and place, can seriously backfire. Even the most skilled speechwriters are very careful in its use.  In other words, knowing when and where to use humor is no joke (pun intended!).

Funny Smart

Ever notice how super smart folks tend to use humor and laugh more in conversations?  I believe they do this unknowingly to “light up” and leverage their full brain. I also sense that when an endeavor becomes overly serious, individuals tend to get caught up in the minutia, losing sight of the big picture or common vision.

Comedy can be an effective level set and learning tool.  Research suggests that humor produces psychological benefits that help students (and business professionals) learn.  For example, it was shown in a classroom setting that a little comic relief “can improve student performance by reducing anxiety, boosting participation and increasing students’ motivation to focus on the material (Stambor, 2006).”  A similar case can be made for business training and learning.

The best companies to work for have long known that a happy workforce is a productive one.  They continually find ways to keep employees essentially smiling, laughing, and therefore, engaged.  It’s also why humor is used as a common tactic to “break the ice” in brainstorming sessions or help facilitate team building exercises.

Humor also gives additional perspective to the popular saying, “laughing all the way to the bank.”  Could it be that successful people and businesses are simply funnier or laugh more?   Maybe we need to implement laugh meters at work? Now, that’s food, or should we say, “fun for thought.”

Honest Abe

When the corporate doldrums set in, interpersonal friction builds or important negotiations begin to breakdown, try injecting a little comedy into the mix.  A funny story or comment, used at the right time, can break through the status quo, ease tensions, and refocus the mind.  Humor is an essential oil that keeps creativity and communications flowing freely.

Humor also keeps us honest. Studies suggest that leaders who share their sense of humor are seen as being more human, trustworthy, and credible.  “The architecture of leadership, all the theories and guidelines, falls apart without honesty and integrity.  It’s the keystone that holds an organization together,” according to Donald Phillips, author of Lincoln on Leadership.

Lincoln understood the power of humor and fun word play to advance his cause.  He once said, for example, “My policy is to have no policy.”  He learned how to laugh at one’s mistakes and move on.  As a result, he “had great tolerance for failure because he knew that if his generals were not making mistakes, they were not moving” and innovating.

Finding Your Funny Bone

Unfortunately, we tend to live in a default, disengagement or “threat” state.  Humor activates the “reward” state of consciousness, which keeps individuals more mentally engaged.  Individuals and teams are more creative, collaborative, and productive when they’re smiling more and happier in general.

In a recent blog post entitled The Age of the NeuroLeader, Ellington and McFadden state, “The dance between self and others is intensely biological, attaching us to each other in vulnerable and sensitive ways that need to be respected if we are to approach problem solving in a novel way with collective inspiration for real sustainable change.”

So the next time you find yourself or your team feeling wholly uninspired or stagnant, go out to the nearest comedy club.  Take a practical joke break or find what tickles you.  You’ll be amazed at how much more energized you feel.

Think like a Comedian

Comedians are great observers who are always testing their material to find a common thread to illicit the greatest response—laughter.   As a business leader and marketer, we need to continually tap into these same characteristics to garner the desired results whether that’s awareness, engagement, loyalty, or other goals.

Comedians also “keep it real” and call out the absurdity.  When a business or a project is going sideways, tell it like it is and use humor to frame it in entertaining ways that will remove the finger-pointing and defensiveness.  It’s knowing when to inject a sense of lightheartedness into a debate, gridlock, or other challenging circumstances that can often unlock that little extra something that leads to a breakthrough.  It’s essentially a brief “time out” to recalibrate what’s at stake or refocus the mind on what’s important.

Don’t always take yourself so seriously and laugh a little more.  Remember, it takes a lot less muscles to smile than frown. It’s also better than crying, and studies have shown you’ll live longer too.

Chris Faust