Spotlight on Humor
Dr. Anthony Paustian, Award-Winning Author of “A Quarter Million Steps: Creativity, Imagination, and Leading Transformative Change” and Host of “A Step Beyond” on iHeartRadio
Decades ago my father, always the jokester, would tell this “multipart” joke. The genius of his approach was in how it was told: as two separate jokes, delivered back-to-back, each totally dependent upon the other. No one ever saw the connection until after the big reveal, which is what always made it funny.
Today, when I speak about creativity, I frequently use humor to help relax the audience and open their minds to new ways of thinking. I will often begin the presentation by telling a version of Dad’s joke to help illustrate a point. It goes something like this:
A little girl is skipping down the street when she comes upon three colored bricks lying on the road: one red, one yellow, and one blue. She pauses, reaches down for the red one, thinks for a moment, and heaves it into the air. The brick hits the ground hard and breaks into pieces. After laughing a bit, she reaches down for the yellow one and heaves it higher into the air. The brick hits the ground with even greater force and shatters. Laughing almost hysterically, she reaches down, grabs the blue one, and throws it even higher into the air. It never comes back down. [End joke part 1]
The result is always the same: no laughter, blank stares, and crickets.
Following the brief, awkward silence, I would tell the audience the joke was actually very funny–they just didn’t get it. To lighten the mood, I would speak for a bit about imagination, and then move on to “Part 2” of the original joke.
We’re at the state fair, and a young man is giving hot air balloon rides. An older woman holding a parrot walks up and climbs into the balloon’s basket [I then ask the audience: What do parrots do? The typical response is “talk”]. A minute later, an older gentleman with a pocketful of cigars also climbs in the basket [I ask the audience: What do cigars do? The typical response is “stink”].
The balloon lifts off the ground. The older man lights up a cigar. The parrot begins to loudly talk and squawk. The older man complains about the noise. The woman complains about the smoke. Words are spoken, yelling and arguing ensue. It finally reaches a point where the balloon operator says, “Enough! Unless you both want to be thrown out of the balloon, toss that bird and those cigars out immediately.” The passengers begrudgingly comply. After a few seconds, the woman says, “Look! There’s my parrot. But what’s in its mouth?” [To which I look at the audience with a two-handed gesture and they always say, “Cigar,” and then I say “A Blue Brick”].
I believe creativity is the ability to imagine or visualize new connections between things that have yet to be connected. In other words, true discoveries seldom happen just by finding something new. Most often discoveries are the result of “sticky thinking,” which occurs when people put things together in new ways for different or improved outcomes.
When I tell people this, they often think I mean connecting things that are very different, such as Sam Colt connecting the design of the ship’s wheel of a seafaring vessel to his design of the revolver. Or they might think of Fred Smith connecting the Federal Reserve check clearing system designed in the early 1900s to the modern need for expedited, efficient shipping logistics that would ultimately become FedEx. However, more often than not, it’s simply connecting thoughts or ideas that occurred only moments apart (think Blue Brick).
I’d like to propose a challenge. When you have a free moment, select two completely random objects around you and attempt to force connections between them (like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole). Don’t judge the quality of the ideas; just have fun with it, bring out your inner “MacGyver,” and laugh a little. Over time, you will rediscover the creative skills you once had as a child.
Are you ready to get sticky?
© Anthony Paustian Used with Permission