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The Best Creative Thinking Tool You Probably Haven’t Tried

While we all have a go-to creative thinking tool that always works for us, we should always be open to trying new tools. I’m sure you’ve met a humorless person before. They’re those people that take everything far too seriously and never find humor in life or other people. If you want to be creative

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
4 min read
creative thinking from humor

While we all have a go-to creative thinking tool that always works for us, we should always be open to trying new tools.

I'm sure you've met a humorless person before. They're those people that take everything far too seriously and never find humor in life or other people. If you want to be creative, then it's important to learn how to laugh at yourself and not take things so seriously all the time! But if you meet a humorless person on your way out of this article, don't worry about him or her because we have some brilliant advice for them later down below!

Humor – A Creative Thinking Tool

The humor and laughter of a good joke can be the catalyst for the most profound moment of creativity. When humor is used as an instrument to generate ideas, it can produce surprisingly novel insights that prompt new connections between seemingly unrelated concepts. And when humor is used as an instrument to evaluate ideas, it can help people see problems in new ways or identify better solutions more quickly than they otherwise would have.


Laughter can help people solve problems that need creative solutions, by making it easier to think more broadly and associate ideas more freely. Recent research shows that people in a lighter mood experience more creative moments and greater inspiration.

So if you want better results at home or on the job this week, try injecting humor more often into your conversations with colleagues and loved ones. Your creativity will thank you!

Laughing While Brainstorming

The hallmark of really effective brainstorming is an abundance of genuine and heartfelt laughter.

When humor is present in a brainstorming session, it can help the group come up with different non-obvious solutions/ideas that are not usually considered. It also makes it easier for individuals to come up with unusual associations across distant mental areas (e.g., linking astronomy with economics). This ability facilitates the discovery of new ideas that aren’t available using other methods alone.

Research has shown that when people have experienced humor and laughter in a brainstorming session, they experience more eureka! moments. Ideas usually start flowing when humor is present because humor increases the probability of cross-boundary thinking, which produces new ways of creatively solving a problem or achieving a goal.

How do you bring humor into a brainstorming session?

Be playful with humor in brainstorm sessions. Start by asking participants about their favorite humorists and what they like to laugh at and watch and read and then set out to provide humor that matches these likes. Have group members share humor, jokes, or stories before engaging in any creative work. Taking part in humor can help a group let go of inhibitions and more easily find humor in their own work.

Humor Can Fix Creativity Killers

Creativity killers are bad habits that people have learned, typically in their childhood, and then carry into adulthood. They can be broken, but it requires effort and humor is one way to break these habits.

The common creativity killers that humor combats include:

Fear of failure

Fear of failure is one of the most common creativity killers. This fear can be so powerful that it prevents people from trying to solve problems in the first place because they are afraid they will fail and embarrass themselves. Laughter can help people overcome this fear by making them feel more comfortable exploring new ideas and seeing the humor in mistakes. Humor can be an encouragement to explore (and to even make mistakes). The laughter may come easily or hard-won, but its power lies in how it makes you feel about yourself when you laugh at your own missteps rather than berating yourself for failing. When you add humor to your creative process, such as a brainstorming session, you can get past the fear of trying and failing.

The need to be perfect

Expecting every outcome to be perfect is another creativity killer that humor combats. Perfectionistic standards often lead people to reject ideas out of hand because they don’t seem good enough—even if those ideas actually have a lot going for them and just need some minor adjustments instead of major overhauls. It can also cause groups working on joint projects to shut down prematurely without reaching their full potential because no one wants to waste time polishing something that could still use improvement when it should already be “perfect” by now (a concept that doesn’t exist in reality). Laughter helps people feel less pressure from these expectations, so they can relax and be open to new ideas.

The need for approval from others in a group setting

Laughter makes teamwork easier by putting everyone on an equal footing—a great way to break the tension between people who might disagree with each other or who worry how their opinions will come across. If humor allows people to let go of their fears and self-doubts and be more open with their ideas, it will increase the chance that everyone in a group setting can build on one another’s thoughts. Instead of worrying about how your contributions might be received by others (which takes away from thinking creatively), humor allows people to focus on generating new solutions. The alternative is that everyone is focusing on themselves or what they think someone else wants them to say which kills the creative spark. 


In order to be successful, innovators need to think creatively. The best creative thinking tool you probably haven’t tried is humor. Laughter can help people solve problems that demand creative solutions and make it easier for them to associate ideas and relationships more freely.

So next time you want your team brainstorming that next great innovation, consider breaking out some humorous videos on YouTube or playing a funny game like Cards Against Humanity together. It may just lead to an epiphany of sorts!

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Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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