Saturday, March 1, 2014

The rise of humor driven innovation

This is an excerpt of Build your innovation culture…the rise of humor driven innovation posted by Jaspar Roos over at the HYPE Innovation blog:

An adjacent territory to ‘fix’ the flaws of the design driven innovation process would involve adding humor.

Humor is any form of communicational interaction between people that triggers positive responses and is expressed by laughter and/or smiling. Humor leads to ingenuity. It is a natural stimulus for creativity and innovation. Humor also implies play and fun.

There are three functions of humor: relief theory, incongruity theory and superiority theory.

  • Relief theory focuses on how humor is used to relieve stress or to remove tension. An example can be someone making a joke to “break the ice”.


  • Incongruity theory states that people laugh when something surprising happens: when the status quo is challenged and patterns are broken. Seeing the joke is not too distant from solving the problem.
  • Superiority theory explains how people use humor to feel superior over others.

Humor can also be used as a social corrective: people laugh at the stupid actions of others. As Colin Powell once said: “Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard.”

So, these are all elements of being human. As you can imagine, designers are humans before being designers. Humor driven innovation is for persons who are very passionate about exploration, comfortable in fuzziness and able to navigate through contradictory emotions. These are experts who envision and investigate new product meanings through a broader, in-depth exploration of the evolution of society, culture, and technology.  These insights may not be perfect, but good enough. For an organization to be innovative, there has to be a culture that supports innovation and divergent thinking. Humor empowers those processes.

The main attributes for humor driven innovation are as follows:

  • Provocations. Provocations are deliberately unreasonable ideas that would be immediately vetoed by those who are not in the process. In any creativity workshop, adding humor makes people think more in provocations. This improves divergent thinking, a core element for radical innovation. Humor is not about perfection, but about progress.
  • Humor mostly happens in interaction. One joke building upon another, out in the open. This is different from design driven where there the focus is more on listening instead of interacting.


  • Humor is culturally dependent and not easily foldable. Therefore, the outcome is different per setting. Herewith new solutions will arise, that may not be as scalable (and perfect) as in design driven innovation, but in finding new radical ways for innovation, scalability is not the most important thing on your mind.
The innovation management focus on humor is new and emerging. The case for humor driven innovation might need to be stronger to replace other models. Actually, replacement may not be required at all. Design and humor can live in perfect harmony, where design driven is more an approach for incremental innovation, and humor for future research, divergence and radical innovation.

*Republished from the original by permission of the author.

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