You’re Awesome! How Sarcasm Enhances Creativity

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You’re Awesome! How Sarcasm Enhances Creativity

Sarcasm is the idea of using irony in a way to mock somebody or to insult them. While sarcasm can be insulting and hurtful to somebody, it also has an important positive aspect. 

Sarcasm can lead to higher levels of creativity. 

New research by Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School, Adam Galinsky, the Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business at Columbia Business School, and Li Huang of INSEAD, the European business school, found that sarcasm is a process that activates the mind and it’s facilitated by abstraction that promotes creative thinking. 

Sarcasm is like a mental gymnastics routine that boosts your creative output.

The Benefits of Sarcasm

  1. It builds a more trusting relationship.

Not everybody appreciates sarcasm but it definitely has a positive effect on peers. Unlike sarcasm between parties who distrust each other, sarcasm between individuals who share a trusting relationship does not generate contempt, but in fact, builds a more trusting relationship.  

  1. It increases creativity.

A sarcastic remark during a creativity session tells you that a creative act has just happened. Sarcasm is a form of humor. And just like any other form of humor, it tells you when the creative act has occurred. A creative idea is generated when two unrelated things suddenly combine. It’s the unexpected juxtaposition of these two unrelated themes. Therefore, a funny, sarcastic comment, tells you that a great idea is lurking right around the corner. 

 

How to Apply The Systematic Inventive Thinking (Sit) Technique in Sarcasm

Using the SIT method, it forces you to take this strange, sarcastic concept and work backwards on the benefit. And just like the SIT “function follows form,” you go from the solution back to the problem instead of the other way around. 

Here’s a concrete example:

  • Imagine working in a large retailer like Walmart and your group is trying to figure out how to keep people in the store longer so they can buy more.
  • Then one person in your team shouts and gives a sarcastic remark about just locking the doors. 
  • Now, the creative act has just begun. Tell your team to imagine as if that were really true and ask them how this would work in a way that the customers will love it and will benefit from it.
  • Some people might suggest this idea of a special loyalty program when promoting seasonal items. So you close the door to the VIP customers only so they have full access to all the sales. Then the regular customers would have to wait until all the VIP customers are done.

From this solution of “locking the doors,” you actually go backward to figuring out what the problem is. Research shows that humans are actually much better at taking this strange starting point and working backwards to a benefit that it delivers. 

So, the next time you receive a pretty sarcastic remark, use that as a raw material to challenge yourself and the group to come up with creative ideas. Or think about the times you were being sarcastic yourself. What have you actually created with that sarcastic comment and is there a way to harness it and turn it into something of true benefit?

 

To hear more on how sarcasm enhances creativity, listen to the full podcast episode here: Episode 022: You’re Awesome! How Sarcasm Enhances Creativity.