To get us started, consider the following joke: a group of armed robbers burst into a bank, line up customers and staff against the wall, and begin to take everything from them. Two of the bank’s accountants are among those waiting to be robbed. The first accountant suddenly gets something out of his pocket and put it in the other accountant's hand. The second accountant whispers, “What is this?” and The first accountant replied, “It’s the 100 bucks I owe you.
This is funny but it is also very smart and creative solution.
Jokes like these made me realize that creativity and humor have a lot of common. I now believe that a creative solution or let say break through is nothing but a physical joke. Both require a transition between two meanings by a connection point.
To illustrate and prove my point, let take an example of each and analyze it:
First the joke:
Sam walks into his boss’s office and say. “Sir, I’ll be straight with you, I know the economy isn’t great, but you know how smart and hard worker I am. In face, I currently have over three companies after me, and I would like to respectfully ask for a raise.”
After a few minutes of thinking the boss finally agrees to a 5% raise.
Sam happily gets up to leave. When his boss asked: “By the way” “which three companies are after you?” Sam said: Well they are “The electric company, Water Company, and Phone Company” are after me to pay their bills.
If you analyze the joke you notice that it starts with something we are all familiar with. Then, there is a buildup before the punch line is reached. The punch line is what makes us laugh and it is usually a connection with another meaning that was not unexpected.
The connection point in the last joke are the words "after me" which is subject to misinterpretation or right interpretation.
Now let's take a creative solution example:
The people who invented the food can opening method got their idea from somewhere completely unrelated, or at least seem unrelated.
They imitated the "opening" of a banana
Here the connection point is the word “open”.
We have an unsolved problem: A can needs to be opened.
We know a seemingly unrelated solved problem: We know how to "open" a banana. Why not open the can like a banana. Problem is solved.
The English writer William Plomer once said “Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected".
One profound similarity is the environment: when you tell a joke you must consider the time, the place and the people hearing the joke. You would not tell a joke in a funeral, nor tell a stereotype joke to people affected by the stereotype. Also, a creative idea has its time, place, and people.
Consider the following, a company called "Design that Matter" knew that millions of children in the developing world die each year because they we are born in a place that lack new born incubators. Buying incubators from the market and shipping them there is not a feasible solution because they are very expensive and if it breaks there is no one who can fix it. In one particular area, they asked a "connection" question? What do these people have in abundance? What have they solved already?
They noticed that there are many Toyota Forerunner everywhere and it seems that these people have the spare parts and the skills to maintain these cars running. So they designed incubators completely from that car spare parts. Problem is solved and millions of children are saved.
Einstein famously said that "a problem cannot be solved in the same mindset that created them". You know now what he meant. You have got to look for seemingly unrelated connection.
Consider how David's mother used what she knew to solve her son's challenge in the following joke:
So David Is finally engaged, and is excited to show off his new bride:
“Ma”, he said to his Mother, “I’m going to bring home three girls and I want you to guess which one is my fiancé.”
Later, David walks in the door with three girls following behind him.
“It’s that one”, said his mother.
without blinking an eye.
David shouted “how in the world did you know it was her?”
She said: I just don’t like her.
David's mother knew that mother in law don't usually like their son’s wife so she picked the one she didn't like.
In conclusion humor and creativity have the same structure, environment and require a connection between two meanings. That's why I think they are just two faces of one coin.