“Comedians know that the more beloved they become to one audience, the more hated they become to another. You can’t make everyone happy.” This week, in the fifth session of the second Fiterator cohort, the teams were treated to an awesome session from behavioral scientist Dr. Peter McGraw. He is the author of The Humor Code, marketing and psychology professor at the University of Colorado, and directs the Humor Research Lab at the university.
So why did we bring him in to talk to the teams?
To be perfectly honest, we wanted to give the teams a bit of a break. We have been pretty tough on them for the past nine weeks, with a schedule full of constant meetings, interviews, and pitches to the CableLabs board of directors. So we knew that Peter would give them a laugh while also giving valuable advice from the comedy world.
Peter laid out Twelve Ways to Think Funny to Think Differently. These were our favorites:
Step out of the Stream
This one really applies to startups and innovation - because it is actually pretty hard to be both original AND appropriate. For example, you can easily come up with original, but stupid, ideas that are not valuable (i.e. appropriate). You could also solve the problem in the same way as everyone else - so it’s appropriate, but not original. Winning ideas are both. “Comedians have a way of looking at something and flipping it. It is called divergent thinking. Most big inventions seemed impossible at first,” Peter said.
Humility is a virtue, and comedians often have this part down. They are likable because of their vulnerability. Ellen DeGeneres is probably one of the most well-liked comedians on the planet, in part because she rarely punches down in her jokes. Self-deprecating humor, if done well, can make you approachable and likeable.
The most elite people in their profession usually make their craft look easy. As Peter said, “Almost anyone who is engaged in a creative pursuit and is at the elite levels, they make things look so easy that you think they must have natural ability. But overwhelmingly, those elite people are putting in ten times the amount of work you think they are.” Startup founders are no strangers to long hours and hard work. Which brings us to the next lesson...
Trim the Fat
If you want to improve things, you have to remove things. You have to make space to be creative. Recent studies have found that you need to be bored in order to be creative. This one is always a challenge for a startup founder who has such a full calendar they have to schedule in a few hours to sleep. But removing less important things from your calendar might give you the space you need to better innovate.
In the end, we can learn a lot from people who make others laugh for a living. In fact, according to Peter, being successful as a comedian is harder than as a business simply because of the constant creativity they are required to churn out - while startups can make a core product once and keep selling it, a comedy audience doesn’t want to hear the same joke twice. As Peter said, “there is no Greatest Hits tours for comedians.” So by taking a few lessons from funny people, startups can experience a lot of success - and that is no laughing matter!