Why creative businesses need sarcasm more than seminars

This industry doesn't crap on about creativity enough. You may have detected a note of sarcasm in that sentence.

Jon Wilkins: the executive chairman at Karmarama
Jon Wilkins: the executive chairman at Karmarama

Before I’m accused of throwing a big old fire blanket of negativity over the collective creative spark – and at the risk of merely adding to the growing pile of industry guff about creativity – I’d like to point out that good old fashioned sarcasm does more to encourage inventive thinking than any "inspiring creativity" seminar can.

A new study by Harvard and Columbia universities and the business school Insead shows that sarcasm makes people cleverer and more creative.

People who are prone to sneering at their fellow humans, as well as those at the receiving end of sarcastic put downs, were found by researchers to be three times more creative.

The authors of the study even warned that removing sarcasm from the workplace could hinder productivity and profits.

It’s a scientific fact that sarcasm, unfairly dismissed as the lowest form of wit, sharpens our brains. Analysis of electrical activity in the brains of people exposed to sarcastic remarks shows we have to work harder to understand and deal with sarcasm, by comparison to more straightforward sincere statements.

Another study showed that students who listened to complaints to a company’s customer service line were better able to solve problems creatively when the complaints were sarcastic, as opposed to just angry.

Making sarcastic comments and being exposed to them makes our brains engage in abstract thinking, which in turn boosts our creativity.

What that tells us is that while it’s all very well rushing to embrace the latest technology and demonstrate our dexterity with data at every turn, if we don’t encourage or tolerate some well meaning piss-taking in the workplace, we are missing the point of being in the creative industries in the first place.

Having a laugh at work gives people a sense of camaraderie and helps puncture bloated egos. The best places I've ever worked – BMP, PHD, Naked and Karmarama – all have a strong culture of fun, ribbing and jibes.

At the very least being able to perceive the sarcasm at play when someone tells you that your latest CRM campaign really blew their mind is an invaluable skill that no one in advertising can afford to be without.

Jon Wilkins is the executive chairman at Karmarama

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