Fish, Jokes and Creativity

"There's two fish in a tank, and one says ''How do you drive this thing?''  " A public survey of 36,000 people in the UK recently revealed the 50 funniest jokes of all time (for the full list, go here). The joke above came in at a competitive #15, and it also serves as a great example of how creativity happens.

© Herdesign | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
© Herdesign | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Humour often involves the joke-teller leading the listener along a trail, and then unexpectedly creating a new link that they hadn't seen before. Although scientifically analysing a joke is a sure-way to drain the humour out of it - it is an important lesson for us to learn.

In the joke above, we begin by creating a link between "fish" and "tank", creating a mental image of two fish swimming around in a fish-tank. Suddenly, when one of the fish begins to speak, we realise that the fish are not in a fish-tank, but a military tank! Our brains are jolted into a new direction, and as humans we find this action funny.

The act of forming a new link is the key to what makes a joke work. If the above joke had said, "There's two fish in a military tank, and one says, "How do you drive this thing?" " - we would just be confused.

Having our brains work in one direction, and then shifted into a new link is what makes a joke funny.

Creativity is often described as the combining of two or more ideas in a novel and useful way. Just like a joke, this requires our brains being jolted to make new connections and to see links where we have not seen them before.

Oregon running coach Bill Bowerman was eating waffles one morning, when he created a new link between the waffle pattern from the hot waffle iron, and the sole of a running shoe. Using the waffle iron, Bill created a new rubber sole that could grip onto all surfaces without increasing the weight of the shoe. This "Waffle Trainer" kickstarted the company that became Nike onto the global stage, and set the scene for it's incredible growth.

So look for new links and look for new jokes! Have a playful outlook on your world and begin to experiment with new ideas and combinations - no matter how funny they may sound.