sarcasm and creativity
March 31, 2017 Fringe, Podcast No Comments

Episode 174

Sarcasm can the foundation of misunderstanding —

But maybe there’s something about sarcasm that can connect us to the power of creativity?

That’s exactly what research from Dr. Adam Galinsky, Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business and Chair of Management Division at Columbia Business School, indicates.

The Link Between Sarcasm and Creativity

According to Dr. Galinsky’s research, being sarcastic requires creative thinking.  To be sarcastic, you have to understand the distinction between the literal meaning of your words, and their intended meaning.

And it’s not just making a sarcastic comment that results in a creativity boost.  When participants heard and understood a sarcastic statement, they performed better on a test of creativity.

When you think about it, it makes sense.  To interpret sarcasm, the listener has to notice the difference between what was said and what was intended.

Of course, sarcasm has its limits, particularly if the listen misses the sarcasm.  Sarcasm works best when used between people who trust each other to have good intentions.

More Ways to Boost Creativity

Sarcasm is not the only way to boost creativity — there are a number of ways to get there.  Living in a foreign country increases creativity, although interestingly, merely traveling abroad does not.

The difference?  Living abroad gives you the opportunity and motivation to really dig deep and understand the why of cultural differences.  Trips abroad don’t generally get you out of your cultural bubble.  The same goes for expats who only socialize with others from their home country — they don’t see any creative benefits from their foreign stint.

You need to have what Dr. Galinsky calls a “learning orientation” to get a boost in creativity:

  • You have to recognize the difference in culture.
  • You have you want to understand why those differences exist.
  • And you have to appreciate how that new understanding is changing the way you look at the world.

But not everyone has the means or inclination to live abroad.  The good news from a recent study is that you don’t actually have to leave the country to get the benefits of close interaction with another culture.  You just need to form a close relationship with someone from another culture and make a real effort to understand them.  Yet another reason to date that mysterious foreigner.

Not all foreign cultures are created equal in this regard.  The biggest boosts in creative thinking come from big cultural differences.  For example, you’ll become more creative if you move from the UK to Russia than if you move from the UK to France.

Like most things in life, there is a limit.  If you move to a country too culturally distinct for you to understand it and you don’t spend enough time there, the opposite will occur.  You’ll actually see a decrease in creativity.

Another catalyst for creativity is counterfactual thinking.  Counterfactual thinking involves thinking about alternative outcomes of past events.  For example, it’s imaging all the ways the world would be different if you had gone to college somewhere else or married a different person.

You think counterfactually, you have to understand the relationship between past events and what could have happened in an alternative reality.

The Elements of Creativity

At its core, creativity is noticing something different.  But there are different aspects to creativity.

There’s the ability to come up with new and novel ideas, and the ability to select which ones are useful.  Dr. Galinsky makes the distinction between divergent and convergent thinking.

Divergent thinking is the ability to come up with lots of different ideas.  Convergent thinking is the ability to come up with the one right creative solution.

Most catalysts for creativity increase both divergent and convergent thinking, with the exception of counterfactual thinking, which appears to only boost convergent thinking.

Ultimately, Dr. Galinsky says the best way to become more creative is to be curious about the world and ask questions that get to the why.

Read Full Transcript

Adam Galinsky: I first got interested in sarcasm from watching the movie Midnight Run with Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin.  It’s one of my favorite movies of all time, but there’s a point on their fugitive run across the country where he goes to see his ex-wife and he’s in trouble and she says “today is not a good day for you to show up” and then he said “Oh, I’m really sorry that my fugitive timetable doesn’t coincide with your social calendar.” Then you saw this conflict erupt but I just found that phrase so engaging and so amusing and so insightful, it made me feel like I look at the world in a slightly different way.  So that’s sort of got me starting me to think about this idea that yes, sarcasm is the foundation oftentimes of misunderstanding and hurt feelings, but maybe there is something about sarcasm that connect us to creativity.  The reason why is for me to interpret a sarcastic message, I need to notice a distinction between the literal meaning and the intended meaning, and the knowledge that psychological realization that there’s a difference between what was said and what was intended, is in some ways very similar to what creativity is.  Creativity is also noticing that whatever is on the surface might have different meanings or uses, etcetera.

Another example that’s unrelated to sarcasm but relates to some of my other work was an experience I had.  I lived with a family in Indonesia in the 1980s when I was in high school.  All the people going to Asian countries to live with families on that in Los Angeles and they talked about some cross cultural differences in the countries we’re going to go to and one of them was in China, it’s a sign of respect to leave food on your plate because it says you got enough to eat.  But in Indonesia, it’s a sign of disrespect to leave food on your plate because you’re suggesting it wasn’t very good.  What’s so fascinating to me was this idea that in the same form, food on a plate could have different meanings and different functions.  Again, that really relates to this idea of creativity and just, the final thing I’ll say about all this is that really relates to probably the most famous creativity problem of all time.  It’s called the Duncker's candle problem. 

The Duncker Candle problem is basically you give someone a candle, a box of tacks and a book of matches, and you say to them “I want you to fix this candle to the wall in such a way that the candle when lit doesn’t drip wax onto the wall or the floor.  I did this study in Princeton University in 1990s and only about 10 to 15% percent of them can solve it within 10 minutes.  So these are some of the smartest people.  The solution is just like the food on the plate problem.  It’s basically, you have to recognize that one of those forms has multiple functions, and the key solution if you haven’t thought of it already is you dump all the tacks out of the box, you tack the box to the wall and then you put the candle inside the box.  So the box is not just a repository for tacks it also can be used as a stand.  Just as food on the plate doesn’t have to be insult, it can also be a compliment.

Jesse Lawler: This almost reminds me of the idea of a joke.  A joke in sort of the broadest sense is always setting up for an expectation and defying it with something else.  I guess in the case of sarcasm, it’s like what you’re defying the expectation with would be the tone of voice almost.

Adam: Absolutely.  And you know we often are sarcastic when we’re flirting with someone.  We jokingly make comments about, let’s say that their dress is awful when we really think it’s great.

Jesse: Right.

Adam: I have an example where I actually use sarcasm to decrease some tension with my wife when she was not my wife then.  We were getting married, we decided to get married, we’re going to try to do this wedding in like 6 weeks.  She woke me up in the middle of the night one night.  Like a month before the wedding.  She had camera or whatever it was, just crazy ideas that were going to be logistically impossible and also financially impossible.  I said to her “Those are amazing ideas.  Why don’t we also get Barack Obama to do the benediction, Aziz Ansari to do a little comedy and maybe have Paul McCartney come sing a little music.” Of course, she thought that I was joking, I was being sarcastic, and she laughed and she giggled and she said “Yeah, I guess it’s probably impractical.” So rather than confronting her directly by shutting her down saying “That’s not a good idea at all.  That’s ridiculous.  That’s impossible.”  I sort of led her to understand that it’s impossible through my sarcastic comment.  But that example is also something really important which is that sarcasm can work to make a connection, increase our creativity when we trust the other person, when we know they have our best intentions.

Jesse: Right.  Because you can dance on landmines otherwise.

Adam: Yes.  Otherwise it explodes in your face.  So, that’s another thing that our research has shown.  We've shown that sarcasm leads to conflict, but also leads to creativity.  But it leads to creativity without conflict when said in a very trusting relationship.

Jesse: When you say leads to, I mean it’s clear that there’s some creative thinking going on from the sarcastic party but does it lead to creative thinking in the party that’s having to sort of unwind that, the receiving party?

Adam: Yes.  So, it’s really cool about the research we did is we asked that question.  Like where would be the source of sarcastic creativity.  Now you might think it’s just in the person who’s creating the sarcasm because they have to create the surface message with the intended underlying message.  We actually showed that in our study.  So we gave them a little cartoon where someone in a car drove by, with a little puddle.  And then we told the person at side work, we said “Fill in the bubble of what the person said with a sincere comment or with a sarcastic comment.” Then we measured their creativity afterwards.  The people who were asked to create a sarcastic comment did better on the creativity tasks like the Duncker Candle problem I mentioned earlier.

But then in another group of participants, we actually showed them the same cartoon.  But we had filled it in already with either sincere comment or sarcastic comment.  And we asked them to evaluate the cartoon and then we gave them a creativity measure afterwards and just understanding the sarcasm was enough to increase creativity because again to appreciate and understand the sarcastic comment require the person to also make that distinction between the underlying intended meaning with the surface meaning.

Jesse: I am sure that a lot of people are going to hear about this and say “Yes, sarcasm is all well and good but I risk pissing somebody off by being sarcastic.” Is there a minimal effective dose of sarcasm that can still get the creativity uptick without risking alienating the people around you?

Adam: Well, I think it’s exactly the word I used earlier which is trust.  Trust really come down to, I guess good intentions that we know they’re saying this because they’re not trying to be mean-spirited but because they’re trying to lead me to a direction but do it with a lighter touch.  And so there’s a friend of mine who told a story once about someone at work.  His boss walking by and seeing that I think he’s watching like some cat video and said “Oh, I see you’re working very hard.” but he said it with a smile and that smile indicated that the boss wasn’t really mad but was also saying that maybe you should start working a little bit harder.

When I think that the smile, the glint in our eye that’s suggesting that we have good intentions, those are all things.  Now you can imagine the same person saying oh I see you’re working really hard just dripping with derision and that’s going to have very different effect.  So, with my wife when she woke me up in the middle of the night, I did it with a smile.  I did it with a purr in my voice.  So that’s a great idea, smiling at her.  So, if there’s really a way to do that and I think that it’s the same thing with flirtation, how do you flirt with someone successfully, right?  Well, you got to do it with the lightest touch so that they know that you mean well and you have good intentions and you’re not trying to hurt their feelings.

Jesse: Right.  Otherwise it’s like a third grade boy flirting when he’s actually just being mean. 

Adam: Yes exactly.  That’s why I think that that type of situation which is really helpful.  I think the other thing too is that if you’re known for someone who is willing to be the target of sarcasm, that also helps a lot.  So I think people often make jokes about me.  I’m pretty good natured so I think that makes them feel comfortable joking about me but also more comfortable receiving sarcastic jokes from me.

Jesse: I guess you could also probably very safely do some self-directed sarcasm that’s not going to risk pissing off anybody else.

Adam: Absolutely.  Great, yeah.  Self-deprecation is often a very quick route to win the hearts of other people.

Jesse: Let’s talk about some of your other studies in the creativity in kind of the broad range of things that are available to people that are looking to make themselves more creative or getting to a more creative head space.

Adam: Yeah.  Again, creativity is often noticing something different.  And there’s a number of ways that we can get there.  So here’s one of my lines of research that I think really captures that and it goes back to the example I gave earlier, food on a plate.  Earlier I mentioned how Midnight Run got me interested in understanding the link between sarcasm and creativity.  That food on the plate story back when I was in high school really led to a whole another research project 20 years later that I started in my 30s which was understanding how our experiences in different cultures with different people might also spur our creativity.  And so for me, I started looking at the food on a plate in a totally different way.  I started to have to ask myself a question “what does food on a plate mean where I am today?”

I was asked many years ago to do a lecture to 250 MBA students going for 2 weeks study abroad program as groups to learn different cultures.  I just asked myself a simple question with my colleague Will Maddocks, we asked ourselves this question: Do people who have more experience abroad more creative?  So we sent out a simple survey and we asked as simple question.  “How long have you lived abroad in your life?  How long have you travelled abroad in your life?  And we gave them the Duncker Candle problem I mentioned earlier.  And we found the correlation.

We found that people who have lived abroad were more creative than the people who hadn’t but there’s no effects for travel abroad.  So didn’t matter how much you travelled or whether you have travelled abroad.  There’s no effect on creativity.  And that really fascinated us.  Actually we replicated that effect in dozens of studies.  Where travel abroad at an average doesn’t really have an effect but lived abroad does.  And then we asked ourselves “Why?” And we realized when you live abroad you have the motivation and the incentive to really understand why another culture does what they do.  That key question of why.  Why does food on the plate mean this?  And so we just started doing lots of studies so we found that one of the reasons really led to greater creativity for those people that were more willing to adapt to their local cultures.  To really take on some of the customs while they were abroad for example.

Jesse: Did you look at military personnel who were stationed overseas for a long, long time.  So I guess technically would’ve lived abroad but might not have really gotten out of their cultural bubble and just kind of seen how that might be confounding?

Adam: That is an unbelievably great question.  In fact, that question comes up a lot about the military because sometimes it’s like well it doesn’t matter if they volunteered to go abroad or not.   That’s another question.  But we’ve shown in our research for example that expatriates, these are not necessarily military people but type of people who are separated from the new culture.  So they just hang out with Americans and friends who only hang out with other Americans.  They don’t get the boost of creativity because they’re not really engaging with the local culture in any way integrating into their own understanding of the world.  So it really requires this sort of integration of new knowledge.

If we go back to travel, people always ask me, “Can you get a benefit from traveling abroad?” Absolutely.  But you only get the benefit of travelling abroad is when you’re travelling you really engage, integrate with the local culture.  So someone who lived abroad for 6 months and stays with expatriates and never gets out to local culture will be less creative than someone who travels abroad for 2 weeks but during that entire 2 weeks they are really trying to understand the other culture and be really part of it while they’re there.  And I think that’s really the key variable.

So let me tell you about another co-finding which just got accepted for publication.  Which I’m very excited about.  You don’t actually have to go abroad to get these benefits.  You can actually just interact with someone from another culture where you are today.  But here’s the key thing, it’s the same thing with travel versus living.  It’s the deep experiences that are going to lead to more creativity.  So we did a study.  We measured people’s creativity on time 1 and we measured their creativity a year later.  And then we measured at the end of that time 2 period, the year later about their new relationships they have had in the past year.  We measured their friendships and their romantic relationships.  What we found is that their intercultural friendships, so people from other cultures, it didn’t have a big increase on creativity but if they had dated someone from another culture, their creativity increased from time 1 to time 2.  Now why would that be the case.  Well, romantic relationships are deeper relationships than friendships.  Living abroad is a deeper experience than travelling abroad.  So what you can start to see here is it’s really the depth of that experience.  How much we learned about other cultures?  One other study we did, another longitudinal study with MBA students, we measured their complexity of their thought from time 1 and their complexity of thought in time 2, and we also measured the number of jobs they got when they graduated.

We showed that the more deeply they learned about other cultures NC AD the complexity of their thinking increased and they walked out of the NC AD with more job offers.  And so we can start to see again the depth.  It goes back to sarcasm.  Sarcasm is really into a deeper understanding and thinking because you have to go deeper, you have to understand what’s underneath the surface, meaning to appreciate the intended meaning.  And so all of these examples are about depth of thought.

Jesse: It seems like the differences between cultures could apply to much other than national level of cultures.  I mean like the culture between working in a highly scientific technical office versus a laid back casual coffee shop.  It’s like very very different corporate culture.  I’m not quite sure that’s something that’s going to seep into the pores of your being the same way as a romantic relationship would but the difference between the culture of Texas versus the culture of Seattle is probably pretty different too.

Adam: Absolutely I often realize this with some of the -- I teach MBA students so all of them have work experience.  And I haven’t measured this scientifically yet but this is my intuition based on experience, is that oftentimes people come in with just one type of work experience, they were consultant for 5 years.  Afterwards they are an investment banker for 5 years.  Some people come in and they were consultant for 2 years and then they’re investment banker for 3 years so they worked in tech for 2 years and then they worked in marketing for 3 years.

I really see a more flexibility of thought from people who have more varied experience.  Diversity of experience is really one of the most important things.  I just want to tell you one of the most amazing study that we conducted with some colleagues of mine in France, Frederick Dart, was leader of this print.  We have 21 seasons of every major fashion house in the world who presented in the top fashions shows in the world in Milan Paris, London or New York.  We actually have an objective measure of creativity.  There’s was a French magazine that asks buyers and journalist to rate the creativity of all the different designs.  This is not a measure we created.  What we found was that when the top executive for design, the creative director, had lived abroad, they were more likely to have produced more creative lines.  So again you will see the foreign experience.

But here’s the other really fascinating thing that we found from this experience.  Is, you wanted different experiences and more different experiences but only up to a point.  For example, if you went to a culturally distant country from your own, let’s say someone going from England to France versus going from let’s say going from England to Russia.  You got a bigger creativity if you went to more culturally distant thing.  But if you went to a country that is too culturally distant from you and was too hard for you to really appreciate and you didn’t spend enough time in that culture, then you actually got a decrease in creativity because it kind of unsettles you.  So if you went from Britain to Japan but you’re only there for a few months, you actually had lower creativity because you’re so overwhelmed with this different culture.  And so we showed that like the cultural distances can sometimes matter too but if you go from let’s say Britain to Japan or if you go from investment banking to the tech industry you’re going to need more time before you can really adapt to that local environment and so again we see the depth of experience and interacting with how different the experience is.

Jesse: I’m wondering if you’ve teased apart what the importance of human to human interaction in that cultural environment versus just being in a place where it's kind of like Gulliver’s Travels as the physical world around you works differently.  I just went to a parent-teacher conference yesterday.  So I went into this school where everything is scaled down 60% from what you’re used to because they’re little kids.  And I could see where that would be, even by being in that environment for a while, would kind of force you to do things a bit differently.  Even in the absence of other people.

Adam: Absolutely.  But I think one of the key things that you just showed is what I call sort of a meta understanding of the world.  You walked into this world and it affected you but you’re also aware that you’re having this effect.  I think that one of the of the things that the research shows is that when people go into a new type of experience what people call learning orientation, so you’re going in with (A) you recognize that things are different and (B) you want to understand why they’re different and (C) you appreciate how that understanding is also changing the way that you look at the world.  That’s when you really get those sort of boost in creativity.  And so what you’re showing right then was this meta capacity to understand the world is different and appreciation of how it's affecting me that the world’s different, and I’m trying to understand how that might affect the way I look at the world differently.

And so I think is such an incredibly important insight, and again gets back to depth of thinking.  Like that meta like with sarcasm.  All of these examples like when you’re going abroad, I travel a lot and based on my own research it’s changed the way that I approach the way that I go abroad.  I was just in Norway last week and I was asked a lot more questions now.  Like “Oh I noticed this happens, why does it happen this way?” People have all these examples “Oh there’s a reason why people eat fish this way because of historically this is the way it came across them.  Then like “Oh that’s really cool.” Then you start thinking “Oh what are some of the customs I have in my own life.  And then that’s where you see that integration happening.

Let me give you one more line of research I’ve done that have shown that it affects creativity.  That’s something that I’ve always been really fascinated with in my own life.  I will even tell you why I got fascinated with it too.  I’m a huge UNC basketball fan and in 1981 UNC lost the national championship to Indiana Cruisers on the day that Reagan got shot.  I cried that night and I went to bed that night and I kept thinking if they’d only postposed the game to the next day maybe Carolina would have won.  And that’s called counterfactual thinking.  When you start thinking about how the world might’ve turned out differently.  What my research shows is that when you get people to think counterfactually, they actually become more creative.  I’ll tell you a little scenario that were given in our studies.

We had people read a little scenario about a person at a rock concert and we say a trip to Hawaii is going to be won that’s based on the seat you’re currently sitting at.  We have this person, Jane, she’s sitting in a seat that wins or she’s sitting in a seat that doesn’t win.  And so one time you have a positive or negative outcome, but then we have two other conditions.  We say Jane move seats to get a better view of the stage and the new seat she just moved to won, or we say Jane moved seats to get a better view of the stage and the seat she had been sitting in won.  Now, imagine that people feel lots of joy when she moved and she won because she can easily imagine “If I hadn’t moved, I wouldn’t have won” and you imagine she feels lots of pain when she moved and her old seat won because if she hadn’t moved she would’ve won.  We found that it didn’t matter.  Both of those scenarios increase people’s creativity because in both cases again they’re thinking more deeply, more complexly about the world.  They’re understanding the relationship between reality and alternative reality.  Just like sarcasm.  They’re understanding the relationship between what was said and what was intended.  Just like foreign experience or understanding about what they did and why they did what they did.  And so it was shown in our research that this sort of counterfactual thinking gets people to engage in more deep complex thinking and that leads them to become temporarily more creative.

Jesse: You know what that kind of reminds me of is the magic eye poster from the 1990s where you can kind of look past the depths of the actual piece of paper and see a hidden image but you couldn’t see both the surface of the paper and the hidden image at the same time.  You kind of have to pick which depths you focus your eyes at but both things are there if you look the right way.

Adam: I think that’s exactly right.  I mean I think again it’s that psychological process of recognizing something and recognizing the alternative to that.  Recognizing that it has a different visual experience when you look at it at a different way.  I think that is really the foundation of creativity.  It’s looking at the world in a different way and being more creative in the process of thinking about that world.

Jesse: I forgot where I originally read this.  You’ll probably know this from the top of your head but creativity kind of sub divides into these two fundamental pieces.  One of which is coming up with a bunch of new novel ideas, the other is selecting the good ideas from probably larger number of bad ideas that you’ve come up with.  In this interventions that we’ve been talking about to get more creative, have you looked at which of those two facets are actually getting dialed up?  Is it just helping with this proliferation of new potential new ideas?  Or is it actually helping to select the worthwhile needles from the much larger haystack?

Adam: I think there’s two different ways to distinguish creativity.  One is what we might call the novelty of the idea versus the usefulness of the idea.  Then the other one is what people call divergent thinking versus convergent thinking.  Divergent thinking is just thinking of lots of different ideas.  Convergent thinking is coming up with that sort of one creative solution.  So for example in a divergent thinking tasks would be come up with different uses for cardboard box or brick.  So we can  code this the number of ideas, the number of different types of ideas, the creativity level of the ideas.  The Duncker candle problem is called a convergence task because there’s one right answer and you have to have that insight in order to get that one right answer.

Generally, what I found in my research is a lot of these different stimuli to creativity or catalyst to creativity, I guess is a better word, work on those divergent/convergent thinking.  So sarcasm leads to better divergent/convergent thinking.  So does living abroad.  Counterfactual thinking is a little different.  Counterfactual thinking actually helps in convergent thinking.  Where you’re able to get that one right answer but it doesn’t help you as much with divergent thinking because what counterfactual thinking sometimes do is focusing -- unless you have one alternative reality and how it relates to that other reality.

Now in terms of the difference between what we might call the novelty of the ideas versus the usefulness of the ideas.  I actually haven’t done as much work on that.  The one case where we have some evidence that it works at both levels is with the fashion designer.  So it not only had to come up with a creative design but it had to be seen as creative by other people and seen useful by them.  We saw that for those cases, we call those sort of creative innovations because they kind of implemented those foreign experiences that I mentioned tend to increase the implementation of those creative ideas.  But I think it’s a really important point and you can imagine whether people are good at creating ideas versus whether they’re good at picking the best ideas.  I think it’s a really important point.  I just haven’t done as much research myself on that distinction. 

Jesse: For the people that are listening that are interested in applying some of these ideas but aren’t necessarily able to pluck themselves up from their lives and live abroad for a couple of years, what are some of the maybe more life low impact ways of applying some of these ideas?

Adam: It’s a great thing.  I mean I think the example that we have like dating and friendships.  It goes back to that difference between living abroad and travelling.  You don’t have to date someone to learn their cultures.  You can get these benefits.  It’s just that when you have a friendship you have to go a little bit deeper with that person.  You want to understand their culture, understand some of the reasons why they do things the way they do.  I’ve noticed that you direct so that something is maybe part of your culture.  Why is that part of your culture?  I guess what I would say is curiosity is really the foundation of creativity.  It’s just becoming more curious about the world.  Wondering why do people walk this way versus that way down the street in this city versus another city.

Noticing those differences.  Like you did in the Gulliver’s Travels to your parent-teacher conference with all the small little things.  It’s just taking a curious approach to the world.  Being willing to ask questions not just noticing the surface but trying to understand the underlying reason behind things.  Being claimed with ideas even just in your own mind.  Like counterfactually, how would the world have been differently if I’d gone to a different school then than other graduate programs that I went to.  That’s one of the manipulations where we ask people how did you end up at northwestern or you ask all the way “so you might not have ended up in Northwestern”.  Then you know we see that people have a different deeper sort of cognitive perspective after thinking that counterfactual thinking.  Then we’re actually showing that that makes people connections more deep.  If you think about all the ways you might not have met your spouse, you actually feel more connected to yourself.  So I think it’s really at this cognitive level now these experiences help us.  Maybe in trying some more flirtatious jokes.  You’re being more playful, more curious I guess, it’s playful curiosity with the world.  I think it’s the key foundation to increasing creativity.

Jesse: Do you find that there’s any relationship between creativity and anxiety?  Because a lot of things we talked about is sort of seeing the world in different ways.  I could see that is also making the world seem kind of less fixed and orderly.  Some people can kind of be in anxiety causing state.

Adam: Yeah.  And I think there’s a lot of data out there.  There’s two routes to creativity emotionally.  So this is a lot of work that I haven’t done but other people have done.  Some great work by Corsini Drew and people in the Netherlands that we can become creative through when we’re happy and that creativity from happiness just allows us to think in a broader more diffuse way.  But we can also become more creative when things aren’t going well because we know the world isn’t right and it’s telling us we need to think differently and we need to activate sort of some deeper systematic thinking.

So positive emotions have a route to broader thinking.  Negatives, sort of little anxiety can be the route towards a deeper thinking and some of those solutions.  As people are like struggling, they are scratching their heads trying to come up with something in that way I think is really important.

One of the things that I just want to say that research has shown about creativity which I think is also really important and this is a small life hacks that you can do.  I have to say that I didn’t do this research but it changed my life and it has transformed a number of things the way that I actually run my meetings as chair now.  At my department I’m chair of the Management Division at Columbia is that taking a break and coming back to something after you’ve taken a break is powerful solution in some cases.

So, I instituted a new idea this year in our department which is we don’t make decisions the day we discuss a decision.  We sleep on it and then we make the decision the next day.  Because people sleep really helps people process information come back and think about it and then we weigh in in amore deep way.  People have shown that you don’t learn if you don’t sleep.  So of the idea of staying up all night and taking the exam, you’re better off  staying up and getting two hours of sleep than you are up all night because sleep helps consolidate some of your learnings and information.

Jesse: This sleep advice is something that seems like it’s coming from all direction nowadays in an underslept culture we are in a multiplicity of ways that’s screwing us up.

Adam: Well one thing I don’t know about the sleep research is to really shows that eight hours is going to make you better than six hours.  The research I know is just that getting some sleep before getting tested leads to better performance than getting no sleep.

Jesse: Right.  I think there’s also mood benefits and things like that in which are hard to quantify back to strict cognition but it certainly makes it more enjoyable to go through life

Adam: Yeah.  I mean I’m just reiterating some of the points.  I talked to you about the benefits of  sarcasm for creativity, the benefits of foreign experiences and romantic relations with someone from another culture.  I talked to you about counterfactual thinking, about thinking about alternatives on ways things can then develop.  All of them are about depth of thinking.  Thinking more deeply about the world and I think we saw with your example of Gulliver's Travels.  When we approach the world willing to notice differences but also thinking about how those differences might make a difference, that’s what when we really spurs ourselves on so just to be aware of your world.  Be aware of how things are different.  Try to understand why they’re different.  Be playful.  Be curious.  Be flirtatious.  Be all these things and you will be more creative.

Written by Hannah Sabih
Hannah believes there's nothing 8 hours of sleep and some kale can't cure (yes, she's from California). She's an avid runner, reader, and traveler, who brings you the latest and greatest in neuroscience via our social media channels.
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