Is Creativity like a Sense of Humor?

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Humor and Creativity

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
#1 in the Creativity Series

Have you heard the one about the old
Borscht-Belt comic’s dying words?

As his end draws near, his buddy squeezes his hand and affirms, empathetically, “Dying is hard.”

Without missing a beat, the comic replies, his last words on this earth,
“Dying is easy — comedy’s hard.”

The anecdote supposedly has some basis in truth, by the way –
check out The Quote Investigator for more about it

True story, or “urban legend” told as a joke, the anecdote underscores one view about comedy – that it is a skill that can be learned, and that it takes work to hone it.

And maybe NOT

Another group of comics will affirm that nothing is easier than comedy — as long as you are funny to begin with.  

In private, they will admit to like-minded souls that if one isn’t innately gifted with “a sense of humor” there is nothing much that can be done to change that sad fact.

Oh sure, you can be taught to tell a joke or deliver a line, but no matter how long and hard you go at it, you’ll never be anywhere in the ballpark with comic geniuses on the order of Robin Williams or John Cleese (on one of their few off days!)

They will also argue that there is a fundamental difference between the ability to recognize humor and the ability to BE funny.  It’s a gift – you either have it or you don’t!

And so it goes

Similar arguments surround the concept of creativity. Is creativity more like a skill, or more on the order of a talent or gift? CAN it be developed from scratch, or is it something that can only be honed? Can it be taught, or must it be fanned to flames from the embers of an inborn trait?

Regardless of what you believe about humor OR creativity, you have to admit that some people seem to have what we call a “natural” comic ability that never HAD to be taught. How do they DO that? I mean, how does that work?

And what does that tell us about creativity in other realms?

ARE we all highly creative?

Educational experts are fond of pointing out the inborn curiosity and creativity of children, which few of us manage to keep alive as we age. Battles rage over why that might be so and what we can do to change that seeming reality. Adult Learning gurus like to affirm that we are ALL creative, if we can allow ourselves the freedom to access and activate our creativity.  Let’s take a closer look.

Looking at the survey data recently published from a study undertaken by research firm Edelman Berland, Creativity and Education: Why it Matters, it certainly seems as if the topic of creativity bears further investigation.

In this particular survey, results compiled and released in pdf format on November 7, 2012 (download links at the end of this article), we learn that:

  • 78% of the respondents say creativity is important in their career
  • 85% percent agree creative thinking is critical for problem solving in their career
  • 32% don’t feel comfortable thinking creatively in their work
  • 78% wish they had more creative ability
  • 68% believe creativity is a skill that can be learned
  • 71% of the respondents say creative thinking should be “taught as a course – like math or science,” and
  • 88% of the U.S. professionals surveyed believe that creativity should be built into standard curricula.

Before we slide down the rabbit hole of an exploration of what blocks creativity and how we can encourage (even teach) creativity, we might want to back up a bit to examine this idea of creativity that seems to hint at some universal application of a similar state we define AS “creativity.”

What IS Creativity?

I think we can align on a basic definition that creativity is the use of the imagination to create or design new things – in other words, to think with originality in the direction of new ideas.

Or CAN we?

• New to whom?  • Original compared to what? • Toward what, if any, application?
• Who gets to decide whether we are creative or not, or the extent of our “creativity?”
Can creativity be quantified?  • If so, by what measures?
• Are they universally applicable, or
• Is “creativity” itself more on the order of one of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences**?

Because, until we address those questions satisfactorily,
how do we hope to understand how creativity is best kindled?

Looking at ADD Creatives

One of the blessings of the ADD brain-style is an extremely high level of creativity. Most of us think so far outside of the box, we’re not even consciously aware that there IS a box!

We are simply NOT your basic “color inside the lines” folks – at least most of us are not. As eager as we are to find a way to make our lives work pragmatically, we choke on directive approaches.

Don’t fence us in

If you could be a fly on the wall in almost any ADD community, you would hear some version of that “outside the box vs. inside the box thinking” concept over and over.

You would also run up against our almost total lack of understanding of the benefit of “Creativity Seminars.”  A great many of us don’t really get that concept – any more than we would sign on to a need to attend a seminar on breathing.

Maybe we could do it BETTER, we silently affirm, but we do it just fine already, thank you very much — better than most of those who’d like us to attend their seminars.

Don’t mess with our process!

Say WHAT?!

To tell you the truth, many ADDers will admit that they find more than a few of those “Creativity” seminars stultifying, bordering on annoying. I know I do, and I know that, by no means, am I alone in that reaction.

It makes no sense to many of us that anyone would believe that there might be a FORMULA for creativity, or any step along the path in its direction.

To a great many of us, it feels like you are putting us INTO a box, telling us that it is an important first step for getting OUT of the box.

Using the BRAIN to open the Mind

While I do NOT believe that creativity is a gift that only some of humanity received, I am suggesting that there might be a great deal of value in studying communities where examples of creative self-expression that persist into adulthood are abundant – like the ADD community perhaps?

We may not be able to tell you exactly how we think the way we do, but more than a few of us can be pretty darned specific about why most “neurotypical” ideas about “expanding creativity” don’t enhance our creativity in the slightest.  They actually have the opposite effect.

We would be thrilled, no doubt, to share what might work better. All we need from you is a willingness to listen with an open mind. (If you live with and love a member of Team ADD, you may be of the opinion that more than a few of us could go on for HOURS about what might work better – even if you’re not willing, open minded, or the slightest bit interested!)

It would also be valuable to include those who have lost certain cognitive abilities (like the TBI and stroke communities) to study what effect being forced to develop work-arounds, new ways of getting things done while developing neural pathways to rebuild lost skills, has on global levels of creativity — and if any observed expansion of creative access has lasting effects once functionality returns.

Heightened Awareness

Nobody seems to find it unusual that those who are born without “neurotypical” access to one or more of the five senses seem to experience a heightened sensitivity in senses they do possess. There are a great many reports from those who subsequently lose one of their five senses of a similar compensatory increase in the acuity of the senses remaining.

It seems neuro-logical to ME that those with cognitive struggles would develop a compensatory ability in the creativity realm.

After all, creativity is a brain-based marvel that appears to be connected to the “ability” to bypass the inhibiting effects of more linear-processing areas of the cortex to access the more holographic, less conscious levels of “knowing” stored in the brain’s deeper, older areas.

As long as science is willing to accept the down-side of our
lack of volitional over-rides, why not take a focused look at the up-side?

Why not expand the studies that currently focus on savant skills to include more “garden variety” presentations that, if this recent study is any indication, the rest of humanity seems to value immensely?  I’d volunteer happily!


IN ANY CASE, I want to take advantage of the recent upsurge in interest in the value of creativity to spend some time exploring the creativity concept in light of what science has learned over the past couple of decades about how the brain functions, including its connections to body, mind and spirit.

Be SURE to ring in with your thoughts and experience in the comments section below, and in new articles to come as this particular series unfolds. I really want to get a dialogue going that underscores and expands upon the POSITIVE effects of the ways that our seemingly kludgy brains actually operate.

I more than suspect that creativity is an area where those of us in the AD(H)D, TBI, and stroke communities have a thing or two to teach our so-called “neurotypical” friends and neighbors, and I’m eager to explore that hypothesis.

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Check bottom of Home/New to find out the “sharing rules”
(reblogs ALWAYS okay, and much appreciated)

Shared on the Senior Salon

BIGTIME BRIBE:  I’m also in the process of developing the beta version of a “creativity seminar” of a very different [brain-based] sort – and EVERYONE who contributes his or her thoughts on the matter in the comments section of the posts in this series, helping me out as I run a few ideas up the flagpole, will be invited as my guests — and acknowledged as contributors to any course materials, eBooks or books I develop on this topic (in whatever manner you are comfortable), in addition to links to your content, for those of you with websites and blogs. [Click on Of Bribery and Labels for my thoughts about the value of bribery]

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Links to study reports (in pdf format):

Other Related Articles

BY THE WAY: Since is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

18 Responses to Is Creativity like a Sense of Humor?

  1. Madelyn, I can’t wait to see where you go with this. I am a firm believer that creativity is good for a person’s psyche as well as their over all health and well being. Since I am married to a ADHD man and raised three children with ADHD and now have a granddaughter with ADHD, I am always on the lookout for their particular skill sets. It is said of my husband in our community that “Dom has a million ideas a week and some of them are actually good” It is said by his friends lovingly even though it does sound snarky on paper.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOVE it, Bernadette. I have been listening to various “success gurus” in the background, gestating a new project, and they ALL seem to have a million ideas. The difference seems to be their dogged determination toward a single vision — their hyperfocus on action steps.

      In orchestras, bassoons are never demonized for not being flutes – nor is the conductor encouraged to play one of the instruments instead. I’m not sure how that shakes out, but I know there’s something important about that idea.


  2. barbtaub says:

    Great post. I loved the “out of the box” cartoon (after a work lifetime being surrounded by MBA-buzzspeak).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. DebugYourBrain says:


    Yet another wonderful article. Thank you for taking the time to put this blog and all these articles together for us.

    For most of my life, creativity always seemed to be a little magical to me. I would see tremendous things that people would build. Somebody or other had to have thought of … and I wondered how they thought of it. How could I do that too?

    Roger von Oech ( wrote several books on creativity. Among other things, they pointed out that whether you believed you were creative or not, the creative process can be supported and enhanced using many different strategies. One of my favorites and a very simple one is to pick one word randomly from page A (its full of nouns) and another from page B (also just nouns), then find an interesting way to associate them together. It might be a completely new idea – or nothing.

    But later in life, I was pondering problem solving and realized that some of the “creative” ideas were almost obvious, once the problem was turned on its head so to speak. The trick, I discovered, and I’m sure I was not the first, was to identify every assumption or rule I had made about the nature of the problem that was not actually part of the problem itself. Then, one at a time, I would try to break or flip around each assumption and see what I could do.

    For example, take the original “Thinking Outside The Box” problem, you know, the original one where you have a pencil and paper and actually draw 9 dots on the paper. The assumption we make that gets us into trouble, of course, is that the dots form a “box” or perimeter which we cannot penetrate with our pencil line.

    So what other assumptions were we making? Hmmm. One is the dot is about 1 mm or so round. Another is the paper must remain flat. Just breaking those two assumptions, I found a pile of uniquely different solutions to the 9-dot problem, in just a few minutes. It was easy to find lots of very different valid ways to think outside the box, by identifying first, the rules I had added to the problem that were not in the problem.

    The take home value is this….

    1) Problems in our lives will almost always seem bigger, harder, and more difficult than they really are.

    2) One method of creative thinking employs trying to see and understand what the challenge really is as distinctly different from what we are unintentionally making up about it. Then changing the assumptions, rules, or whatever we are making up about it, until we find a solution.

    3) No matter what I have said above this line … You can always ask for help. Everything I said before now only involved you. Why not break that assumption too. 😉

    Thanks for listening.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great comments, Steve, and thank YOU for taking the time to share.

      For me, the term “reframing” suggests your “challenge assumptions” approach – i.e., removing the “context” to look at “the content” with fresh eyes.

      And then, of course, there’s nothing like getting out of your own head and into another’s (#3) to jumpstart new thoughts – AS LONG AS we don’t tether ourselves to the expectation that we accept what we find over there as necessarily valid for OUR lives and brains! 😉

      As I type that, it occurs to me that, in addition to the differences in our “wiring,” part of the reason why ADDers are so creative is probably because we have learned that much of the advice of others is NOT “necessarily valid” for us – which in and of itself inclines us to “tweak” standard approaches overall.

      And THEN, of course, there are the “think tank” theories that inform the “takes a village” approaches — not that we cannot create in a vacuum, but that “fresh fodder” changes our nutrient balance in beneficial ways. THAT, IMHO, is the value of discussions in the comment section, and why I’m BRIBING contribution.

      Thanks for yours!


  4. It’s my experience that those with TBI and ADD can offer many solutions. I think creativity is commonly used that these people don’t seem to think it’s important. To survive they have found different ways to solve problems.

    What problems and solutions would you say are at the top of the list?

    Those with TBI find themselves solving physical and cognitive problems. Hey, if those with ADD will help us out with their expert advice….because they’ve been there for a long time.

    Hello ADD community give us some ideas for easy solutions. With your help TBI can combine your solutions and focus on creativity solving the physical issues for everyone with brain dysfunction.

    What works and what doesn’t? Just one suggestion at a time, would be appreciated. Thanks so much! We know you have experienced many problems that we are just beginning to experience.

    Please help us out!

    Liked by 1 person

    • ADDers (*especially* ADD Coaches) – do me proud, please. Let’s ring with some help here!

      The TBI community actually discusses posts in the comments section of many of the TBI blogs (like Edie’s) – adding their expertise and experience to the content in the article.

      I’d love to see that habit spread over here. SURELY I’m not the only one willing to take the time to compile my knowledge in writing!

      What ARE some of the solutions that you, personally, have found effective to work around cognitive challenges?

      It takes a village to educate a world!


    • Jeanie Smitih says:

      Dear TBI friends, one of the most powerful concepts for me in dealing with my ADD and that of family members, is continually reminding myself that there is hope. There actually are work-arounds for these problems. There are strategies and tools that can help. Hope is so foundational to functioning in life. It is amazing what is being discovered and the strategies and resources being developed so there is much reason to be hopeful.

      I must admit, I don’t know much about TBI, but I assume it must have many different manifestations. I believe, however, that like us, many of you struggle with short term memory issues. One concept that has been very helpful to me with this I’ll call “Respond or Record.” The idea is when something comes up that you need to deal with and you know the possibility of remembering to actually take care of it is pretty “if-y,” I try to either deal with it right then (Respond) or write it down (Record.)

      I have learned that if I don’t do one or the other, it generally only comes to mind again when it causes an “OOPS,” or something worse. The only other thing I will mention about Respond or Record is that it matters -a lot- where I record something. I try to make sure it is in a place that the written record will be easily seen when I need to remember it. One thing I do in my house is tape the reminder note on the door way to the kitchen. That is a place I know I will see it.

      It is so good to journey with others and to be able to trade support and encouragement. Blessings on your journey!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for mentioning “HOPE”. We all need the reminders that “hope” is important. Without “hope”, life could be devastating and spiral into deepest depression.

        I like the idea of “Respond” and/or “Record”. With TBI i personally find that responding immediately is difficult, but “recording” or “documenting” is key to remembering. Sticky notes and lists we put around the house. How do you handle it if you don’t notice the notes, or remember what to do? Maybe that isn’t a problem, but you might have some suggestions.

        I think the biggest reason we don’t notice notes is that we limit stimuli and become so focused but I’m not really sure.

        Thanks so much for your helpful ideas.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. annieller says:

    Thank you for this great article regarding creativity, I need to let this slow-cook, as you say, before I can make a direct comment; however, when I followed your link to the article by Peter Gray in Psychology Today I left this comment:

    Peter, Thank you for this wonderful article. When I hear the word direction used in relation to parenting, I have a tendency to wince; and I believe I share that response with many children who are subjected to the same. Where you wrote of an environment conducive to healthy development in our children the word structure came to mind – it may be a case of semantics, but that word, or maybe the idea, has a more positive connotation in my mind. A structure, when it is used wisely to fulfill it’s purpose, is there to support freedom and growth and adapts to direction that comes from within, and is, as you said self-direction. No wincing, at least for me.

    Again, it does not directly address what you shared on creativity but it seems like a connection to me.
    with love to you,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Annie, this is GREAT! Well said, charge-neutral, GREAT reframe that IMHO many men need (primarily because, for the most part, they aren’t as “intimately” involved with minute-by-minute child rearing & GO to work vs. work at home, so frequently bring the biz-buzz home without thinking about word choices).

      Doubly pleased to note that the time I spend exploring/choosing “related” links isn’t wasted or misguided (meaning for my own benefit, but nobody else clicks so why bother?)

      Thanks for commenting THERE *and* [mostly, lol] for sharing HERE too.

      BTW – It seems like a connection to me too – more to the point (and objective), it extends the conversation.

      How very creative of you.



  6. vishal4nw says:

    Wow I gotta say wow I am impressed and the detail you put into creativity amazed me. It definitely looks like you did your research. I like how you touched on weather creativity is a natural ability or earned that made me think a lot and could be a topic on its own :). So congrats I loved the article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • WOW – you read fast! I’m thrilled to hear you liked what you read.

      I WILL be exploring a great many additional topics in articles of their own in an effort to better understand how creativity “works.” As long as there seems to be interest from readers, my plan is to continue this series for 6-10 articles (more, if the topic catches fire in the comments section — because creativity begets creativity!).

      Meanwhile, I’m setting up the tech for a TeleClass-like discussion group (some people aren’t writers, but they can talk a mean streak, and I want to get as many varied ideas and opinions as possible from as many different sub-groups as I can rally)

      When you’ve had a chance to slow-cook those thoughts you mention into a soup you can share, come back and comment, ok?

      If you explore anything else on this topic on your blog, be SURE to let us all know that too — leave a “space” or underscore between the actual link and the “dot com” part so it doesn’t “click” — no chance my spam filter will bounce you that way. When I see your comment, I’ll “connect the dots” to turn it “live” so my readers can click it.

      Thanks for your feedback. I’m really psyched about this topic, and its nice to find a kindred spirit.



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