Can Sarcasm Help Creativity?

The Washington Post sited a study showing that sarcasm helped engineering students solve more complex problems:

a new study in the Journal of Applied Psychology (hat tip to the BPS Occupational Digest blog) that looks at how various emotions that people observe prompt them to respond. The study asked 375 engineering students to imagine they were a customer service agent, and then listen to a conversation between a customer and a representative. Some of the discussions were neutral; others were openly hostile. The students were then given straightforward analytic problems or creative questions to solve.

The students who had overheard the angry conversation did better at the analytic problems than their peers who heard nothing but nice talk

But just because the students worked harder doesn’t mean they worked smarter. In a similar study by the psychologists, students listened to conversations where the customer was criticized with tough sarcasm. Despite also listening to a form of anger — albeit laced with humor this time — these students performed better on the creative problems. The study also showed that students exposed to sarcasm performed better on problems that required more “cognitive complexity,” or the ability to look at issues from more than one angle, than those that didn’t hear such comments.

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Openness and Creativity

Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!

-Auntie Mame

How open to new experience are you? In psychology, openness, one of the big five personality traits,  is the seeking of novelty and new experience. It is highly correlated with creativity. So if you are looking to get involved in a creative project keep yourself open to the wide variety of experiences in life. Try different foods, read books and magazines about topics you have no knowledge of, go to new places, meet different kind of people, go to organizations about topics you have limited knowledge about.


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Quote from a Lecture by Photographer Doug Sanford

The media is a language.  The goal is expression. How you move your body or how you take a photograph is the language of technique. You want to become as proficient in many different languages in order to express yourself.

Doug Sandford


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Creativity, Education, and Social Entrepreneurship

Our ability to address the most persistent problems that we as a global and local citizenry face demand that we begin to think like the artist—paying attention to the world around us, seeking innovative solutions, sharing a powerful story, and bringing meaningful solutions to fruition, no matter how temporary or partial they may be.

-Mark Sheridan-Rabideau

“Creativity Repositioned”


What is going on in America where we value standardized test scores more than creativity and curiosity? We have forgotten the importance of love of learning. We have forgotten the importance of learning combining with creativity and producing something that will make a difference in this world. Mark Sheridan-Rabideau makes an excellent argument against standardized tests, for creativity in the classroom, and then for that creativity to be used practically to make the world a better place. A great read.

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The Perils of Getting Recognition

When I was young creating was like breathing. A floor became a stage and I would fill it with dance, singing, and acting. I blank page would soon be filled, becoming a story or a piece of art.

Then I stopped being a kid. Did you stop being a kid too?

All the sudden you need “talent.” All the sudden you aren’t playing. It doesn’t automatically get put up on the fridge.

You are pouring your self-worth onto that piece of paper or that stage. What happens if you create  and it stinks? This fear can be paralyzing. This fear can kill your soul. This gets worse when you put your work out there for a wider audience. It gets even worse once you’ve had one or two things people recognize as being good. All the sudden you are a “writer” or a “dancer” or “painter” or whatever your case may be. In your heart you feel like an imposter. It was supposed to be play. Now it is no longer about the process. It is about the result. And every move, every brush stroke has to be perfect. Its not. You feel like you are tearing your heart out of your chest. You get half way through and toss out the results. You want to walk away. Forever.

Some people walk away from their authentic selves for years because of that fear. Some for their whole lives.

The secret is to get back to play. The secret is to not care about the results. Not while you are creating. The editing stage comes later. The play comes first.

One technique to fight this is to intentionally do something badly. What?

That’s right. Do the art, but make it the worst piece of art you can. Dance, but make it horrible. By doing this, judgment loses its power. Congratulations. You are playing again. You are also creating again.

Another technique is to turn it into a job. Set a time that you are going to work on it every day. Punch the time clock and be done.

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A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

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How the Movie “The Adjustment Bureau” is a Metaphor for the Creative Life

The movie the “Adjustment Bureau”  is  a metaphor for the creative life.

Matt Damon plays David Norris, a promising politician who is on the fast track to greatness. He meets a mysterious woman, Elise, played by Emily Blunt, and can’t get her out of his mind. All of the sudden everything that he was working for doesn’t feel rewarding anymore. All he can think about is her. He meets her again by chance, and then the curtain gets pulled back, and he sees the mysterious forces that are pulling him away. The more he wants her, the more every force in the universe seems to be conspiring against him. Will he stick to the pre-ordained path of greatness in front of him or will he risk his life to follow love?

The creative life is a lot like the movie. You are going on your pre-ordained path. Not sticking out. Something nags at you. You have to do it. You know there is more than this. Maybe it was a book about writing, a memory of playing the guitar as a child, or watching a dancing show on TV. You remember a younger, more playful you and wish to create again. Or you have fantasies about not coming home exhausted but instead painting in a field.  You keep on your path, but you can’t forget that urge. Do you decide to follow it? You do, but when you do every obstacle on the planet seems to come in your way. How are you going to make a living? How will you find the time between work, kids, and a million responsibilities? Are you going to be leaving the ones you love behind? You pick up that paint brush, but are filled with fear. You write your first piece. It stinks. All the obstacles are thrown at you. Do you still follow it? Do you find time for what you love, or do you let your passion die and follow the path society expects?

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