#071 DFQ

Q. How many Surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?

A. A butterfly!


Humour involves the appreciation of oddness. In humour there is the willingness to enjoy seeing the OTHER SIDE of things, the willingness to see fresh points of view, to see them and appreciate them without necessarily feeling the need to adopt them as one’s own.

Oscar Wilde suggested: “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live; it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. Selfishness always aims at uniformity of type. Unselfishness recognises infinite variety of type as a delightful thing, accepts it, acquiesces in it, enjoys it”.

Stars and Conformists

Humour (with u or without u) includes flexibility in the way we can look at information, the humour of creativity, and the humour of insight. Humour means seeing things in a different way. Appreciating the value of differences. Not just trying to make everything conform, not trying to force star-shaped pegs into square holes.

To do this we have to cut of the star bits and often, by doing this, we lose the biggest added-value that the star shape has to offer. While conforming has its value, starring has its added-value. You’ll remember we discussed a few days ago that the ‘habit of adding value’ is what Quality is all about.

Humour is Clever

Humour also embraces exploration and experiment and the willingness to create “mistakes” and to be surprised. It also encompasses the ability to enjoy oneself, as well as humility. Humour allows freedom from arrogance, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and false morality.

Humour is also freedom from self-bullying and the bullying of others. There’s the humour of wisdom, the humour of balance and tolerance, the humour of plurality. The enjoyment of surprise, chance and variety. The good mood, the sound of laughter, good humour and good health.

Surprise is Human

Humour involves the appreciation of surprise. That’s why it’s said that God mustn’t have a sense of humour. The argument goes that if we define a God as omniscient (knows everything) then that God cannot be surprised. So, He/She cannot have a sense of humour. Whether or not this is true, God knows! What is true is that we’re not gods, we’re not know-it-alls. We are humans and we are most human when we are surprised.

For this reason, one of my TV favourite’s has always been those vignettes from Candid Camera. I’ve never failed to laugh heartily and never failed to shed a tear at the wonderful mix of cleverness, vulnerability, surprise and laughter.

Humour is Serious

In 1918, George Meredith, literary critic, wrote in An Essay on Comedy that the “Comic Spirit” is like a social guardian angel to help us whenever men “wax out of proportion, overblown, affected, pretentious, bombastical, hypocritical, pedantic; whenever it sees them self-deceived or hood-winked, given to run riot, planning shortsightedly, plotting dementedly.”

DH Munro in his Argument of Laughter (1951) says that delight in what is new and fresh and a desire to escape from boredom and monotony are important aspects of what is meant by a sense of humour.

Arthur Koestler in The Act of Creation (1964) compares the creative insights of humour to be similar to the insights of poetry and science. The logical pattern of the creative process is the same in all three cases, says Koestler and that laughter is what follows when two incompatible or incongruous frames of reference are joined.

For example:
He was an old lion-killer. The trouble was there were no more old lions left to kill, so he started killing young lions with a club. The trouble was there were fifty of them in the club.


Father Cannibal: Sorry I’m late, have I missed dinner?
Mother Cannibal: Yes, everybody’s eaten.


A prisoner is playing cards with his guards. On discovering that he’s been cheating they kick him out of jail.

Cognitive scientists like Piaget and Chomsky pay a lot of attention to the subject of humour and their findings are contributing both to our understanding of human language and human behaviour. As humour is so uniquely a human phenomenon, the more we understand about it the more we understand things like CONTRADICTIONS and PARADOXES and human thinking in general.

This is a famous paradox:

Recently, interest in humour is developing among mathematicians who see connections between pure mathematics and catastrophe theory and the patterns of humour. An account of this is presented in John Allen Paulos’ Mathematics and Humour (1980).

And also, in physics and science, the similarities between the structure of humour and the structure of scientific breakthroughs has also been observed (Thomas Kuhn in Structure of Scientific Revolutions 1970).

The Humour of Change

Sometimes things change. They say the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself. Change can be sudden and cataclysmic like the Kobe earthquake or slow and unnoticeable like a friend’s weight loss program. But change is change and sometimes things may never be the same again.

That was then … this is now!

When I think of change in this way I’m often reminded of the TWTTIN phrase – That Was Then … This Is Now! – and of the humour that often accompanies this kind of change in circumstances.

The Scientist’s Dogs

About twenty years ago in Pasadena, California, Edward de Bono and I were having lunch with a couple of scientists. One was Paul MacCready, who invented the Gossamer Albatross which won the prize for man-powered flight across the English Channel. The other was Murray Gell-Mann who won a Nobel Prize for his discovery of the quark.

We came to discuss the role that creativity plays in scientific discovery. This led to a discussion about sudden insights like the Aha! phenomenon and then, inevitably, to the subject of humour. Murray Gell-Mann began to laugh and then he told us his dog story …

At that time, Murray explained that he had two Doberman dogs and a fruit-laden avocado pear tree.

One of the dobermans liked to eat the avocados when they fell from the tree, the other doberman didn’t care for the avocados at all. Murray’s problem was to stop the first dog from eating his avocados. He tried a number of things but to no avail. But being the scientist that he is, he didn’t give up. Then he had an idea … Aha!

Murray sprinkled cayenne pepper on an avocado to see if the dog would still eat it, the dog wouldn’t touch it. So, triumphantly, he then sprinkled cayenne pepper on all the avocados that had fallen on the ground to teach the dog a lesson that avocados are for humans who are smarter than dogs, anyway.

The change in circumstances worked, more or less. The avocado-eating dog never ate another avocado, however, the other dog now began to eat all the avocados. He liked them now that they were laced with cayenne pepper! … TWTTIN.

Productivity is Fun

But, how is all this helpful to you, as a clever necktop user, in a practical way, today?

Productivity! Whether you’re in the factory, at school, at home, in sport, in the laboratory or on the stock market the structure of humour is identical to the structure of quantum leaps, paradigm shifts, changes of mind, CVS TO BVS, innovation, risk-taking with their subsequent rise in productivity.

Above all, the Clever Company must have a sense of humour. It must have a culture that encourages surprise, experimentation, learning and the continual search for a BVS. This is what is meant by QRH, the balance between the virtues of Quality, Recognition and Humour.

If a company cannot learn to escape from its own experience then it’s stuck with it. There’s either moving ahead or falling behind. Moving ahead with leaps of productivity is fun to do. Falling behind, failing and laying-off people is no fun at all.

QRH Style

How would one describe the style of a clever brainuser? … QRH.
How would one describe the environment of a clever family? … QRH.
How would one describe the culture of a clever company? … QRH.
How would one describe the policies of a clever country? … QRH.

QRH Styleware is another mind tool, if it becomes a habit of thinking,
that will help you develop your necktop to its fuller potential.

Oh! and by the way, PTV can’t cope with QRH.




DFQ #071:

Give a recent example of how you have used humour to escape from your point-of-view.

238 thoughts on “#071 DFQ

  1. I often use humour to escape my point of view. When a situation goes bad I can always see the funny side and I have always believed that in turn this has helped me resolve the issues.

  2. We used humour to practice project management and economics case studies, with my friend
    Tinashe Makoni.

  3. I play squash with the same gentleman each week during winter. The games are fairly even which makes for tough competition and a lot of fun. Some weeks seem to pass the baton of luck to my opponent on many critical points. When this occurs all I can do is laugh to myself, if the luck ran the other way things would be different. When this turn of events occurs, I try to have confidence in my game and ride out the luck. If I don’t laugh I will go crazy.

  4. I like to keep meetings short and to the point which comes from watching a training video in the military called “Meetings bloody meetings”. I hate wasting mine and others time so I like to stop people wanting to repeat what others have already said and discussed. At times, I have to use humour to lighten the mood as initially people take offence at being told that their point has already been discussed – even when they have been informed of the rules.

  5. I often teach Italian, students always make mistakes, I never told them you are wrong, instaed we use humor and lough in order to understand the mistake

  6. I needed to gather status on defects. I found that just asking for status was not getting results. I then started putting phrases in the subject line that I used in the email for a bit of odd humor. An example…we are almost done eating the elephant. The fact I included was that there are about 2000 8 oz servings in an elephant.

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