How Everyday Ridiculousness Drives Innovation

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For years, I’ve been fascinated with humor and everyday ridiculousness. Both are simple and poignant in their ability to address unspoken ideas. These are what fuel stand-up comedy jokes, as well as crazy, yet wonderful business ideas. The answer for your next problem is not as far as you think - it’s many times hidden between the lines of our boring, stressful lives.

What we’ll cover:

Have you ever been talking with someone and both started laughing? Maybe you chuckled at the situation you were in, or a comment about that long, arduous work meeting earlier. This is when you know hiding between the laughter is an interesting idea. Humorous ideas have key characteristics of a good idea: immediacy, emotional resonance, truth and ridiculousness.

Sure, we all are rational animals trying to be responsible adults. But ridiculousness is just the adult way of saying playful - while still sounding credible. Ridiculousness is always worth exploring, as once these ideas are adapted, they don’t look so unrealistic any longer. Many times we shy away from such ideas, so as to not look foolish or crazy in-front of our colleagues. I am here to say, looking foolish is okay, even inspirational.

Ugly, intriguing ideas over perfect ones

There’s a saying - leaders are crazy until they have two followers. Two is not such a big number in the grand scheme of things. Some of the craziest ideas and craziest leaders live in venture capitalism, so let’s look there first. One entrepreneur and angel investor mentioned his mission was to groom ugly ducklings not to find the black swans. Rare perfection is hard (if not impossible) to identify as a start-up, while ugly ideas are starting points. It’s not always about that illusive great idea, but one compelling, even intriguing point to get going.

We look at companies today and think they had the best idea at the onset. But this is rarely the case, where many brands, companies and products went through relentless iterations. A good idea is made overtime and during this process the ridiculous starts to sound normal. Let’s look at some of our favourite things and tell me if the concept sounds sane:

Twitter: You have a lot to say, but only have 280 characters
Airbnb: Let online strangers stay at your home
Cheesecake Factory: Lots of food in a Disneyland design. And it’s not a factory
Tea: Create flavoured water with expensive leaves
Snuggie: I know someone out there owns one, and you want one too
Ferby: Let’s keep it there, I know some of you are already traumatised

Each of these is immediate and almost humorous, however evolved from normal everyday needs. Twitter used to be a side project of a podcasting company, Odeo, as a short message service within groups. Snuggie was an evolution to The Slanket, which a college student created out of desperation after needing to take his arms from under his blanket to work a TV remote. I know, hard life. Ferby speaks a mix of languages one of the creators learned in the navy. Now, Ferby is on the catwalks. What is going on in the world?

Why we don’t do ridiculous

On the flipside, I’ve seen great ideas that were completely ridiculous, and not in a good way. This is different from ridiculous ideas that are great, like the ones above. Usually these ‘great ideas’ are trying too hard to solve a problem. For example, at Web Summit there was an app that immediately scheduled a meeting when the slots opened for both people. Great idea, but I didn’t want it. Seems logical, but also not enjoyable at all.

At some point as human beings we become increasingly self-conscious, aware of social norms and afraid of judgment. When we become adults our imagination and playfulness fades into efficiency and logic. But we are constantly looking for our playful selves - there are books, yoga poses and workshops to connect us to our inner three year old. Why is it so hard at work?

I’ve worked with a number of clients that could live in the ridiculous, and the most notable was Lego. Their designers and team members could suspend judgment and let an idea linger. I remember one saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll figure out how to make it work”. They were more interested in the idea when ideating than the practical execution. It’s rare to work with a client that had to reassure me (a previous agency strategist) that something could be done. Usually it’s the other way around.

There are different categories of ridiculous in our everyday lives that we can use for innovation and ideation. I think the examples help to understand how these already exist today:

Quantifiable: Using only 144 characters, walking 2000 miles, 1 million pixels of ad space
Incongruous: Trusting strangers, animals that talk, tech company called Apple
Lovable Ugly: Craigslist, Cheesecake Factory, your aunt’s birthday gift
Scifi Ambition: SpaceX, Thanos (oh, wait …), Christopher Nolan

How humour can help

Humour is about finding ideas with common ground. With stand-up you are testing hundreds of ideas to see what gets the most laughs and is the most easily understood. In my head I always have ridiculous ideas and this might be a result of doing stand-up for a couple of years. Stores with difficult to find entrances, restaurants with horrible customer service and ugly diners. This is because people are intrigued by the ridiculousness and its novelty.

Novelty can get a bad rap, but it does drive conversations. If it gets coverage, it can create connections as people are talking about it. These ideas can even give us hope. Many people think, “I could have thought about that’ or ‘I could have done that’. Well, you could if you just let yourself explore the ridiculousness. Crazy ideas make you want to try things, because they are free of judgment. Think about hula hoops, Airbnb or our favourite Ferby. These are all things we want to have, do or even create, only if we had the ridiculous bravery to do so.

Let’s summarise

  • Humorous ideas have key characteristics of a good idea
  • It’s not always about an illusive great idea, but one compelling starting point
  • At some point as human beings we become increasingly self-conscious
  • People are intrigued by the ridiculousness and its novelty
  • We can be more ridiculous, as its inspiring and freeing