The sudden loud note within the otherwise quiet and genteel slow movement of the "Surprise Symphony" (probably included to wake those in the audience nodding-off after too much rich food and wine); the unexpected bassoon fart during the 93rd Symphony (perhaps again an observation aimed at a well fed and stomach bloated audience); the long pauses, strange tonal twists and turns and "guess where the beat is" teasing of the 80th Symphony; the sudden and dramatic stopping of the music during the finale of the 60th Symphony for the comically surprising and urgently required retuning of the violins: Haydn, quite literally, never missed a trick!
What is the effect of all this joking, teasing and surprising?
It delights people and makes them live in the moment; it wakes people up mentally as well as physically; it makes people feel energised and dynamic; it nudges people off track and shifts their perceptions; it encourages people to respond quickly and flexibly to the unexpected.
It makes people's minds smile and primes their minds for creativity.
When seeking creative solutions to problems follow Haydn's example: use jokes, tricks and surprises to encourage people to experience the moment and respond energetically and flexibly to the challenges before them.
Here are six things you can do:
- Introduce a surprising task or activity. This can be something quick and fun that will divert people just enough to freshen their minds and raise their energy levels so they can return to the main task with added focus and enthusiasm, or it can be something substantial that approaches the main task from a different and interesting angle. For example, you can achieve the former by using short energiser exercises and the latter by asking people to approach an issue or problem from a different person's, community's or organisation's perspective.
- Keep people focused on the task before them but change the way they are approaching it. For example, get people walking around and drawing diagrams of an issue rather than sitting at a table and talking about an issue.
- Introduce an unexpected person to the group. This could be someone from a different organisation, sector or community who has had to deal with a similar problem within a different context. It could also be someone from a seemingly unconnected profession or occupation who could non-the-less offer new perspectives and additional ways of thinking about and doing things.
- Go to a different and unexpected place. Take a walk in the park; work in the park; go to an art gallery; visit a museum; go to a colleague's place of work; work where the problem is rather than in a meeting room; visit and work within a seemingly unrelated business or organisation: changing the environment where you meet and work can alter perspectives and stimulate fresh thinking.
- Change the expectations associated with the task so people have to "retune" their thinking. Altering the required results and outcomes can uncover innovative solutions by forcing people to think and do things in different ways.
- Create uncertainty so people have to think flexibly and identify options. Provide differing and imaginative scenarios and contexts within which ideas and solutions may need to be implemented. This will make people think in terms of possibilities rather than certainties, encouraging the generation of options rather than the agreement of set courses of action.
Obviously, the above things need to be done thoughtfully and carefully. When introducing jokes, tricks and surprises ensure you do the following:
- Tailor your jokes, tricks and surprises to your audience. Will your audience appreciate what you are doing? Do they have the necessary knowledge and experience to "get the joke". Does what you intend to do fit the context within which it will be introduced?
- Gain the knowledge and expertise necessary to carry out the jokes, tricks and surprises effectively. Do you really know what you are doing and how you are going to do it? Have you done enough background research and developed an adequate level of skill to perform your jokes and tricks, etc., effectively?
- Practise and rehearse your jokes, tricks and surprises. If possible, try them out in front of a live audience. At the very least, describe to someone what you intend to do and ask him/her what they think about it.
- Vary your jokes, tricks and surprises. Do not repeat yourself and become predictable; if you do, your jokes and tricks will become irritating and counter-productive. Develop a wide repertoire of jokes and tricks so you can frequently and consistently surprise your audience.
- Give people time to warm-up, catch-on and get the joke. Do not introduce jokes, tricks and surprises too early. People need time to feel comfortable with their environment and familiar with the situation before them; they need to warm to their task. Also, once you have introduced your joke or trick, etc., give people time to enjoy it. If you do not, all its benefits will be lost.
- Give people permission to laugh. People often feel it would be inappropriate to have fun and express enjoyment. Cultural assumptions about what is and is not acceptable behaviour can contribute significantly to this feeling (e.g., many business and organisational cultures equate being serious with professionalism and having fun with non-professionalism). It is important, therefore, to make clear to people that they can laugh and express enjoyment. The best way to do this is to model having fun. Telling people they can have fun will most likely cause the opposite reaction.
- Take the problem seriously but have fun solving it. Separate the problem from the way it is tackled. Obviously, a serious problem needs to be taken seriously. This does not mean, however, that the methods used to solve a serious problem must be unenjoyable and unstimulating. Indeed, the energy and mental stimulation generated by enjoyable and surprising approaches are often essential to solving serious problems.