Let’s say a researcher gives you a candle, a box of tacks, and a book of matches. Your mission: affix the candle to a corkboard in such a way so that, when lit, wax doesn’t drip onto the floor.
Nothing funny about that, right?
But a funny joke might just help you solve this creative challenge. And laughter in general may help you write better copy.
Not convinced? Read on.
The Candle and the Corkboard
This challenge comes from a famous study by psychologist Alice M. Isen. Her researchers tasked two groups of students with the problem.
The first group was shown a bloopers reel before the test. The second watched a film about mathematics.
Here’s the funny part: Seventy-five percent of the students who watched the bloopers solved the candle and the corkboard problem.
Just twenty percent of the people who watched the math film beforehand solved the same problem.
Most of the students who watched the math film approached the challenge with “functional fixedness,” or a mental block that limits people to using things in traditional ways. They tried to tack the candle to the corkboard or glue it on with melted wax.
But the majority of students who had a laugh beforehand saw alternative uses for the objects they were given. They emptied the box of tacks, tacked it to the corkboard, and used it as a candleholder.
Lighten Up for More Creative Copy
Do you ever approach copywriting with functional fixedness?
We all know how it is. It’s Monday, there’s a rote task at hand, so you conjure up a passable idea, bang it out in a flurry, and give it a quick proofreading. But the copy feels clinical, functional, dead.
Laughter may help liven it up.
Do whatever it takes to lighten your mood.
Then sit back down and look at your work. Can you punch up the subheads? Lighten the transitions? Does a more arresting lead leap to mind?
Maybe so. Isen’s research shows that creative solutions are more likely to follow a good laugh than they are, say, banging your head on your desk.
This can seem paradoxical. Sometimes, when you’re really under the gun, a silly distraction is the last thing you want. You want to stay focused. Determined. Serious.
But that may be when you need to lighten up the most.
What about you? How do you give your copy a lighter touch?