Leadership Lessons from Great Comedians

In today’s “new normal” – where businesses are challenged to do more with less, and innovation is increasingly tied to growth – organizations and their teams need to think differently. And this means getting creative like never before. However, many believe creativity can’t be taught.

Or can it?

Comedians – whose careers rely on creativity – believe it is possible to build the trait. To help develop creativity in yourself and amongst your team, heed some advice from four of the most creative comedians of our time:

Ricky Gervais: Just do something

In an Esquire interview, Ricky Gervais said, “You should bring something into the world that wasn’t in the world before. It doesn’t matter what that is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a table or a film or gardening – everyone should create. You should do something, then sit back and say, ‘I did that.’”

Leadership Lesson: Don’t fear failure. Rarely does creativity come from a work of genius. It primarily comes from doing something with your two hands that helps build pride and confidence.

Woody Allen: Ideas don’t finalize instantaneously

The PBS documentary American Masters: Woody Allen gives viewers a peek behind the curtain at Woody Allen’s unique creative process. Each year, the filmmaker and writer dips into a drawer filled with his random notes and mulls them over. When he finds an idea he likes, he writes a script around it and puts it away until shooting begins.

Allen is a proponent of not overworking material. Though he will let actors tinker with scripts, he doesn’t believe in constant edits – which he believes makes the materials dry, stale and forced.

Leadership Lesson: Don’t torture an idea to death. If momentum stalls, put the idea aside and come back later.

Jerry Seinfeld: Start small and observe

Jerry Seinfeld admits he can spend “two years” working on a joke. “That’s what people want me to do,” he said, meaning the audience wants Seinfeld to spend the time to create great material.

In an interview with The New York Times, Seinfeld explained his joke-writing process. He begins by thinking of something humorous and goes from there. For example, he once decided the word Pop Tarts was funny. He developed material about how the frosted treat left a lasting impression on his elementary school days.

From this simple premise, Seinfeld created a joke that became a hit with late-night shows and stand-up audiences.

Leadership Lesson: Your best ideas aren’t necessarily the biggest ideas. Creativity doesn’t always begin with a bang, but can start with a simple observation. Encourage observation.

Louis CK: Start over

In a tribute to George Carlin, Louis CK said he found his creativity by learning about Carlin’s work habits.

Every year, Carlin would develop new material and throw out all of his old jokes. A young Louis CK didn’t understand this – how could someone throw out jokes he worked so hard creating?

Broke and directionless, he took Carlin’s advice, threw everything away and started over.

By rebooting his career and telling deeper, more interesting jokes about his life, Louis CK has become one of the most popular and sought-after comedians today.

Leadership Lesson: Don’t become complacent. Renewing old routines with “fresh material” can tap new avenues of creativity. Consistently search for answers, approaches and solutions – even if there isn’t an immediate need.

Strong leaders recognize creativity thrives in welcoming environments. By taking, and giving others, the opportunity to explore, share, fail – and sometimes tell a joke or two – you will create an atmosphere that stimulates innovative thinking, reaping valuable rewards for your company, team and career.

And that’s no joke.