• Michael Cundall Jr.

Leadership, Humor & Intelligence


Last week’s post set up the idea that many of those leadership lists are either incorrect or incomplete, or they’re pedaling a falsehood. It may be nicer to think that those lists are incomplete, but I think more often the case that the reason we don’t think that humor should be on the list of leadership traits is because we cling to the bad belief that humor isn’t serious, and work, above all things is serious.


It’s not too hard to see why humor is so important to humor. One of the hallmarks of the funny is some sort of incongruity. In order to recognize something as funny we have to see the funny thing as out of the ordinary. We need to see the mismatch. Almost as important to recognizing the incongruity is to resolve the mismatch. Take the following joke…please. “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” This joke, generally attributed to Groucho Marx, plays on the ambiguity of the words ‘inside’ and ‘outside.’ In the set-up portion of the joke ‘outside’ is taken to refer to a sort of relationship of things in a non-spatial sense. The incongruity comes when we read ‘inside’ in the punchline and then interpret it to be a much more specific place designation—inside of the dog. We then reinterpret ‘inside’ and thereby get the joke.


When we learn to see incongruities, when we see more of them, we are exercising our brain. There’s a reason we often refer to people as sharp when it comes to wit. Not only is wit indicative of intelligence, but being witty fast is further indicative of intelligence. If you want to increase your knowledge, understanding why and how jokes work is going to be a great way to boost your mental prowess. Not only are you looking for the reasons the joke works the way it does, but in so doing, you’re learning about different ways people think about and conceptualize the world. This has the added benefit of making you pay more attention to others and how they think. This is surely a good thing for a leader to do.


So take some time, look around at the humor you see being used. Try to find out more about it. Push yourself to see more things in the world as incongruous. Challenge yourself to look deeply at our normal ways of understanding the world. Who knows, you may end up writing your own jokes. You’ll definitely have more fun. But you’ll also start increasing your intelligence and if those lists are to be believed, that’s an important trait to have.

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