Eight Things Stand-Up Comedy Teaches Us About Innovation

Fast Company Design | Paul Valerio


Every comedian has a process — and at some point, they ditch it to follow their gut.

This is the ninth piece in the 10×10 series by innovation firm Method. Read more from the series here.

Comedy, especially stand-up, is widely regarded as the most difficult gig in show business. Similarly, successful product innovation is so difficult, it could be regarded as the stand-up comedy of the business world.

E.B. White once said that analyzing comedy is like dissecting a frog: Few people are interested and the frog dies of it. However, a sacrifice must be made to help more great ideas see the light of day, and studying how good comedians work can reveal insights into how innovation can benefit from the same advice.


1. Know Your Audience, Then Ignore Their Advice

When it comes to innovation, the customer is rarely right. At least, they’re rarely right about what they want next. Businesses run on process, and the traditional market research process of concept testing is indeed an efficient process: Nothing kills ideas faster than concept testing. That doesn’t mean research has no place in innovation development; the key is to use it to understand, not to evaluate.

A comedian doesn’t ask the audience what the next joke should be about, he has the skill to tell them. Great comedians are tremendously astute observers of human beings. They know how people think, what experiences we have in common, and how to direct (or misdirect) our attention. They have to be ahead of their audience, but not so far ahead that they baffle us instead of amusing us. Similarly, the best market research is aimed at understanding how customers interact with a given product category, not asking them what should come next.

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Category: Leadership

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