Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Cartoons, Innovation, Out-of-the-Box Thinking and The New Yorker!

Its not everyday that one receives an email from Bob Mankoff, Cartoon Editor of the New Yorker magazine. And so I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued when one landed in my In Box a few months ago.
Turns out I was one of the 500+ people who had made over 200 submissions in the New Yorker's weekly Cartoon Caption Contest . I have been a regular contributor and submitting a caption for the week's contest has become kind of a Monday morning ritual for me. But wow,  200+ over the years, I had not realized that!
What Bob wanted me to do was to help  him out with an experiment he was conducting online using the caption contest as a model. He provided  five links, each of which  took me to  a separate survey which contained a series of cartoon images without captions that I was asked to supply captions for. In the caption contest I am limited to one caption. Now the idea was to come up with as many as I could.  
The experiment has closed but here are the links in case anyone is interested in taking a peek:
I was intrigued. I was not sure though what he was driving at. My guess was that he was trying to assess whether including animal images or other elements like supersizing objects or  introducing inanimate objects like walls in the cartoon influences the creative output of the respondents (e.g. are there more captions when the sales clerk is a boy vs. when it is an octopus).
When I asked Bob he told me that the  basic idea was to see how increasing the incongruous  frames of reference that have to be combined with the caption influences the ability to create a caption.
The default condition for something like a caption contest is that there is one incongruous object that needs to be made sense of or at least the pseudo sense that is often involved in humor by the caption.
In the survey he bracketed the default condition (coffee shop, huge cup of coffee) on one side with no incongruous object (just a couple) and with an additional one (animals).
His assumption is that the default condition will be the ideal one for real creativity, but also that people who can come up with captions that combine two incongruous objects are more creative in this task overall and maybe even more creative in other kinds of problem solving.
Profound. That's what my reaction was. The results he came up with  could be extended to other aspects of creativity and innovation too. Bob agreed, the premise is that being creative in this task would be an indicator of “out of the box” thinking in other domains.
When I checked with him recently about the survey findings he indicated that the results are still being analyzed and will be included in a research paper with his academic collaborators.
I wait with bated breath.... My intellectual curiosity yet to be fully sated!

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