We've all been in that brainstorm session. It's run by an innovation consultant who makes the group do an awkward warm-up exercise that just seems silly.

It turns out there's good science to those exercises.

Research has shown that those crazy activities foster the emotions and state of mind that stimulate creativity. So let's cover the science and pair it with a simple exercise you can do on your own, or with your team.

Humor Unlocks Creativity

Studies show that humor helps unleash creativity

Using brain scans, researchers at Northwestern University found that just before having a creative insight, the brain's anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) shows increased activity. The ACC is the part of the brain that regulates attention and problem-solving.

Then the researchers discovered that watching a comedy video increases ACC activity. What's more, study participants who watched the comedy then performed better on a creative problem-solving test than participants who did not.

A great way to harness the power of humor, to increase creative problem-solving, is by doing fun, unexpected exercises.

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In looking at the shapes above, the task is to take any three of these shapes and put them together to form anything you'd like. Say an invention, a tool, an animal, or a toy. You can imagine them made of any material, and of any size.  

When you do this exercise with a group, you'll find some people smiling about or even laughing at their creations and those of others. 

You might also notice, though, that other people are hesitant to share their drawings, seemingly embarrassed by them. This hesitation points to another vital means of spurring creativity--fostering psychological safety. 

Psychological Safety Increases Creativity

Psychological safety is the belief that you can trust your colleagues and take risks with them, sharing your ideas and views freely, without fear of reprisals. 

Studies show that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off. All of the types of behavior that lead to product innovation.

In a two-year study on team performance, Google found that the only distinguishing feature of the highest-performing teams was that they all had a high level of psychological safety. In fact, the teams that scored high on psychological safety exceeded targets by an average 17 percent. In contrast, teams with low psychological safety missed their targets by 19 percent.

"There's no team without trust," says Paul Santagata, head of industry at Google. 

One example is kicking off every team meeting by sharing a risk taken in the previous week. When employed, the team saw an improved 6 percent on psychological safety ratings. 

Researchers find that positive emotions like trust, curiosity, confidence, and inspiration broaden the mind and help us build psychological safety. 

We become more open-minded, resilient, motivated, and persistent when we feel safe. Humor increases, as does solution-finding and divergent thinking--the cognitive process underlying creativity.

This content and exercise can be found in the LinkedIn Learning Product Innovation course, where Karen Holst walks through the innovation process, sharing strategies and tools to help facilitate the creation of valuable new innovation.