Innovative Thinking – Embrace Absurdity – Blog 106

Embrace Absurdity


Absurdity is the inspiration of some of the most creative ideas of the 19th 20th centuries.  Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll used absurdity in storytelling.  Can you name the books?  From the Marx Brothers to Monty Python, comedians have counted on absurdity as a source of comedy for hundreds of years.  Frank Zappa used it for his music, and The Dadaists such as Salvador Dali, and other surrealists used it to create absurd, but amazing art.

The funniest comedy and the most innovative ideas are the ones where you put together, two seemingly related ideas.  Ideas that at first seem to go together, but exactly how isn’t apparent.

Here a couple of personal examples.  I hope you don’t tire of these.  My plan is that you can learn how easy it is to perform them.  If I can do it, anyone can!

I was watching David Letterman’s opening monologue in the fall of 1999.  At that time, the news was filled with only two items,  El Niño and the movie blockbuster, Titanic.

El Niño is, of course, the wet cold counterpart to the warm dry La Niña 15 year weather cycles that comes off the Pacific Ocean.  It was the first time meteorologists used the term to describe the terrible flooding the U.S. was experiencing in the mid-west.  And, of course, the movie Titanic was breaking records at the box office and was to take home 11 Academy Awards.

Letterman started with a couple of good jokes.  Then says “They found out today, the Titanic was actually sunk by El Niño!”  This was really funny and absurd.  He took the two largest news items of the day and mashed them together.  We knew El Niño cause problems, we knew the Titanic sunk, so why put the two together?

Why not, because it’s absurd.  How could a weather phenomena in the Pacific cause the sinking of an unsinkable ship in 1914?  When you gave it some serious thought, you immediately found the humor in that statement.  I thought what if?

I knew it was only meant to be funny.  I know that’s how humor works.  But, what if it were true?

The following morning I hit Google early and hit it hard.  I found NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) website and found a web page a complete list of data on El Niño / La Niña cycles for the entire 20th century.

What do you think it showed for the spring of 1914?  We were right in the middle of one of the largest El Niño cycles that had occurred in a hundred years.  As Captain Smith was retiring as a sea captain on the maiden voyage of the Titanic, he had probably only sailed the North Atlantic for 20+ years.  The El Niño / La Niña cycles are 15.  His experience could have only been one El Niño cycle which was a mild one.

His lack of experience with the El Niño cycles which could melt glaciers and drop an inordinate amount of icebergs in the North Atlantic in April.  Captain Smith would never have expected the amount of ice that far south for that time of year.  He was piloting the Titanic based on his entire career’s experience.  The result…

El Niño DID Sink The Titanic!  Who knew?  If you want to read the story it is in my book “Gratuitous Serendipity” on Amazon, but because you bought this book, here it is for free:


Lon Safko
Serial Innovator, Keynote Speaker, Trainer, Innovative Thinking


Tags: innovative thinking, creative, creative thinking, Innovation, critical thinking definition, innovation definition, critical thinking skills, creative process

Innovative Thinking Bible
Now On Amazon

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *