Sarcasm: The highest form of creativity

Peter Lyall is a certified management consultant and has taught brand strategy and communications at Henley Business School and Robert Gordon’s University. He’s currently a doctoral student conducting research into the giving and receiving of branding advice.

In his studies, Peter unearthed this article:  Huang, L., Gino, F. & Galinsky, A. (2015), The highest form of intelligence: Sarcasm increases creativity for both expressers and recipients.  Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 131, 162–177.

Here’s the abstract from that article:

“Sarcasm is ubiquitous in organizations. Despite its prevalence, we know surprisingly little about the cognitive experiences of sarcastic expressers and recipients or their behavioural implications. The current research proposes and tests a novel theoretical model in which both the construction and interpretation of sarcasm lead to greater creativity because they activate abstract thinking. Studies 1 and 2 found that both sarcasm expressers and recipients reported more conflict but also demonstrated enhanced creativity following a simulated sarcastic conversation or after recalling a sarcastic exchange. Study 3 demonstrated that sarcasm’s effect on creativity for both parties was mediated by abstract thinking and generalizes across different forms of sarcasm. Finally, Study 4 found that when participants expressed sarcasm toward or received sarcasm from a trusted other, creativity increased but the conflict did not. We discuss sarcasm as a double-edged sword: despite its role in instigating conflict, it can also be a catalyst for creativity.”


So, with that in mind…

A brand strategist and a client walk into a bar…


Brand Strategist: Hi.  Great to see you again.  What’s up?

Client: Well, I’ve got this great idea, and some good people are backing me, and … well, actually, I want a brand?  Do you have any?

Brand Strategist: Well, funny you should ask.  We’ve got loads.  There are some older ones at the back.  Here’s the current stock.  And we’re expecting more next week. 

Client: Remember last time … you made one especially for me … bespoke.  Do you still do that?  Tailored?  Fitted?  You know … just for me … and my customers.

Brand Strategist: Of course – we can make you the most bespoke brand you can possibly imagine. 

Client: Can you really?

Brand Strategist: Oh, yeah.  Absolutely.  And we’ve got some new stuff too … science, data, research … all sorts of clever stuff.  And you know what …?

Client: What?

Brand Strategist: We won’t need you to tell us whether or not you like it.  No!  We’ll tell you that your opinion doesn’t matter anymore … it’s the targeted persona’s opinion that really counts. 

Client: The what?

Brand Strategist: Don’t worry … it’s part of the new “trust the science” thing.  And we can’t forget the influencers …

Client: Oh?  Right. But do you still have those fun guys … you know the writers, the designers … the “creatives” – isn’t that what you call them?  You used to lock them in a room for a couple of weeks, marinading in Red Bull …

Brand Strategist: Ah.  Yes.  Yes, we do have them.  Yes, but they’re now part of “The Process”.

Client: The what?

Brand Strategist: The Process … the way brands are made.  By the way, are you sure you want a new one? There are some great used ones at the back, we could freshen them up a bit?

Client: N0!  I want a new one.  And I want the fun people to come up with something funky, trendy, memorable, brilliant, preferably, blue, with some shiny bits and nothing square, I like round logos.

Brand Strategist: Is that all?

Client: Yes, that’s about it!

Brand Strategist: There’s a special on palms-up-hands-supporting-the-globe this week.

Client: Is there really? How much discount? Oh, hang on … were you being sarcastic?

Brand Strategist: Yes, I was!

Client: Just to be funny?  Isn’t sarcasm, the lowest form of wit?

Brand Strategist: Yes, yes, yes … but it’s also the new must-have ingredient … we’ve had to add in Sarcasm to our process … alongside Discovery and Strategy and all that other stuff.   Just as we’d learnt how to science the data and ideate and all that, now we’ve got to say the opposite of what we mean, … insult you … feign irritation …

Client: Says who?

Brand Strategist: Says a bunch of academics … and Oscar Wilde, but that’s another story …

Client:  What exactly did they say?

Brand Strategist: Well, exactly what they said was that they see “sarcasm as a double-edged sword: despite its role in instigating conflict, it can also be a catalyst for creativity”.

Client: Wordy.  But interesting … let’s get on with it then … if you’re not too busy!

Brand Strategist: Was that sarcasm?

Client: Yes, I’m learning fast.


If you now feel compelled to have a sarcastic, yet serious conversation about your brand let’s talk.

Peter Lyall

About the author

Peter Lyall became a BBN Board Member in 2019. He has an MA from Edinburgh University and an award-winning MBA from Henley Business School. In his work with Fifth Ring since 2005, Peter has worked with over 100 companies on their branding in the oil and gas sector.

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