Creativity Lessons From Jim Henson: Start Playing!


Creativity Lessons...Pics of puppets here

Creativity Lessons From Jim Henson…humor helps   Image: 


There are so many Creativity Lessons from Jim Henson. He was a genius: innovative, playful, whimsical, funny, driven.

I LOVED The Muppet Show growing up. 7PM PST Sunday nights, I was in front of the TV. As a kid, it was TV religion in my house. Well, after ACTUAL religion. It made me laugh hard.

From the eccentric personalities of each puppet, to the interaction with guests including Alan Arkin, Dolly Parton, Rita Moreno, and on and on. Each week was filled with characters, chaos and comedy. I still remember Alan Arkin throwing a puppet. I laughed so hard I snorted for air. Physical comedy, y’all.


My Puppet Favorites

I loved Gonzo and his chickens, comedian Fozzy Bear (Wokka Wokka!) and it so reminds me of Rodney Dangerfield. Remember Swedish Chef (we would imitate him and Beaker at dinner!) and of course, who can forget that pure ANIMAL rockstar energy with some guidance by others: “Not EAT drums, Animal, BEAT drums!




I recently watched Ron Howard’s Idea Man documentary about the genius, story, artistry of Jim Henson. Here are three big lessons and I link this back to how humor helps unlock more of your bold genius.




Creativity brings resistance. Great new ideas outside the norm often seem ridiculous  as we know. As Howard says, “Jim was an outlier and so were his ideas.” It’s not uncommon to feel like an outlier. I have. Maybe you have too.

In the work I do with teams and companies, it’s exactly why HUMOR is so effective. It takes down resistance especially when people don’t realize it’s fear talking.

One method that’s super effective from comedy is to build on the expected and then, last minute, surprise!; it’s misdirection.  An example: “I know what you are thinking. It’s too risky. Well, it’s not as risky as doing nothing, investing in crypto, or wearing this shirt with THESE pants! Still I am!”  Instant laugh, disarming, and now, you can have the convo. Humor lowers those defenses.




Experiment and find workarounds. Henson played, experimented and constantly found workarounds when stuff didn’t work. And it happened a lot. Everything he, his team and partners (Frank Oz included) did was learning on the job. He made it up as he went…that is the ultimate ‘YES AND” from improv where we lean into everything and find a way to move forward. Sounds a lot like today’s content creators who play on Tik Tok or Instagram and learn in real time.

One way – of many – humor helps is to reframe problems into possibilities, laments into laughs.

Humor helps us solve problems because when we are writing jokes or finding humor in something, our brain is mind (ha! get it?!)-mapping in real-time to find ways to make sense and find solutions.  I help teams use this process.

Example: Your computer crashes during a big presentation.  What to do? Move from PROBLEM to PUNCHINES to POSSIBILITY.

Problem: computer crashes

Punchline: “The Computer didn’t crash. SkyNet unionized. It’s on break.”

Possibility: “Until SkyNet becomes our overlords, let’s imagine a scenario where (insert your presentation topic) becomes all the more URGENT….(use a story until you get the computer working or don’t, just move forward)..”




Embrace the human condition. Henson knew humor was the CONDUIT to making his puppets work. His characters were often satirical and a mirror for humanity. It was a way to look at ourselves. Experimenting is the tinkering and humor is the soul of his work. Why do we love these flawed, silly puppets? Because they are like us! As a former advertising pitch person,  he knew he could use humor for entertainment and learning.

In my work with teams and leaders, I ask them to elevate humanity by embracing human flaws and frustration in their work.

ASK yourself: How can you use humor to sell an idea? How can you use humor to create learning?

Laughter allows people to learn 50X+ faster, by the way.

If you are designing products and services, build in humor and surprises. How about a bot that has a personality with a few quirks?! “Hi, I am DOT. Like a BOT. With a D.  One D and your parents won’t let you forget. Well, how can I help YOU today?!

You can also do a funny email signup page? “If you don’t sign up today, I won’t hit my quota and get my toaster prize!”

Make common frustrations easier with a laugh: Why not have a customer service message that makes people laugh while they wait? “We apologize for the line, our hamster wheels are running 24x 6 to route your calls through the interwebs. Yes, not 24×7, because even our hamsters need a water break….”




Your creativity can be celebrational, inspirational, puppetational! (again with the copyrights! It’s like the other word! HA!)

As a comedian and ex-tech leader,  I work with companies to hone their stories, big ideas and use humor and fresh improv thinking to do it.  When we make it a braver space to try things, your team’s creativity will grow. Let’s create a braver space together.

I offer fresh talks and keynotes. You can see my new speaking reel here.

Humor on!