The Importance of Silliness

Categories: Winnthinks

A few months ago, after an excellent Chinese meal with friends, I was tickled to receive this in my traditional fortune cookie:

“Your ability to find the silly in the serious will take you far.”

I’ve kept it on my desk ever since, weighted down by a small Viking warrior.

So why should I feel pleased to associate myself with a quality like silliness? Much of my early life was spent trying to avoid that humiliating label. Certainly, the dictionary definitions don’t help: “Silly: Having or showing a lack of common sense or judgement; absurd and foolish. Ridiculously trivial or foolish.” Ouch.

Yet, silliness feels to me like an appealing trait and I was happy to dig back further to discover that the root of this old English word is ‘seely’, meaning happy, blissful, lucky or blessed. That’s more like it! The British Library website tells how this originally joyous word underwent a miserable series of transformations until we wound up with the current negative connotations of ignorance, feeble-mindedness and stupidity.

Which is why I’m going to stick up for silliness! Not only is it increasingly recognised as an essential ingredient in our health and wellbeing – at every age, not just for our children – but did you also know that the ability to be silly can play a major part in the success of your oh-so-sensible organisation? Here’s three ways that happens:

  • Silliness leads to creativity.
    A key part of thinking creatively is the ability to let go. Siblings, the playground and an unkind world teach us to fear looking silly, so we self-censor and leave our wackiest, most random thoughts unsaid. But these can be the seeds of genius! Who knows what truly great leaps forward we may have lost, all because someone resisted the temptation to blurt it out?

  • A sense of fun in the workplace boosts wellbeing and productivity.
    Ultra-groovy workplaces like Google and Pixar have recognised this for years and positively encourage playfulness. The pay-off is a staff base that’s not only fearless in bringing forth new ideas and taking creative risks – they actively enjoy coming to work. Better for sickness rates and staff turnover figures.

  • Playful people find unusual and novel solutions to problems. They find it easier to switch to a different perspective and so can be intellectually lighter on their feet. When you’re less bogged down in accepted, conventional wisdoms you become better at solving problems.

As Edward de Bono (the father of Lateral Thinking) once wrote: “You cannot look in a new direction by looking harder in the same direction.” When conventional wisdom fails to solve a problem, generate an idea or bring you joy, where is there left to go but ‘unconventional’ wisdom? Or to put it another way, go to your silly place.

Would you like to bring out some creative buzz and playfulness in your team? Get in touch and ask about my one-day workshop Discover your Inner Creative Thinker!


  1. As always a brilliant blog Rebecca, I am now going to have a cup of tea and work out how I can be seely, I love that word,for the rest of the day!!

  2. Thanks Sarah – seely is definitely the way to go! 🙂

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