The contradictory role of humor in international competitiveness and innovativeness

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Jialei Yang
Pia Hurmelinna-Laukkanen
Eeva-Liisa Oikarinen


This study explores the relationships among the use of different types of humor (affiliative, aggressive, reframing, and coping humor)—both among immediate co-workers (“ingroup”), and with actors external to the firm (“outgroup”), international competitiveness, as well as innovativeness. An exploratory study based on survey data suggests that humor, when connections exist, is negatively related to international competitive potential and performance. Whether or not these negative effects emerge, depends on with whom and which type of humor is used. However, the situation is not straightforward: innovativeness is positively related to international competitiveness, and to innovativeness, humor types relate in different ways, some positive, some negative. Overall, humor seems to play a relevant, but challenging-to-manage role especially in settings where borders—organizational or national—are crossed: Humor that works as a lubricant for innovation processes, does not necessarily work directly in advancing international competitiveness.

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