I recently read an article online published by FastCompany titled “Why Humor Makes You More Creative” by Drake Baer. Great article! Here I am arming my entire campus with Nerf guns and water balloons because it’s fun and a great tension breaker. Now come to find out my instinct for making my work environment fun makes me an innovative manager who fosters free and creative thinking. Who knew?
Well actually I kind of did, but not in the formal sense. Many years ago when I was tapped on the shoulder to take over a large sales and customer service department I made an analogy to my then Vice President. I told him I would take on the project, however it wasn’t going to look like the department we had prior. I didn’t want an ocean of cubicles full of downtrodden folks who didn’t feel their value, engage our customers and enjoy their work.
I asked if he’d seen the movie Monsters Inc.? He smiled and laughed, “No I haven’t, but I’ve heard of it”. I told him the short history of a large company, one that had been keeping society functioning and moving in a ‘forward’ direction, only to find out that this direction was no longer sustaining them…their society, very way of life was in jeopardy (did I mention I was working for a newspaper at the time). The crux of the movie was to find new ways of achieving the same ends with different means. However the means weren’t really different, they were just more extreme measures of what they were currently doing. Yes they were beating a dead horse, squeezing blood from a stone, etc. It wasn’t working.
Through a long, and in my opinion very funny progression of events, the discovery was made that laughter is more beneficial to all then fear. Go figure! Now I can take this analogy in all kinds of directions but I want to keep it in the context of the Drake Baer article, “Why Humor Makes You More Creative”. Baer states “while self-monitoring is often useful–you don’t want to say everything that passes through your mind–it can get in the way of new ideas.” Laughter enables you to turn off that internal filter that can keep you from letting the ideas flow. I noticed that in my customer service department, those folks who were more concerned with following a script were less able to genuinely listen, empathize and assist the customer. They couldn’t solve customer challenged unless the answer was written in front of them. Conversely, those who laughed more, enjoyed their job and engaged with the customer were able to think creatively to solve customer issues. They thought out of the proverbial box and did what was right…all on their own.
Now I admit Nerf guns and water balloons may not work in all work environments; however humor, laughter and light hearted communication can be just the drug your team needs to find an otherwise incomprehensible answer. Sometimes the best ideas are those that seem outrageous, silly or just plain ridiculous.