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Monday, March 08, 2010

Having Fun with Innovation

Interview - Scott Christopher of "The Levity Effect"

Having Fun with InnovationI had the opportunity to interview Scott Christopher, co-author of "The Levity Effect" about the importance of fun in the workplace, and about how beneficial it can be. But how important is fun to innovation?

A contributing author of the bestseller "A Carrot A Day", a regular columnist for Workplace HR and Safety magazines and a distinguished consultant on recognition, Scott travels the world speaking to leadership groups at conferences, conventions, and on-site customer meetings.

Here is the text from the interview:

1. When it comes to innovation, what is the biggest challenge that you see organizations facing?

Boss-employee relationships. Look, all the truly useful, great ideas come from the workforce because they're the ones that have identified a need and can actually see themselves implementing them. An engaged employee is ten times more likely to contribute his or her time, effort and energies into innovation, but too many managers are missing the engagement boat. They simply assume that, particularly in a rough economy, a paycheck is all the incentive people need to work harder and better while still devising ways to improve the company.


2. Why is it so important that organizations teach their leaders to embrace fun more?

Thanks for asking that because it beautifully wraps up the incomplete response above. Easing the tension and pressure with levity is fundamental to getting the most from your people. Studies show that there is a direct correlation between being physically relaxed and motor skill acuity, task completion, team interaction, idea generation, creativity, and the list goes on and on. You don't have to look much further than a high school basketball coach who reminds his players to "have fun out there guys!" If they're tense and nervous, they simply won't be at their best. It's usually the team who "has nothing to lose" that ends up shooting lights out from all over the floor, while the top-ranked Bulldogs, for example, feel the pressure of all the expectations and suddenly forget how to make a simple layup or pass the ball out of bounds.

There is also just too much evidence to ignore that humor and fun at work are no longer optional, but critical to building a satisfying, engaging workplace which drives performance.


3. Why do some people fight against fun in the workplace?

Because there is a stigma associated with levity - it's inappropriate in a professional work environment. Plus, the fear that somehow everyone with a lifelong yearning to be the next Jim Carrey or worse, Don Wrickles, will suddenly rear their ugly, obnoxious heads and you'll have an office filled with offensive, discriminating jokes courtesy of a new army of Michael Scott clones. A lack of credibility is often associated with levity, which is patently erroneous. Many of the world's greatest leaders had and have wonderful senses of humor. Even Mahatma Gandhi once said, "If I didn't have a sense of humor I would have committed suicide long ago." You remember when Bob Dole lost the 1996 presidential election? His whole image was serious. His monotone delivery, his grave responses, his reputation as a wounded war veteran all shaped his image to voters. After he lost, he was on Leno and Letterman laughing at himself and displaying an uncanny and often hilarious sense of humor. Where was that during the campaign? Fear of not being taken seriously, evidently, was his reason for choosing to only display one side of his whole persona. Too bad, he might have won if people had seen the real Bob - credible, courageous, appropriately serious, experienced, AND able to laugh and joke a little.


4. What most impedes organizations from having fun?

Probably the misconception that it's going to take a lot of time and planning and that no one's going to like it anyway, so what's the point? Lightening up at work begins and ends with the individual. It's just a simple shift in your personal paradigm. Smile more, laugh more, unfurrow your brown, unclench your jaws, keep perspective and be the same person at work that you are at home or golfing or at church. Having said that, it can only help to "program" some levity into your department or team. Plan a couple of parties or an offsite outing. Celebrate birthdays. Go see a Friday movie premiere. Go bowling during lunch. There are of course a million ways to have some fun at work, but ultimately just allowing people to be themselves and laugh more and enjoy a good Youtube video now and then is the least complicated or time-consuming way to getting there.


5. Since the book was published, have you come across other organizations that have transformed their organizations to be more fun?

Absolutely. There are levity champions tucked away in cubicles and offices all across the globe and when they read the book it arms them with the validation they've been seeking to take it up the chain. And then they usually have me come in and speak to their leadership group or even the entire company to underscore the company's determination to "lighten things up around here." It's not an overnight cure, by the way. As with any organizational change, it requires time and effort. Many companies have adopted 'fun' or 'sense of humor' as one of their core values or guiding principles, which instantly legitimizes it and can speed up the transition. Levity's effect is not easily quantifiable, but the results are usually evident in things like engagement scores, employee retention, and customer satisfaction.


6. What advice to you have for managers who work in an organization that doesn't have fun?

Buy the book!... and make a personal, confidential goal to commit to the levity concepts for one year. Keep a journal or log of your efforts and what you perceive to be the results, either immediate or long term. Describe in as much detail the current state of your team to compare against later. You will likely not get through the first few months before your work is noticed and possible opportunities to broaden your goal to others become evident. By the end of the year compare and contrast your relationship with your employees, morale, productivity, and financial goals with your starting point. It may take the whole year, but you should have observed tangible, meaningful changes to keep you committed to levity's path.


7. What advice to you have for employees who work in an organization that doesn't have fun?

First, make an issue of it, but don't overdo it. At least let it be known that "gee, we don't have much fun around here." Or "we should laugh more." This may even include a comment about it to your boss in a review or even just shooting the breeze (if that's allowed.) Second, create your own fun. You can still develop and exercise your unique sense of humor and have fun on your own. You don't need permission, or at least you shouldn't, to have a smile on your face, a look of mirth in your eyes and an itchy laughter trigger finger. Re-record your voicemail greetings - put a smile on your face or make yourself laugh right before you record... people will hear levity in your voice. Make your email "voice" a little less formal, maybe subtly change a font, color, or signature. Humanize the copy some; write like you talk. Listen to your favorite comic on satellite radio or your Ipod on the way into work. Get laughing in the car and share one of the jokes with the first person you greet at work.


8. If you were to change one thing about our educational system to better prepare students to contribute in the innovation workforce of tomorrow, what would it be?

A comfy place to nap.


Be sure and check out our review of "The Levity Effect" and summary of the main innovation points here.


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Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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