😂 Why Being Funny Should be a Requirement for Internal Communications
📘 Book Report: Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life by Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas
Over the years, I’ve found humor comes up at work about once a year — just before April Fool’s Day when suddenly we all want to plan something funny. But, in reality, we should be laughing all year long, according to behavioral science research and comedy case studies published by Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas. In Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life, the authors give us a glimpse into a class they teach at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
As I read the book, I observed inspiring opportunities for internal communications to embrace their approach in our work. Here’s what I hope you’ll learn from this book report, and if you don’t find it funny, I’ll give you a refund (just kidding — this article is free).
In This Book Report
🤣 Top 4 reasons for embracing humor at work
📓 Top 4 techniques to try out these methods
⭐ At least 1 laugh out loud moment — I hope
“Mark Twain is said to have observed, ‘The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.’ By understanding exactly how this secret weapon alters our brain chemistry, psychology, and behavior, we can become more adept at wielding it strategically.”1
Let’s discover the ways humor can be a “secret weapon” at work:
🤣 #1 Leaders Should Laugh
Internal Communications collaborates with leaders behind the scenes. We draft talking points and prepare presentations. But, there is a reason to weave humor into these conversations.
“Humor is a powerful leadership strategy to humanize oneself to employees, break down barriers, and balance authority with approachability…The secret to success for many of the brilliant executives featured in this book is their ability to strike a delicate balance between gravity and levity; much like hot fudge and ice cream, each enhances the other.”2
The authors share the story of Google employees who snuck a Volkswagen Beetle into then CEO Eric Schmidt's office. He recognized the power of the moment and embraced it by hosting meetings inside the car! He said:
“You get the leadership you inspire. If the leadership of the company is relaxed and humorous and having fun, the other people will have permission, within the appropriate boundaries, to do the same thing.”3
🧦 # 2 Culture and Rituals Add More Than Meaning
Culture connects team members beyond their work. It’s what makes working together meaningful.
“Culture that balances serious work with levity and play can actually improve team performance…Playful cultures allow teams to thrive, even (and especially) when the stakes are high.”4
Great cultures create rituals. These memories are nostalgic reminders of moments in time.
“Rituals are the heart of an organization or team’s culture…They often take hold among a small team, then spread organization-wide, becoming so woven into the fabric of the culture that no one can remember a time before they existed.”5
At Ford Smart Mobility’s Greenfield labs, an engineer once joked that problems are “harder than putting socks on a chicken.”6 The team instituted a ritual from this hilarious moment.
“The tradition soon became so integral that new hires and visitors to the lab are, to this day, welcomed into the fold with their own customized and often chicken-themed socks. So many socks are given out that they’ve become their own budget line item for the lab.”7
Internal communications can support culture and rituals by reminding leaders to “look for organic moments of delight, support them, and then get out of the way.”8
🎆 #3 Laugher Helps Mental Health
As the pandemic drags on, mental health is top of mind for employers and employees. We share messages about wellness benefits and mental health resources.
Perhaps we should consider booking comedians for virtual team events or adding comedy clubs to the list of perks. In all seriousness, this is a reminder of the importance of humor for our wellbeing.
“When we laugh, our brains release a cocktail of hormones that make us feel happier (dopamine), more trusting (oxytocin), less stressed (lowered cortisol), and even slightly euphoric (endorphins). By working humor into our professional interactions, we can serve our colleagues this powerful hormone cocktail, and in doing so we can literally change their—and our—brain chemistry on the spot.”9
🎨 #4 Creativity can be cultivated with humor
The authors highlight the work of Hiroki Asai, Apple’s former head of its Creative Design Studio. He shared:
“Fear is the greatest killer of creativity…and humor is the most effective tool I’ve found for insulating cultures from fear.”10
Asai focused on major company meetings for creative and laughable moments.
“Months before each [All Hands], he would assemble a team tasked with carefully planning an experience designed to get an auditorium full of employees laughing together. From a gospel choir to a video featuring employees dressed head to toe as the Blue Man Group to an elaborate chase scene (with Asai as the quarry), these moments were carefully crafted to create sensorial peaks—ones that would enliven the experience in the moment and hang on the wall to continue defining the values long after the moment had passed.”11
As we plan our All Hands, consider adding moments of levity into the program to make it memorable.
⚙️Techniques to Try
📧 #1 Change Your “Out of Office”
The authors recommend finding the funny in daily moments. They suggest changing an “out of office” message to something creative and memorable. Here’s an example:
“Oh hello! I am backpacking in the Sierra Nevada without cell service through September 22. Yours will be my favorite email to respond to upon my return. With love (and favoritism), Peter”12
This message will definitely give the recipient an instant chuckle and be a conversation starter when the person returns from their trip.
🎭 #2 Wear Your Comedy
In the book, we learn the story of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who sadly recently passed away. Despite her serious and prestigious career, she found levity in challenging moments. When she discovered the Russians had been spying on the United States, she wore a giant bug pin on her suit jacket to symbolize “being bugged” at a press conference. She added pins to her wardrobe to show her mood or make fun of the moment.
The modern-day version of this approach could be a video background to make a joke based on a moment from a meeting or a conversation. When a colleague told me that I reminded her of Mrs. Maisel, I made a note of it. The next time I talked to her on video, I downloaded a scene from the show and put it up as my virtual background. It led to a funny and memorable moment for both of us.
🔮 #3 Host Whacky Meetings
Instead of hosting a typical brainstorming meeting, the authors suggest hosting a “Bad Idea Brainstorm.” Invite people to share “the silliest, craziest, worst possible ideas they can think of”13 and often this leads to the most creative returns!
Try to see what you can come up with for the worst internal communications idea ever, and perhaps it might be your best idea.
🙏🏽 #4 Remember to be Human
In the book, we learn about Deloitte’s “Bull Index.” What started as a complaint about using too much consulting jargon from a client developed into a sardonic software tool.
Leaders at Deloitte compiled a dictionary containing the most objectionable jargon. Then, they wrote a computer program:
“[It] scanned the text of an email or document and spat out a ‘Bull Index’ score that rated the message from 1 to 10, with 10 meaning highly readable and human-sounding, and 1 meaning, well, full of bullshit.
Like a sassy librarian who lived in employees’ computers, Bullfighter served as a constant (and often cheeky) reminder to stop using words that, as Fugere put it, ‘transform us from funny, honest and engaging weekend people into boring business stiffs.’”14
So, what’s your version of this tool? We all likely have a form of this jargon in our workplaces!
What are your ideas for seeking out humor at work? Share in the comments below.
Footnotes (based on Kindle Edition)