The Power of Humor
I’ve done some of my best work while laughing with another person. Working on a hospital fire plan with a colleague was split between genuine moments of hilarity (such as inventing a politically incorrect system to remember all the telephone extensions in the building) and bursts of creative productivity. In less than six months we completely redesigned our fire plan and trained all staff. We also became great friends.
It’s always better for the product if the people working are engaged, excited, and laughing throughout. It beats watching the clock, because time flies by. It doesn’t matter if mistakes are made, because they’re a joy to fix. And the product is invariably greater than the sum of its parts. The power of humor is invaluable.
By contrast, the mindset of many that work is deadly serious and must be treated with a dour solemnity is, well, kind of funny. I’ve attended a thousand turgid meetings in which the only thing created was a new way to stay awake. The idea that we all must listen in rigid attention while grimly nodding doesn’t seem like anything that could create any great ideas.
There’s a great excerpt of a 1991 John Cleese lecture in which he explains how humor is the quickest way to get from the “closed” to “open” mode of thinking. I agree! Much of my best work with others could not have been done without all the fun and laughter that went with it. The work would have been miserable, the final product reflecting a lack of love.
If all this is true, why do so many of us insist on working together in misery?
I really don’t know, but I suspect the rarity of truly creative teams is connected to emotional involvement with a painful risk of rejection. The people that I really enjoy and laugh with I have loved or grown to love as people. We form emotional bonds and friendships. This isn’t possible with people one doesn’t open up to. I’m sure it can’t be managed, coerced, or planned either. It just happens.
NEXT: Double Shifts