Move to India and you can join a laughter club — “small groups of people who come together early each morning at parks, village greens, and shopping centers to spend a half hour laughing.” (Pink) – begins Daniel Pink’s chapter “Play” from A Whole New Mind. This phenomenon was started by Madan Kataria with the mission: “to trigger an international laughter epidemic that he says can improve our health, increase our profits, and maybe even bring world peace.” (Pink) And let me add: improve your career success and your job search.
Pink sets up the concept this way:
But his popularity around the world, and especially the gradual acceptance of laughter clubs in offices and boardrooms, reveals another important dimension of the Conceptual Age — a move away from sober seriousness as a measure of ability and the elevation of the next essential high-concept, high-touch aptitude: Play.For more background on Pink’s book, the first four senses (Design, Story, Symphony and Empathy), and a discussion of the Conceptual Age, see my previous postings (Tell Your Story; Design Sensibility Is the Answer to Your Next Career Question; Breakthrough Career Advice (No, really this time!) ) or go straight to the source: www.danpink.com .
Is Play, as a concept, embedded in corporate America yet? Yes. Have you flown Southwest Airlines and been subjected to one of the flight attendants turned comic? Did you know that the US Army developed a training “game,” that if commercialized, would have sold $600 million in sales? Have you done the Lego exercise in First Year Operations yet? Did you know that, according to research done by Fabio Sala and published in the Harvard Business Review, the most effective managers deployed humor twice as often than middle-of-the-pack managers.
Why is play (and the associated concepts of humor and joyfulness) making its way into the boardroom? Pink says: “Humor embodies many of the right (brain) hemisphere’s most powerful attributes — the ability to place situations in context, to glimpse the big picture, and to combine differing perspectives into new alignments.” Kataria explains: “Laughter can play a major role in reducing stress in the workplace…(and that businesses believe that) serious people are more responsible. That’s not true. That’s yesterday’s news. Laughing people are more creative people. They are more productive people. People who laugh together can work together.”
Therein lies one of the key career connections: people (interviewers) want to work with (hire) people that they enjoy being around. Think of consultants who have to travel Monday through Thursday with each other: one of the most important hiring criterions is how much you like the candidate.
A second career connection: your body language completely changes in an interview when you smile. I worked with a Second Year student this week, whom I believe is on her way to a highly successful (though full of hard work) job search this year. When we were working together, I suggested she smile more. She did, and proved my point that revealing your personality with just a smile can make you a more attractive candidate to an interviewer.
Third: laughing in an interview reduces your stress and causes you to get more comfortable. This in turn allows you to open up more.
Fourth: an ability (and willingness) to interject humor demonstrates confidence and professional presence. These two competencies are extremely difficult to assess in an interview, yet a robust sense of humor clearly demonstrates both.
Last: when consultants conduct case interviews, they want to see both sides of your brain at work. Not just the structured, analytical side, but the free-flowing creative side. Laugh, and get that part of the brain working. Bring toys, and use those to make a point.
One of the highlights in my first class on the sometimes emotionally-wrought subject of self assessment with Darden First Year students this year, a wonderful Chinese student relayed to the class that in order to prepare for Darden, she googled “how to be funny in America.” The class exploded in laughter at the thought. Yet, she clearly understood the importance of humor. And the laughter increased the intimacy of the class. The discussion continued at an even deeper level.
A little bit more about play: as a brand manager at General Foods in the late 80s (wow, that makes me sound old), my assistant brand manager and I were assigned to manage into oblivion the declining but highly profitable brand Shake n Bake Coating Mix. Our division had a large promotion going with the NFL, so we always had an NFL football in our offices as a tchotchke. For weeks we stood 25 feet apart in the hallway throwing the football back and forth, brainstorming how to fix Shake n Bake. People laughed and complained. People joined us occasionally. We even broke the overhead light (I swear it was Andy). But, we used our hallway antics as a way to lighten the load on the group and brainstorm new ideas. We kept the group engaged, and the brand turned around.
Play as a career strategy? How about poker night for a club event with an investment bank? How about using Sponsors Executive Residence Center’s game space to have game night as a career event with Second Years and First Years sharing their leads and contacts? How about inviting your career consultant to go for a run? I’m down for that.