from R&D Innovator Volume 5, Number 1
Rumor of Humor
Ms. Robinson is a human resource consultant in Austin, Texas (phone 512-472-4412), who helps organizations implement creativity.
today’s highly competitive world, when organizational demands
for instant and constant innovation fall heavily on R&D
groups, those two letters don’t stand for Risibility
(inclination to laugh) and Delight.
isn’t that researchers and developers don’t have senses
of humor. In many
professional settings they’re simply not encouraged to
acknowledge or hone them. Yet
an occasional resort to the light touch might ease the load of men
and women who, Atlas-like, carry much of the weight of our future.
I began thinking about this article, I asked two R&D
acquaintances about the presence of humor in their working
laughed and said, “Well, if you’re talking about bad humor,
we’re in it a lot of the time.”
(At least he laughed.)
The other looked thoughtfully at me and finally admitted
that, “Most of the time, I guess, ours is a kind of
two people aren’t an impressive sample.
So I’m hoping that in other R&D circles there may be
attempts to infuse a little levity into the daily routine.
One way would be to have a cartoon bulletin board.
I teach workshops in eight areas of creativity and
communication, and I am therefore constantly searching for
pertinent cartoons. I
find ones on almost any subject you can mention.
For example: the drawing of a research-garbed figure
holding a big blob of something in his hand and saying plaintively
to a nearby fellow researcher, “What is the opposite of
Eureka!?” Any of us
who have gone through some complicated process and come out with
nothing more than an unholy mess can resonate to that one.
approach which might find favor in less grim R&D circles is
one I devised while in the hospital with a seriously infected
hand. Nurses, like
R&D folks, are often pushed beyond their elastic limits.
As weary, rather grim-faced caretakers came and went, I
thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it lighten the atmosphere if
nurses were encouraging ‘rumper stickers’?”
Something like: “Sorry I’m late bringing your
breakfast. I’m a
little behind in my schedule.”
Or other similar statements.
of my first workshops after leaving the hospital was for the
wellness facilitators in a high-tech consortium. The subject was Humor in the Workplace, so I thought, “Why
not have a go at the Rumper Stickers?”
The assembled group was from many different parts of the
country. With secret
apprehension, I introduced the Rumper Sticker idea, stating that
the only rule was that pornography wasn’t allowed.
Statements could, however, be tastefully suggestive.
The wellness facilitators had a ball.
I handed out background placards, colored markers, scissors
and string. For a
solid hour, the participants devised Rumper Stickers, wrote them,
illustrated and colored them, tied them on and modeled them.
The best ones were posted on the wall.
Afterwards, all agreed that their challenges didn’t seem
so overwhelming after such a “silly” session.
his book, Serious Creativity, Edward de Bono (the
popularizer of lateral thinking) states that humor and creativity
have much in common. Both,
for example, lead us in one direction, then unexpectedly veer off
in another. This sudden shift can be important in the efforts to infuse a
little laughing gas into the heavy, nose-to-the-grindstone
atmosphere of R&D. In
all my workshops on creative thinking and creative problem
solving, I find that shared enjoyment and laughter really grease
don’t have to go so far as to have investigators don red noses
and huge, flapping shoes—though these might sometimes be
that produces a twinkle or a smile, a giggle or a guffaw, will
help your R&D unit wear life “more like a loose garment and
less like a hair-shirt” (as a long-ago magazine article put it).
are all kinds of prop-shops that can supply grin-encouraging items
and prizes. One
fellow I know brought for his unit a crying towel. Furnished with batteries, the towel would first begin to
sniff a bit, then whimper a little, then sob quietly, then go all
out into wracking howls. When
things in the division began to get off track or when someone
unhappily discovered his/her own opposite of “Eureka!,” the
group brought out the crying towel and put it through its
heart-breaking paces. The
absurdity of the gadget often saved group sanity.
company called Paper Direct sells stationery with just a blank
t-shirt on it. For
one humor workshop, I asked participants to design an amusing
t-shirt they could wear when things went amiss in their own work
ranged from lightly amusing to rip-roaring.
The winner was submitted by a very large young woman in a
nutrition group who drew a skeleton holding a can of some kind of
liquid, with the caption, “Finally my diet worked.”
only does “lightening up” make life more pleasant for each of
us and all those around us, it’s also a health and longevity
booster. A good
hearty laugh is said to be like “inner jogging.”
It gives a life-lifting workout for the entire system.
Many books have been written, many videos produced, many
speeches made about the salutary effects of the right kinds and
uses of humor. A
study of mature coping mechanisms has humor high on the list.
A physician, treating a patient undergoing heart therapy,
said to the anxious wife, “I truly feel that he’s going to
make it.” “Why?” she asked, “because he walks?”
“No,” said the doctor, “because he laughs.”
your group has difficulty finding ways to lift the spirits of its
members, send one of your colleagues to Joel Goodman’s Humor and
Creativity annual conference in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Several hundred people from all walks of life attend (some
of them over and over). The
suggestions on how to make life and work more enjoyable range from
subtle to slapstick. So
any sense of humor can find its own level.
Or check out materials of the many humor purveyors now in
the marketplace. You’ll
find anxiety and stress levels going down, creativity and
productivity going up.
be sure to remember the ancient adage: “Laugh and the world
laughs with you. Cry
and it won’t even lend you a handkerchief.”
(However, it just might buy you a crying towel.)