Push the Button

Following on from Keira’s lessons in learning last week, when she suggested part of what makes a lesson interesting is ‘fun, especially when you’ve been good’, the subject of fun has been on my mind again – and in particular, how can you make something fun, without forcing it.

Forced Fun

I read a piece in the Wall Street Journal recently about ‘Spontaneity for Hire’ which is the cringingly awful sounding practice of paying for a flashmob to erupt ‘spontaneously’ at a conference. Here’s an extract from the article.

At a gathering of pharmaceutical-marketing executives in Las Vegas last year, attendees saw Flash Mob America in action. The keynote speaker, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was running late, someone announced. A replacement speaker took the stage, but he dropped his notes and hit his face on the microphone, drawing audio feedback.

“My stomach sunk,” says Jeffrey Neil, a conference attendee. Suddenly, music started blasting and the speaker, along with dancers who had been disguised as conference goers, all started dancing. It was 8 a.m.

After the hoopla, Mr. Giuliani came to the stage. “That’s a flash mob?” he asked the crowd, stressing the word mob. “I thought I put them in jail,” he said, according to a YouTube video of the affair. Mr. Giuliani didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The point of this exercise was apparently to get clients excited and tweeting about the flashmob or discussing it on LinkedIn. After having paid $35,000 for the privilege I doubt the conference organisers were too happy with Jeffery Neil being quoted in the WSJ as above eh? Force fun at your own risk.

I was then treated, courtesy of Neil Usher to an excellent piece of writing about that most surreal piece of workplace design – the slide. Yep – you read that correctly – a slide. When I was a kid we had a slide in the back garden which I considered to be vaguely fun until the time I had an unfortunate incident involving my neck and the washing line. I also got into an altercation with a dog at the foot of a big slide in our local park many moons ago. The dog won, so I accept I’m biased – but slides don’t really do it for me, and as Neil’s blog post says:

Slides are part of the unfortunate genre of misplaced “fun” elements in workplace design (along with fussball, climbing walls, table tennis tables etc) that are fundamentally masculine – the modern equivalent of the black leather, smoky glass and chrome office set-up. They only serve to reinforce the notion that the workplace is a male environment. It is design straight out of Nuts or Stuff magazine, the titles of which tell you all you need to know.

Misplace fun at your own risk.


As you may have spotted in an earlier post this week, I was fortunate to spend last weekend away with three friends, all of whom I’ve known for a long time, thirty years and more. The weekend was planned in the diary some time ago. It was packed with reminiscing, bad jokes, beer, long walks and short nights. We had a hilarious time and as we parted company we all agreed how important it is for us to meet up like this from time to time. I also recall a great night out at a lively, lovely Iranian restaurant after the CIPD HR and Development conference in April. Good food, great company and great laughs among a group who have known each other for some time. The meal was spontaneous. The kind of fun that emerges from friendships is part of the percolation process, it takes its own sweet time and the less it is forced, the better it is.

Fun can just as easily emerge from more recent connections too. Last year at the Ohio State HR Conference Dwane Lay, Jason Lauritsen, Steve Browne and myself happily jousted with each other in a Gladiator style game during the evening festivities. This was the first time we’d met face to face and when Steve Browne puts his hand on your shoulder and says ‘Hey Doug – let’s go hit each other’ you know you’re in for something special.

Good work is good fun too, and by good work I mean the bits of your job that really play to your strengths and help you make a great contribution to the team. Whether it’s closing a mutually beneficial deal, finishing an insightful piece of research or delivering outstanding service to a customer or colleague, if you like doing it and you’re in an environment where you can do it well, that sounds like fun to me.

Push the Button

So what makes something fun? I remain uncertain about that, and I’m glad, it feels like a secret that never should be told. Old and new, planned and unplanned, always free flowing, never forced. It’s a thin line between fun and fake, and being at ease with fun seems to increase the likelihood of its occurrence perhaps? One thing I am sure of – the more you try and force fun, the faster it runs into the darkest corner of the room to hide, where it sits laughing at you, not with you.

photo credit

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

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