It’s funny at the top

At a tense press conference during a hostile takeover I covered as a young reporter, I got the last question. I asked the CEO of the company under siege to tell us a joke. “A joke?” he asked. “Yeah,” I said. “You’re supposed to be funny. Tell us a joke.”

Obviously, it could have been a disaster. But he whipped out a joke that not only made us laugh, it sent a message to the company pursuing his. He also made his own employees relax a bit — if the boss could tell a joke at a press conference, the takeover wasn’t going to kill them, either. I got compliments about that question for years (sadly, I didn’t have space to use the joke in my story, though the Chicago Tribune did).

Humor is a dangerous thing at work. My question could easily have backfired on me (I probably wouldn’t ask it now that I’m a grizzled veteran). His joke could’ve backfired on him. But even mild humor can help inspire people to work harder, be more creative, builds loyalty, improves health and seems to increase potential for wealth.

Thus starts the review I did of “The Levity Effect” on Big Think, Lighten Up, It’s Only Work .

Most of the book isn’t about becoming a CEO with a penchant for stand-up comedy. It’s more like the CEO as straight man, letting others have a little more fun.

One thought on “It’s funny at the top

  1. This is the joke, as I recall it:

    State’s football team was being trounced in the annual Homecoming game, when things went from bad to worse — the starting quarterback got hurt, then his back-up went down, and finally the third-stringer got carted off.

    The coach looked down the bench. There was Jones, a walk-on who hadn’t played a down all season.

    “Jones!” bellowed the coach. Jones came trotting up. The coach said “get in there and run a handoff right, a handoff left, and a handoff up the middle. Then drop back and punt.”

    On the first play, Jones handed off to the right — it gained 15 yards! The crowd began to stir.

    On the second play, he handed off to the left — it went for 30 yards! The crowd let out a cheer!

    On the third play, he handed off up the middle for a 20-yard gain! State was on the three-yard line and the crowd was roaring.

    Jones stepped in behind the center. He took the snap, dropped back and calmly punted the ball out of the stadium.

    He trotted back off the field amidst stunned silence. When he got to the sideline, the coach, barely able to contain himself, said “Jones, what were you thinking?”

    Jones said, “I was thinking I had the stupidest coach in the whole world.”

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