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Bringing More Whimsy to your Business...

Giant green bear dressed as Harry Potter fountain.
Giant Harry Potter Bear in Osaka, Japan.

I spent most of December travelling through #Japan . It's not my first or even fifth time there (I've lost count). Not only did I live there in the late 90s/early 2000s, I also exported a husband, so I guess you can say I'm tethered for life. But because #covid19 so rudely interfered with our last planned trip (March 2020), it's been over four years since we last explored.

Quite a bit has changed in Japan--an increase in #immigration, better #accessibility for their #agingpopulation and more #automation. The larger-than-normal time gap also had me reflecting on #cultural aspects I've always just embraced and not thought too deeply about. One thing I really noticed this time around? Whimsy can be found anywhere and everywhere. Of course I knew this before now, but, whether it's because I was travelling with awestruck teens (who now think Japan is way cooler than #Canada), or because we've spent so damn long circling our own quiet neighbourhood during lockdowns, whimsy was around every corner

Strawberry shortcake in a can.
Vending machine shortcake in a can? Delicious!

What does it actually mean? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary whimsy is defined as "a fanciful or fantastic device, object, or creation especially in writing or art." But I beg to differ: I think whimsy is also a vital component in #businessinnovation . Don't get me wrong: not every solution or development has to be colourful, wacky or "cool." However, I'd argue that when you're team is trying to develop a great solution to a pressing problem, an atmosphere of creative play can create more dynamic, interesting and unconventional ideas than a "pressure cooker" environment.

Absurdity, when turned on its head, can sometimes lead to ingenuity. When Bill Gates, in 1994, introduced the notion of the "wallet PC" in 1994 at the Comdex Conference, many people undoubtedly wrote this notion of paying by a pocket PC off as a joke or madness. Heck, in the world of the Jetsons, flying cars seemed as likely and logical as the Flintstones foot-driven vehicles. And yet several incarnations of flying vehicles (cars on boats) were the shining stars at the Consumer Electronics Show just weeks ago and we know Uber among others has been exploring this travel option for years now.

Warning sign that says, "caution, bird droppings."
In Japan even some of the warning signs are fun!

Does this mean that every meeting or strategy session needs to be a joke fest or filled with marshmallow-based activities? Absolutely not (though I'm not going to deny marshmallows can certainly be a tool). BUT...infusing whimsy into serious work CAN up your team's innovation IQ and problem-solving ability.

How can you lead the way? A few suggestions:

  • Include a warm-up for strategy and brainstorming sessions. Yes, icebreakers, warm-ups and unconventional introductions will add 5-10 minutes to a session, but they're crucial for setting the stage, tone and building trust among team members. There are lots of great sites for ideas and I'll link to some in the comments. I've had a few eye rolls when I note we're doing a warm-up but in almost all cases by the end of the activity, the atmospheric change in the room post warm-up is palpable.

  • Set the mood in a surprising way. Surprises can be a great way to inject whimsy into work. Using props, videos, a scavenger hunt, or even host a surprise guest speaker. Setting the stage for the work ahead helps people ease into a more relaxed, open mindset where anything is possible.

  • Start with "out there ideas." I had to learn this one the hard way. If you ask people to brainstorm around a workplace problem from the get-go (even if you encourage them to be as wild and creative as possible) they're not likely to go there. BUT, if you ask them to solve the same problem on Mars (or a desert island, or for a three-year-old), they're bound to come up with much more interesting solutions. Changing the context liberates people from their own "professional" identities and fears of producing "bad" ideas. Note: most ideas are bad, that's why you need lots of them!

  • Have fun! Yes I'm stating the obvious here but if you want to create a committed, engaged team, challenge yourself to create an atmosphere that is serious about the task at hand, but light enough for laughter. But don't take it from me, take it from the late Colin Powell:

"Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard."



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