Greasing the Wheels of Motivation

Has a sense of humor ever saved your team or meeting from abject failure? I know mine has.

In the mid-1990s the Phone company sent me to Salt Lake City to facilitate a team working on a doomed project. We were all staying at Little America in rooms with red velvet wallpaper. Everyone's families were back in Denver. We'd all been volunteered by our directors and we were all a bit peeved about the process.

They gave us a conference room on the ground floor of one of the phone buildings for the duration of our two-month stay.

I came prepared with a detailed agenda for the first day. We introduced everyone and I got started. Everyone was tense and cranky about being pulled out of their jobs and lives. I was cranky about it too, but I was trying to move us forward. I figured the sooner we got done, the sooner we could go home.

About 90 minutes into the agenda, one of the team members said: "I think it's time for a reality 'break'." Now I know he meant reality 'check', but I took his statement as an opportunity. I'd tried every trick in my playbook to get the team moving, but nothing was working so I decided what the heck. Let's have fun. It can't get any worse.

So I imagined what it would be like to take a reality 'break' and started doing some bizarre jazz dance, making weird noises, and generally acting a bit psychotic.

They all watched in horror.

After about sixty seconds I stopped. And the guy asked me what I was doing and I said: "You said we need to take a reality 'break', so I did."

The tension in the room shattered. We spent the next half hour talking about our frustrations with being volunteered for a doomed project and then just decided to make the best of it. Everything went smoothly from there on.

Your Seventh Sense

A sense of humor can unstick the wheels of creativity and productivity. It can kick start a meeting. It makes friends and influences people. And, it can occasionally get you into trouble, but not often.

As you know, the hardest part of any change is the soft (i.e., people) part. And I have found that comedy or humor will soften even the hardest people when used discreetly at the right moment.

Having discovered the power of humor, I decided to study it more in depth.

Channeling Robin Williams

Over the last several years I've had the opportunity to study comedians and humorists speaking about their craft. And, as a master practitioner of NLP, I've developed highly refined filters for finding the mental strategies people use to achieve any result, even comedy.

There's one big thing that separates comedians from the rest of us: the ability to find the funny in any situation, good or bad. After 9/11 it was only a matter of days before Letterman and Leno started doing Osama jokes.

How do they do it? It's simple. Every comedian I've studied says the same thing:

  1. I take a step back.
  2. I ask myself: "What's funny about this?"
  3. If I don't get an answer, I ask: "If this were happening to someone else, would it be funny?
  4. If I still don't get an answer, I ask: "What's this like?"

Take a Step Back

What these comedians are describing is what psychiatrists call "dissociation," the ability to step out of your body and observe yourself and your environment. We've all done this; it's just that comedians do it unconsciously. Getting out of your body allows you to get out of your feelings and become more objective. This frees the comedian to ask the next three questions.

Think about a recent situation that was somewhat difficult emotionally. Maybe you got mad or sad about something or someone. Then take a step back so that you can see yourself in the situation

Three Comedy Questions

  1. Ask yourself: What's funny about this?
  2. If it were happening to someone else, would it be funny?
  3. What's it like?

As my wife and I were finishing our tour of the Maui Aquarium, I took one last picture of an open pool of fish with my $300 Kodak digital camera. As I went to turn it off, I pressed too hard on the recessed power switch and lost my grip on the camera. It started to fall and I grabbed for it with my right hand. Bobbled it. Then the left and the right again before I flipped it like a crazed mackerel into the tide pool.

As I was juggling the camera on its way to a saltwater grave, I realized that I had taken a step back and asked myself: "What's funny about this?"

It reminded me of a scene from I Love Lucy with her bobbling something.

As the camera sank, I tried to decide which hand to dive after it. My non-waterproof watch was on my left hand, so I managed to dive in with my right.

Brightly colored fish scrambled as the beak of this looming predator dove into the pool and grabbed the camera off the bottom.

If this were happening to someone else, would it be funny?
Heck yes! By now, I was laughing hysterically.

I held the camera up and let the water drain out of it like one of those movie cars they've driven into the river and then pulled out with a crane.

I pulled the memory card and batteries, still laughing.

The retail clerk at an outdoor kiosk nearby said I'd made her day.

There was a time in my life when drowning a $300 camera would have probably made me swear a blue streak, but instead I took a step back, asked a couple of simple questions and had a great laugh.

That's the power of humor: to make the bad, better and the funny, hysterical.

How to Think Like A Comedian

Can anyone learn to think like a comedian? Yes you can if you understand and adopt their mental strategies.

Maybe you need to develop your own sense of humor or you know someone who needs a sense of humor, either way here's a way to get the guidance you need.

Over the last year I've worked with Karyn Ruth White, a stand-up comedian and professional speaker, to develop a new book called: Your Seventh Sense - How to Think Like a Comedian. What separates it from every other book about comedy are all of my discoveries about how comedians think and insights from a master of the stand-up stage.

One of the students in our comedy classes called us the Art and Science of comedy. Karyn's the art and I'm the science.

Order as many copies as you want for $19.95 per copy. Shipping and handling will be added to each order

If you want a clean (i.e., no 'blue' humor) humorist for your next conference or meeting, consider Karyn at

If you'd like a creative comedy workshop for your staff, contact Karyn at 1-877- KRWHITE or
Jay at 1-888-468-1537

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008-2024 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, 888-468-1537, ."