The Premise:

For those of you who are not a BBC viewer, W1A is just a postcode.  However, for those who tuned in at 9.00pm on 18thSeptember, a new series of W1A was screened – a parody of life and work at the BBC.

What’s the relevance to innovation and what am I twittering on about?  Well the associated PR consultancy, Perfect Curve, has been renamed ‘FUN’.  The philosophy of ‘FUN’ is that “everyone in the building is happy. It’s a happy building because a happy person is a creative person and a creative person is a happy person, so that’s FUN”!

OK, so perhaps you need to watch the program to get the full meaning (complete with silent disco celebration).  But whilst this may be a spoof – are they actually onto something?

Personal Scepticism:

Working for many years in a global corporation, I can genuinely say that having fun was not a priority.  Maybe more so when I started 20 years ago, but definitely less so as the years went past.  So is ‘fun’ something we should take more seriously and does it encourage the creative process?  Tradition dictates that work is not supposed to be fun, that’s why it’s called work.  However when we are asking individuals to be creative at work, does having fun help?

Actual Examples:

Google and LinkedIn have gone so far as to make playing games a part of the workday. Google has a rock wall in their California base.  They encourage employees to use it on company time. Other Google-approved activities include beach volleyball and bowling. LinkedIn has similar policies, with ping-pong and foosball games available during the day.  I am pretty sure, if asked for an innovative company, many people would cite both these organisations.  So, are they onto something?  Or is the link between having fun and being creative too ambiguous?

Survey Says:

The Great Place to Work Institute asks tens of thousands of employees to rate their experience of workplace factors, including, “This is a fun place to work.” On Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, produced by the Great Place to Work Institute, employees in companies that are denoted as “great” responded overwhelmingly (an average of 81 percent) that they are working in a “fun” environment.  Perhaps the evidence grows?!

Science Indicates:

But is there any science to explain the theory?  I could find little in terms of actual research linking fun to creativity.  However, it is a fact that when we have fun we often laugh.  And laughing, just like exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which have the ability to make you feel good.  When endorphins lock into opioid receptors, they block the transmission of pain signals and also produce a euphoric feeling.  Whilst there may not be a proven link between endorphin release and increased creativity, feeling good and happy would theoretically help you approach tasks with a positive intent. This approach leads to a willingness to get involved, seeing multiple growth possibilities, rather than just problems and challenges. Plus, in the work setting, enjoying the company of your colleagues and having a shared purpose, solving problems and being ‘up to something’ together can in itself bring a level be fun.  Thus raising energy levels driving further engagement.  Laughter creates bonds between people.  They approach tasks with a positive frame of mind and are more likely to embrace ideas.

On the downside, you could argue that time spent having fun would decrease time spent working and therefore decrease productivity.  However it is known that taking a step away from the problem you are trying to solve can lead to new avenues of thought.  So too, taking a little time to have a laugh with a colleague could potentially offer positive creative benefits.  Generally you are interacting with others when you are having fun, having shared experiences, which could potentially lead to sharing and developing ideas.

Chicken or Egg:

But is it having fun, per se, that increases creativity or is it being in a positive environment, where taking risks is accepted and people feel empowered to share their ideas, so fun itself is a byproduct of being fully engaged?  We all know that culture and the cultural norms of an organisation clearly have the biggest impact on all aspects of work, including creativity.  But much has also been written, including several articles on this site, about the benefits having the right physical environment can bring.  Your environment could help create that fun feel.  Examples being the use of bold colour schemes or as recently witnessed during a trip to some offices in Dubai – the chair swings.  Some may say, “What nonsense!”  But maybe it just provides some space and time to think and to look at things from a different perspective, which, after all, is what drives the creative process.  Perhaps a fun environment can engender a sense of belonging and a desire to contribute more, thereby encouraging the creative process.

Back to Basics:

When you think back to when you were a child (for some of us that will be easier than for others!), fun often happens when you are playing games.  This could partly explain why gamification has become an increasingly important part of the workplace and innovation process itself.  Besides the pure enjoyment, games can stimulate emotion, logic and reasoning.  Many of the dedicated ideas platforms incorporate elements of gamification, voting on ideas, building on the ideas of others and being rewarded with ‘badges’ by achieving certain levels of activity to encourage further engagement.  All tapping into our sense of childhood fun to stimulate the creative process.

Consider Pitfalls:

However, beware of the work place ‘forced’ fun which can be tedious in the extreme.  I remember one incidence within my corporate life where we endured 45 minutes of ‘smile’ therapy at the start of a sales conference.  Holding your hands in front of your face, walking around the room, then at the sound of a bell removing your hands and smiling at the person in front of you.  I am sure on paper this sounded good, but in reality it is time I will never get back and did nothing for the group’s energy and creativity, although we did all get to have a good moan!

The Beginning:

So whilst we may not all have a climbing wall in the office, nor be a fan of forced fun;  it is worth thinking about how we can all inject a little more positivity and, dare I say it, “fun” into the working day.  Try starting slowly at first.  Take a walk and talk in the sunshine, conduct a meeting in the garden, leave mini-surprises on people’s desks to bring a smile to their face first thing in the morning, or maybe even look at updating your physical working environment.  Whatever you decide to do, surely it’s about time we all started taking ‘fun’ in the workplace a little more seriously.

Post Script:

(I’d wager the researchers had “fun” testing this theory.)
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy,
it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are,
the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae.
The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm.
Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef,
but the wrod as a wlohe.
Amzanig, huh?