BLUF – Take your job seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Finding humor in the moment can yield even more positive results when you bring others together.
Recently, myself and my peers were tasked to develop a storyboard that explains our individual thought processes when approving funding decisions that bring “innovation” to our teams. (Note: I put the word innovation in quotes because I’m not a fan of a campaign of seemingly forced actions, when the innovation should be a consistent factor in how we approach our jobs.) When our wing commander gave us task, two things came to mind: throwing together the expected powerpoint presentation to brief peers and senior leadership of our ideas and thought process to borrow or adjust as we see fit…and then using those same words to fill a cardboard, tri-fold presentation, similar to a 5th grade science fair.
My mind raced in how to create the cardboard presentation, zooming past the actual task she asked us to complete. Part of that reason is because I knew I could finish that presentation in roughly one hour, so I wasn’t really worried about completing the task. I wanted to have fun with what our commander tasked us to complete. In no way was I trying to be disrespectful of her guidance or authority, I just wanted to add some humor to the short turn task ahead of us. Indeed, as I was waiting for my daughter’s dance class (you know, because parents at some point are merely logistics support), I went to the grocery store and purchased a pre-made cardboard tri-fold for $5. I already had construction paper and printing materials at home (not mine, they belong to the kids. For reals), so I was all set to work my artistic project. Two hours later, my vision began to meet reality. After convincing my daughter to create a watercolor banner (she still didn’t understand why I was doing this, but I digress), devising an attention step in the form of free fruit snacks in a bowl, and adding the final flair of battery operated lights…my masterpiece was complete as depicted in the picture above.
During our weekly wing stand up meeting, which includes senior officer, enlisted, and civilian leadership from around the base, I positioned my work at the entrance of the conference room so everyone had to walk by it. I waited until later for a fashionably late entrance prior to the start of the meeting and was greeted by smiles and laughs. Fruit snacks were being consumed and comments of “I can’t believe you did this, but then again, I can believe it” were shared with me. The moment of truth was when the wing commander showed up. The meeting proceeded as scheduled, until the discussion turned to innovation funds updates. Someone mentioned, “Yes Ma’am, you’ve already walked by one presentation of the commander’s innovation ideas…you know, gaberock’s thing.” She smiled and said, “Yes, I did see his work. It caught me off guard at first, but I honestly appreciated the audacity of his efforts to think outside of the box and act upon my guidance.” I was still in the audience and didn’t really know how to take the feedback. After we moved to a break, I walked over and mentioned to her that my attempt was lighthearted and not meant to be insulting. She smiled and said, “Seriously, I’m glad that someone is finding some humor in the work we have to do. Thanks for thinking outside the box. If I had a ‘Promote Now’, I’d give it to you!” Needless to say, a wave of relief came over me and I carried on with the rest of my day, with job still intact.
I’m not sure what drove me to act upon my initial impulse, but I’ll honestly say I’m glad I did. Working for new leadership or peers and figuring out each other’s preferences and priorities doesn’t have to be conducted in a state of fear or the unknown. Often times someone just has to break the ice to say “Hey, the work is still going to be there, so let’s have some fun along the way.” This technique needs to be used cautiously, as everyone should try to take actions on things that their career can survive, but inevitably you are responsible for finding the good in everything that comes your way. Laughing and smiling are universal, and you’ll often build trust with your teammates and leadership if you take the chance and believe in the audacity of humor.