Sometimes, Being Professional Is No Fun

Why So Serious? Maybe You Are Being Too Professional

Don’t you feel that sometimes you spend your days mired in jargon-land, forced to act “professional” against your will? If I had a nickel for every time I had to sit through a jargon-laden meeting, or review yet another PowerPoint loaded with “management speak”, I’d be a rich man sitting on my own private island right now.

Do we all have to be serious and professional all the time?

Lately, there has been a mini-backlash against being “too casual” or “too colloquial”. Articles like “You’re Not Being Authentic, You’re Being Unprofessional” litter the business and personal development press.

I say, bah humbug.

One of the best books on public speaking I’ve ever read condensed it all down to two main points:

  1. Be Yourself
  2. Tell them what you are going to tell them

That’s it. No froth. No “stand like this, walk like that, hold your hands in a certain way, don’t say, “um” and “uh” (sorry Toastmasters). Just be you. There is nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to be Tony Robbins when you speak, you just must be you. People want you to be you. Nobody likes fake (well, maybe some people do). There is a downside to being “too professional.”

IMHO, most people crave authenticity. If you are too slick and polished, then people get wary.

What does this have to do with innovation? Plenty. But I have one more digression to make.

Since 2008, when Iron Man burst onto the movie scene, it’s likely that most of you have seen one of more Marvel superhero movies. You may have also seen a Batman, Superman, or other DC movie as well. If you have, then you have probably noticed the stark differences between the Marvel and DC universes. They both take their superheroes as existing and real, but one Marvel injects some fun into it, where DC is just all super serious and grim about it.

Ever feel like everything that you hear, communication-wise, within your organization is like a DC movie, super serious and professional? I heard it myself, innovation programs announced in a serious tone, asking employees to come up with billion-dollar businesses in their spare time (well, we won’t lift any of your current responsibilities so that you will have time to innovate) and you’d better innovate, otherwise…

Where is the fun? Where are the treats? Where is the engagement? Isn’t this just more work for me?

Your innovation program should be like a Marvel movie – fast moving and fun – a great diversion from your day job. A time to relax and open your mind.

Your employees should enjoy the act of innovating, feel free to come up with great ideas without the oppressive sense that they must “deliver” (like they do the rest of their jobs). Innovation time should be fun time, not just another set of tasks that they need to add onto their already voluminous list.

In fact, the best ideas will come when you aren’t even trying. This is one of the most awesome things about the human brain – its background processing capabilities are probably even more powerful than its foreground capabilities.  In our sessions, we encourage play and fun, it’s one of the best ways to spark interesting new innovations.

In short, if you are interested in innovating, you need to let your people relax and be real. Innovation should be fun – make sure that you make it so.