VOLUME TWO, ISSUE 9

3 Human Elements   It's September and kids are heading back to school. I was in Staples last week, surrounded by kids and their moms, shopping for back to school supplies. I was one of those geeky kids who loved school and spent the first week making covers for all of my books. I only had one teacher I didn't like, probably because he had an annoying habit of chucking a football at your head if he thought you weren't paying attention...not that I was ever "not paying attention," but he had lousy aim. I had three teachers that I absolutely adored.
Mrs. Stockton was my third grade teacher and used to take us on her version of a fishing trip. We made rods from sticks and string and "fished" for words in a kid's wading pool she brought to class. She jump started my love for words. Mrs. Griffero was my sixth grade teacher of Italian descent. I'm ashamed to admit that I told a joke in class one day that turned out to contain a negative reference to her was one of those words that kids use sometimes when they have no idea what the word means although I remember at least some of the boys got it. I was mortified but she turned the incident into a teaching moment that ended up with the class creating a detailed map of Italy.
My favorite teacher by far was Dr. Stuart Chenoweth. He was one of my advisors when I was in grad school and he also taught theatre history from 500 B.C. to 1642. That's a lot of territory to cover, not all of it interesting. But Dr. Chenoweth made theatre history come alive and gave us opportunities to transport ourselves back through time. We made masks for Greek comedies and experimented with makeup from the Noh theatre and dressed up like medieval mummers...we experienced those moments in theatrical history, which enriched our engagement with the subject and helped us retain what we learned.
Each one of those teachers provided me with an experiential learning experience. And that kind of experiential learning translates to the workplace...providing we make the link between the experience and everyday work. In this issue, Janice takes a look at experiential learning and the critical things we need to do to make it relevant. We're also introducing a new segment in this month's newsletter - a look at "sacred cows". The term "sacred cow" first appeared in English in the mid 19th century and is an allusion to the Hindu's reverence for cows. "Sacred cow" refers to something so highly regarded that it's either immune to or not open for criticism. We'll see about that.
We've chosen our own term for these "hands off" subjects - "sacred squirrels". After all, you can find squirrels almost everywhere, they're nearly impossible to get rid of and they gobble up seed (resources) meant for the birds. If you've got a "sacred squirrel" you'd like to examine, let us know.

Jennie Ayers
Senior Partner, Challenge It Now 

In This Issue
How Weird Are You?
Skilled Facilitators Up the ROI
Are Sacred Squirrels Really Sacred?
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"How Weird are You?" by Jennie Ayers
(750 words - estimated reading time: 3 minutes)

laughing dog  
Zappo's is one of the hippest companies in the country. It started off selling shoes online and now sells a whole lot of stuff to the tune of more than a billion dollars a year. Based in Las Vegas, it's not unusual for the company to ask potential employees, "How weird are you?" And when asked what skill he would most like to improve, Tony Hsieh, Zappo's young CEO, says, "Humor." Which might explain why his commercials feature odd little puppets instead of odd little actors.
But does humor belong in the workplace?
According to some researchers, it does. In their study, "The Case for Developing New Research on Humor and Culture in Organizations: Toward a Higher Grade of Manure" (what's with these long titles?), researchers analyzed theories on humor, emotion and mood from several hundred studies in the fields of psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy and communications. (Okay, I'm tired just reading about the research...and they had to do it.)
Here's what they discovered....drum roll please. Humor is serious business.
"The ability to appreciate humor, the ability to laugh and make other people laugh has physiological effects on the body that cause people to become more bonded," says study contributor Chris Robert.  Humor also enhances creativity, team cohesiveness and overall workplace performance. "The ability to make things funny is associated with intelligence and creativity, both highly valued in the workplace," Robert notes. (My nephew makes things funny at family gatherings when he belches "Green Day" tunes. Creative? Sure...but I'm reserving judgment on "intelligence".)
people at computer laughingDavid Abramis at Cal State Long Beach has studied humor at work for many years. His take? People who have fun and laugh at work are more productive, better decision-makers, get along better with co-workers and have fewer absentee, late and sick days than people who aren't laughing at work. Not to mention they also have a better shot at getting their own reality show.
More fodder for fun...98 percent of CEO's polled prefer candidates with a sense of humor. And 84 percent of executives think that employees with a sense of humor do a better job than those without one. The remaining 16% work on Wall Street and they're still mad that they have to be regulated like everybody else.
Shoot, even our federal government understands the importance of humor in the workplace. Just last year, the Bureau of Public Debt was looking for an expert to deliver a workshop on the subject. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Public Debt was in so much debt that it canceled the workshop.
The reality is...most companies discourage humor in the workplace. And the perception too many managers have when they see employees laughing is that they're simply "goofing off" and don't take their jobs "seriously". What a buzz kill.
Why the disconnect?
Probably the biggest reason humor's not encouraged in the workplace is that it can go so wrong and be so unfunny - and downright offensive - when it crosses the line. (Dying is easy, comedy is hard.) It's especially challenging in really diverse organizations. Robert says, "Some people have suggested that you just avoid humor all together - don't be funny, don't try to make jokes. We reject that." Good...we need to remember that humor's the medium, not the message.
Instead, Robert suggests finding common ground that carries jokes across cultures. "People find things funny when you take two things and you connect them in an unexpected way. The very work you're doing provides common expectations you can build on - customers, clients, yourself, suppliers...and there are general human experiences that anyone can share, like funny things kids say. (My little cousin says people are only allowed to get married once and it's called monotony.) Where people get into trouble is stepping on expectations like religion, ethnicity or other values." And sarcasm also has no business in the workplace. It's easy to take shots but sarcasm's only "value" is to make someone feel small. If that's where you go with humor, save it for the Chuckle Hut, not the weekly staff meeting.
The truth is...not everybody thinks "funny". But most of us have the capacity to think "sideways" and most of us can appreciate someone else's "funny". And that's really all it takes to celebrate humor - in the workplace or in life.
By the way, every time you have a good hearty laugh, you burn 3.5 calories. Twenty good belly guffaws and you can have yourself an Oreo cookie, no guilt.
Now back to the original question - "How weird are you?"

"Skilled Facilitators Up the ROI" by Janice Criddle
(635 words - estimated reading time: less than 3 minutes)

Some years ago, I attended my first Ropes class as part of my development as a first time manager.  I remember it vividly. It was in the dead of winter in Boulder, Colorado. When the instructor asked if anyone had any physical limitations, I explained that I was in the first trimester of my first pregnancy and was concerned. He polled the group; would they mind moving indoors? In Boulder? In the dead of winter? They unanimously agreed. I suspect the fact that the instructor had a cold also helped my case.

Doing the Ropes course indoors was still fun, for which I was grateful. I didn't want my fellow participants to feel like they had missed out on anything. But I was also pleasantly surprised when the facilitator took us through a variety of experiences that led to many "aha" moments. 

I know this particular program stands out in my memory because it was a first on so many levels. I also believe it stands out because the facilitator was so impressive. This approach to training and development, firmly grounded in Experiential Learning, utilizes adventurous educational experiences to bring about positive changes in individuals, groups and organizations. Experiential learning programs can be amazingly effective. But be forewarned: they are only as good as the facilitator. 

My Boulder facilitator had exceptional skills.   

  • He was flexible. I'm sure I wasn't the first participant with a physical limitation and it was clear to me that he was prepared for a variety of worst-case scenarios.
  • He was knowledgeable. He explained concepts succinctly, provided relevant examples and shared a wealth of information regarding best practices. Throughout our 3 days, he consistently connected the dots between what we were doing and how the activity related to our everyday work experience.
  • He kept it fun. By providing concrete experiences that were task oriented (just like work) and intriguing, everyone wanted to "play". Even though we had moved indoors, the activities were invigorating and provided opportunities to experiment with new behaviors and skills in a safe environment.
  • He was a wizard at debriefing. This is THE critical skill necessary to insure effectiveness of experiential learning. Skilled facilitators make sure to guide the discussion, not lead it. This is the time when participants have the opportunity to reflect on what they've learned. Skilled facilitators ask open ended questions that allow participants to explore their feelings. They make sure everyone speaks up. Our facilitator made sure each of us was able to articulate the purpose of each exercise and its significance to our workplace and to our role as a manager. 
In an effort to bring some "woohoo" into everyday training experiences, organizations are turning more often to experiential learning. That's a good thing. According to the National Training Laboratory, the average person retains 75% when they practice by doing. This is in sharp contrast to other ways of training:
  • 5% Lecture
  • 10% Reading
  • 20% Audio-Visual
  • 30% Demonstration
  • 50% Discussion Group
  • 75% Practice by Doing
  • 90% Teaching Others
While all training programs should provide a variety of methods in order to accommodate the full spectrum of learning styles, it's clear that Experiential Learning provides one of the best opportunities to ensure that participants retain what they learn. But without an effective debrief - without linking experiential learning activities to everyday work life - the method loses its power.

Here at CIN, when we design and deliver programs for our clients, Experiential Learning is a key component. Each program is delivered with a rigorous debrief to ensure that activities connect in a meaningful way to our clients' everyday work worlds. I'll be forever grateful to that first Ropes class. Not just for what I learned as a developing manager, but for being a stellar example of what it takes to make it work!

"Are Sacred Squirrels Really Sacred?" by Rebecca Ripley
(407 words - estimated reading time: less than 2 minutes)


As Jennie mentioned in her opening letter, we are launching a new column in this issue of e-Musing Challenges.  We're all about challenging habitual ways of thinking and doing, so we want to challenge our readers to surface the "Sacred Squirrels".  We define a Sacred Squirrel as a practice, policy, eccentricity, pet project, obsolete procedure or function that has historically been widely recognized as protected by a person of influence and therefore immune to criticism - even when most people admit this "Squirrel" is counter to logic, intelligence, productivity, rational business sense and progress.
Sacred Squirrels take resources away from worthwhile endeavors that may die on the vine before they're given the opportunity to compete for attention.  Something as simple as a standard meeting that takes hours of planning and presence but adds no value may be a "Squirrel" in sheep's clothing.  The unwritten, yet widely understood message is "Don't mess with this one. It would be a CLM (career limiting move)."
In our BoldWork™ Creativity workshops, we invite participants to ask those "What if..." questions that might help to surface silent "squirrels."  Most people agree that the best candidates to raise questions are those new to the organization.  We give newcomers a grace period of about three months to ask so-called "dumb questions."  After that window of time closes, we give them "the look" that says, "Come on, you've been here long enough to know we can't do that."  We offer leaders an alternative.  Add a 10-minute "dumb question" agenda item to every staff meeting so that Sacred Squirrels can be surfaced.  To be effective, leaders then have to be willing to genuinely explore the question. 
trexWhat would happen if you raised a Sacred Squirrel in your organization?  Is the Sacred Squirrel really set in stone, or is this a Squirrel whose time for extinction has come? Maybe the person who was protecting this "Squirrel" is long gone - or perhaps s/he is now receptive to seeing that the numbers and logic just don't make sense.
Email me ( about Sacred Squirrels in your organization (current or past) that stymied progress.  We'll talk about these in future columns - without attribution, if you prefer.  For example, performance reviews are as widely criticized as they are celebrated in today's organizations.  Is the process a Sacred Squirrel, being held onto by HR leaders across the country, or does it add significant value?  We look forward to your feedback and to squelching Sacred Squirrels that squander sacred resources.


3 Human Elements
Challenge It Now focuses its energies on a common goal - through consultation, coaching and facilitation, we help professionals in business organizations create and sustain a workplace climate where the positive experience of work is optimized, engagement is enriched and performance potential is maximized.
Please take a moment and visit our website at to find out more about us and what we have to offer. Or contact us for additional information at: 818.585.9553 or 818.429.0077 or 443.838.4327.