Tackling Modern Work Challenges With Bruce Daisley

Modern work challenges are represented by the constant change in human perception towards each other. Today, Dr. Diane Hamilton talks to Bruce Daisley who is a former Twitter VP and now a number one bestselling author. Bruce is also a podcast host and the author of Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat. He also worked for Google and YouTube. He talks about his book and shares his interesting take on how companies should be run. By understanding the challenges of modern-day work, we can tackle each of them by instilling company culture and even injecting laughter in the air.

TTL 693 | Modern Work Challenges

I’m so glad you joined us because we have Bruce Daisley here. Bruce is the ex-Twitter VP, now number one best-selling author. He used to work for Google, YouTube and all kinds of things. He’s got an interesting book and he’s got some great information about how companies should run. I’m looking forward to this conversation.

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Tackling Modern Work Challenges With Bruce Daisley

I am here with Bruce Daisley who was previously Twitter’s most senior employee outside the United States in his role as Vice President across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He joined the company in 2012 having previously run YouTube UK and Google. He’s also worked in the magazine publishing and radio industries. He’s done a lot of different things that have led to him creating a podcast called Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat, which now is a book of the same name so it’s exciting to have you here, Bruce. Welcome.

Thank you. It’s lovely to talk to you.

I am looking forward to this. I am interested in your background. That’s quite an impressive background of where you’ve worked. You’ve worked with some of the world’s biggest media companies. Can you give us a little insight into how you’ve reached that level of success?

It’s more of an accident than design, let me tell you. When I left college, I had a rough idea. One of the challenges that the education system, certainly in the UK, but maybe globally has is, often we leave our education and we are unsure what we want to do. I had this vague idea in my head that I wanted to work in the music industry or to do something back office and unexciting, but if I was somehow associated with music, then that would be my fulfillment. I struggled to get any applications anywhere. I hit upon an idea and this single idea probably changed my life. I hit upon the idea of after getting not even rejection letters from all the applications I was doing. I hit upon drawing a cartoon resume of my life. You’ve got to imagine this looks something closer to strip cartoons. It was closer to Peanuts than it was to Spider-Man. It was a Charlie Brown-ish cartoonish and I sent that off.

I sent that off to about 40 companies and it was night and day. Immediately when I first sent letters off, I used to send them off on yellow paper trying to get noticed sometimes but that had no effect. When I sent this cartoon resume off, I had phone calls the next day. I had people offer me to come and do work experience and someone offered me a job eventually. It was a real reminder for me that sometimes to empathize the position of the person who’s looking to hire is the first thing we can do. Quite often we start by thinking of our own situation. We think, “I’ve got a lot to say so I’m going to write an earnest letter and express it.” We forget that the person who’s filtering job applications is often going through 50 or 60. They get word blindness and they get numb to the same things over and over again.

If you treat them like they are someone who is probably as bored as we all get when we do a repetitive thing, and that was a revelation for me. I told you I got offered a job at a record company. The unfortunate thing was, I got offered a condition of passing my driving test. I didn’t have a driving license at the time. They told me that the job was an entry-level job. It was going to be the post boy at Virgin Records, the main Virgin Records Office in London. I was going to be the post boy there. I was so excited about getting a foot in the door and proving myself working well.

They said, “As part of the mail boy, you’re going to have to go and check the mail every day.” I didn’t have a driving license so I said to them, “If I take an accelerated driving test,” one of those two-week tests, “and pass my test, I will start on the following Monday.” I was giving myself such a challenge of logistics there. The driving test in the UK is quite a demanding one and I failed my driving test, unfortunately. I ended up getting a job at a radio station afterward. It transformed my life and I’ve been fortunate from there on in.

[bctt tweet=”Empathizing with the person looking to hire is the first thing you can do when applying for a job.” username=””]

What did you do at the radio station?

I started in the commercial sector there. I was doing radio sales. I thought I’m going to get my way in here and work my way up trying to get into something else. Eventually, I worked for a while in publishing and on the radio with different companies there. Firstly, it gave me a real appetite for understanding the different dynamics of different workplaces. I was fascinated. Some workplaces you went into and they might be the Mexican restaurant, McDonald’s branch or all the bars I worked in while I was paying my way through college.

They might have been those or there might have been the radio station or the magazine firm or worked in, but you could tell there is some strange, fascinating dynamic about different workplaces. From an early stage, I became consumed with why one place was a magical place to work and the other place seemed to lack that same mojo or that lovely spark. It’s why, latterly, when I’ve gone on to work at YouTube, Google, Twitter, I have always thought, what were the ways that I could try and recreate those best workplaces I ever worked in? How could I bring that magic to the teams that I worked with?

You have this background working for these amazing companies. How do you go from working in a radio station to having your experience with Google, YouTube and Twitter? That’s quite a job.

Interestingly, I knew a friend who was working at Google. He approached me if I wanted to go and work at Google. While I’m in awe of Google and I loved working there but more than anything, Google had bought YouTube. I thought to myself, “I love YouTube. I wonder what they’re going to do with that?” When I started at YouTube, I put my hand up, almost one of the first days I was there, saying, “Can I work on this?” Fascinatingly, at the time, YouTube had been brought in. It’s a bit like WhatsApp and Facebook. It doesn’t make any money. No one was necessarily interested to work on it. Truthfully, at Google, no one was interested in working on YouTube. I put my hand up and said, “I would love to work on YouTube.” It was like the Dead Sea parting. People made way for me to go through. I quickly learned that putting my hand up and wanting to do a job, but also volunteering for the job that no one else wanted is quite an advantage. I realized quickly that people who work at good companies often carry a degree of complacency, “I work at the best company in the world. Why does my presentation need to be interesting?”

If you ever go to conferences, often the most interesting presentations are from the quirky little upstarts. They’re from someone who realizes they don’t have the hottest product and don’t have the most resources so they need to be more inventive in the way they get your attention. I thought, “I wonder if I could sell a product as magical as YouTube and draw people’s attention to that?” I was going out and doing presentations on YouTube and I thought, “I wonder if I could sell it with the passion of the people who sell those challenger brands.” I set myself an objective in every conference I go to. I need to present what I regard as a 10 out of 10 product with a 10 out of 10 presentation. It made me try to aspire to be something better.

Twitter contacted me after I’d been there for quite a while at YouTube and they said, “Would you be interested in coming to do the same at Twitter?” It’s good fortune. A lot of it comes from all of these stories. What they all have in common is, personally, I’ve got a short attention span so I immediately empathize with the person in the audience. I don’t know if any of your readers are fans of going to work conferences. We often walk into the conference room on the first day filled with optimism. We’re going to take lots of notes. We’re going to be the most attentive and best self. As the day goes on, we discover that our attention is waning so I always start from that position. I thought to start from the position that someone is bored, tired and worn down. If you can make your presentation full of curiosity, captivating, interesting, even if they may have started off not being interested, they’ll end up interested. It’s more about trying to give my perspective to the audience.

TTL 693 | Modern Work Challenges
Modern Work Challenges: People working at good companies often carry a degree of complacency.


I love that you say false curiosity since I wrote a book on curiosity and the fact that you are so inventive. That requires a lot of curiosity. You’re talking about a lot of things that I studied. You also talked about empathy, which is what I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence. You talked about a lot of things that a lot of people struggle with. I know that this is something that in the workplace is so important because we’ve seen a lot of burnout and stress happening, especially right now. There’s a lot of stress going on. Your aim I imagine with your podcast and now with your book is to alleviate some of that. I want to know what’s driving this.

First and foremost, in one of my first jobs, I was quite vocal. I was the noisy upstart rather than the person aspiring for the management office. I would always be the person saying, “Why don’t we try this? Why don’t we do this?” I sometimes come up with solutions but not wanting to be the person shaking their head with disbelief on the way home. I was always trying to say those things. A lot of my motivation is probably wanting to vocalize the things that a lot of people feel themselves. We all know that if we go to work and have a day of eight hours of meetings, we know that we feel burnt out and de-energized feather and yet a lot of us find ourselves reluctant to admit that to others and to our colleagues because it might seem we’re being disloyal.

What I’ve noticed is a lot of people when they first start work, new starters, for the first few months, if you give them space to do this, they’ll say, “Why don’t we do this? Can I ask why we do that?” Quickly, we hammer that out of new starters. We get them to the stage, you’ll know this if you study curiosity, where they realize it’s not welcomed to ask questions. The best thing to do is to go along because people who go along with things seem to be more successful than the people who raised queries and concerns. When we sit down and we think about how we build curiosity in our teams, more than anything it’s about how do we avoid extinguishing the curiosity that exists?

I love that because that’s what my research was. I focused on what four things keep people from being curious and they’re fear, assumptions, that voice in our head, technology and over or underutilization of it and the environment. You’re talking about a lot of what I work with in terms of getting away from status-quo thinking. If we’re looking at people who go along with the status quo, don’t disagree in meetings and everybody’s all on the same page, it’s more likely that there’s a status quo. Even though they seem more successful, this could lead to less innovation, productivity and a lot of poor engagement. It’s all the things that companies are trying to get away from.

What you’re writing and talking about is so key. Your book, which is funny when I saw the title, it brought to mind when I was younger. There used to be a donut commercial here in the US. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it from Dunkin Donuts. It was for Dunkin Donuts and the guy would say, “It’s time to make the donuts.” He gets up and does it every day. It would be like a Groundhog Day movie thing. You kept doing the same thing over and over again. When I saw the subtitle of 30 Hacks for Bringing Joy to Your Job, I love that because we need to bring joy to our jobs. What are some of those hacks? I’m curious.

The first thing you said, the thing that you’ve stumbled upon is often we can find ourselves thinking, “I might not be with a big boss here, but I do want to make work better. I do want to make my team better.” We might have a vague memory of the first job that we ever had where we used to laugh with our colleagues and think, “I wonder how I could bring that energy here.” The challenge I find is, when you look at some of the books that are written about modern work, they often speak in these big lofty concepts. You might spend a plane or train journey reading a book. You get back to your desk and you think, “I have literally no idea how I would start implementing this.”

I’ll give you one example. This is a wonderful best-selling book called Start with Why by a guy called Simon Sinek. It’s an incredibly successful book and a global bestseller. He says, “We need to answer the question why.” When we go to work, we need to ask why we are doing this job. Sometimes we call this purpose. To understand your job, you need to build your sense of purpose and what your purpose is. The challenge of that is you sit there and be back at your desk on a Monday morning. You’re like, “I need to build the purpose in my team. How do I do that again?” It’s hard to think about what the next action would be. We know what we want to do but we don’t know how we want to do it.

[bctt tweet=”People who go along with things seem to be more successful than the people who raise queries and concerns.” username=””]

If Simon Sinek’s book was answering the question of why, my book is answering the question of how. Specifically, what are the things that we could do on a Wednesday afternoon, a Monday morning? Specifically, what are the actions that we can do to make our team dynamic better? When I was sitting there thinking about these things, and it was a real problem, it was a genuine issue that I was experiencing first hand. It was my own team when I was working at Twitter. My own team was a wonderful, high performing, incredibly motivated team and something went wrong. It was a combination of things, truly.

At the end of a series of events over the course of about fifteen months, we had a massive resignation rate so a lot of people were quitting to go to jobs. It becomes a bit of a game of musical chairs when that happens because everyone presumes that when everyone sits down, one of their colleagues will go next. People are quitting each week and it’s an immensely testing time. I thought to myself, “I need to know how to fix this.” One of the things I realized was more than anything, one of the biggest challenges we had before we could even think about how we could make the team feel happier, more bonded and laugh more, we needed to deal with the burnout that was happening. This burnout pervades all careers everywhere.

We’re in singular times for work. The norms of work are still a long way from us, whether people are on lockdown, social distancing or whatever situation they’re in. The norms of work feel different. One of the things that we are clear on is that the levels of burnout that workers create are higher than ever before. Half of all teachers report feeling burnt out more than ever before. Firefighters, hospital workers, but also office workers. More than 50% of all office workers report feeling burnt out. What are the symptoms of burnout? It’s things like not enjoying things you used to enjoy the way you used to enjoy them or finding people and things far more irritating than they ought to be. If the chewing of your colleague who used to sit next to you drives you crazy as they’re munching on a bag of cookies, I suspect you’re probably showing one of those symptoms, which is depersonalization.

As you’re talking about this, some of the information I was looking at was causing a turnover and different issues in different organizations were somewhat based on the leadership not asking questions of their employees. Disney was experiencing a lot of turnover in their laundry division. As glamorous as it sounds to fold sheets, iron and all that apparently, they weren’t thrilled with doing it. They went to their employees and asked them what they could do to make your job better. How important is it for leaders to go to people and say, “What is happening that’s not helpful to you in your job?” Is it that they’re working too much that they’re burned out or is it because of other things?

One of the challenges is, the whole experience of modern work for many of us is filled with guilt. Probably the first context that helps to shape this is people might easily say that there seems to be some generational change. It’s resolutely not the case but rather than a generational change. The way that work is being configured has fundamentally changed. One of the interesting things is that in the last few years, the average working day has gone up by two hours a day. It’s been hidden. How have we hidden it? We’ve been smuggled through because it came with our mobile devices.

When our cell phones came and they had emails on them, anyone who was at work at that time, and let me tell you, it wasn’t a joyous day. When email came onto our mobile devices, firstly, we heard rumors that someone has got a Blackberry. The rumor went around the office, “You need to go into John’s desk. He’s got a Blackberry.” We had this innate curiosity and wondered what it would be like to be able to deal with all my emails when I’m stuck in the elevator or on the train in the morning. Dealing with emails in unproductive times would free us up to relax over a coffee in the afternoon, maybe gaze out the window, go and chat at someone else’s desk.

We thought it was going to be this joyous thing when email came on to our cell phones. In fact, what happens is the average working day increased by about 25% to 27%. Anytime that we’re sitting there thinking work feels more demanding than it ever was before. That’s because literally, we’re doing more units and more blocks of work than we have ever done before. It’s also demanding our attention more. The more that we are consumed with having to think about work, it lives inside our consciousness. It means we’ve got no escape from it. One of the best things that any of us could do is in my book. There are some simple interventions that are almost so simple. You might feel, “How is that going to be helpful?”

TTL 693 | Modern Work Challenges
Modern Work Challenges: In the last 15 to 20 years, the average working day has gone up by two hours a day.


I’ll give you one example. The power of taking a lunch break might seem almost too banal or trivial for me to suggest it but here are some of the things we know about lunch breaks. Let’s see what the absence of a break is. The worst time to find yourself in court is before lunch because judges and juries are more critical, judgmental and likely to reach a negative conclusion. Consequently, that’s applied to work as well. We can observe this in schoolchildren. If you give schoolchildren a five-minute break every hour, their performance goes up during the course of the day. Those little bits of breaks to reenergize their enthusiasm and their results go up. If you don’t give them a break every hour, their results go down during the course of the day. In fact, the worst-performing children go down more than the best-performing children. There seems to be something about breaks that reenergizes us. It almost seems too trivial to mention but that’s one of the interesting things about work. We can make our experiences in our jobs much better if we observe a few simple disciplines that are easy for us to do but sometimes wriggle out of our attention.

It reminded me when I worked as an account executive in a lending office. I would love to get out for my lunch break because I couldn’t stand to be stuck in this office all day long. I would make that lunch break in an hour, to be honest with you. I would go home to get away from the office. Now that I work out of my home, I don’t even want a lunch break. I love what I do and I love working at home. I have this sense of, “I don’t even need that now.” Do some of us need to work virtually to get away? Did you look at that at all in your work?

It’s an interesting phenomenon there. Firstly, what you hit upon is one of the most important things about this is, we need to have a degree of control and agency. You may be someone who’s a manager who reads this and says, “I want to make my team more motivated. Therefore, I insist that they all have a lunch break every day.” I’m going to stand at their desks at 12:30 and order them out of the building. What you discover when you do that is that stress levels go up rather than go down. When we feel we have no control, no sense of agency and of autonomy, we feel a bit like a hostage, a prisoner and stress levels go up.

There’s a strange thing there. More than anything, we need to be self-determining, we need to know that we’re the boss and we’re in charge. I suspect that if someone came in and ordered you to go on a lunch break, you might feel unhappier. You mentioned previously that it was one of your favorite parts of that job. If you take an hour every day, during the course of a year, an hour lunch break is a six-week vacation. If any of us are thinking about when we are going to get the time to write that long last novel or when we are going to be able to phone our grandparents. Taking this time is a remarkable amount of energy.

The one thing that was fascinating about studying lunch breaks for me was when we look at people’s energy levels on Saturday mornings, those who take a lunch break, maybe only 2 or 3 times a week, their energy levels are measurably higher on a Saturday morning than people who don’t. Sometimes we can find ourselves thinking, “I’m going to work through lunch because I want to ensure that I’m set up well to leave work on time. I want to fulfill my other caring responsibilities.” One of the things that seem to be the trade-off there is that we leave ourselves more worn down for the time that probably we’ve been looking forward to all week.

There are a lot of situations in traditional offices of what’s different for me versus I’ve worked virtually for more than 30 years in different things. I’ve worked in regular offices as well when I used to sell System/36s and 38s 100 years ago. I worked in an office where there was a good feeling around the office, but they added the cubicles. We call them our cajas, which were boxes in Spanish. We would all be in our little cajas. We couldn’t talk and communicate. We didn’t but you get used to it. The whole point was to make you more productive so you weren’t so distracted but now we have more open offices. What do you like better in terms of that for productivity and how people feel in terms of wanting to get away or liking it or not liking it? You touched on that in your books. I wanted to see it.

Let’s start with the research before what I prefer personally. This is probably how I found myself writing the book because I was interested in fixing work for my team. I started this podcast as a process of self-education. I didn’t even look at the listening figures for three months. I was resolute that I’m going to do 10 or 12 of these and it’s going to be self-education. It ended up being the number one business podcast in the UK so it did well on its own. For me, it was all about self-education. The day that I discovered the research about open offices was the day I realized, “Something needs to change here.” The research about open offices was the single metric, the single number that changes the most when an office moves from a smaller closed office so it might be 6 to 8 people is the typical design but might be individual offices. When people move from those small offices to an open office, the single metric that increases the most is the amount that people dislike their colleagues.

[bctt tweet=”We can make our job experiences much better if we observed a few simple disciplines that are very easy for us to do.” username=””]

The second-highest increase is the volume of email goes up by 2/3 and face-to-face conversations go down and buy 3/4. When any of us are imagining open offices, we often think it’s a good scope for everyone to jam together, discuss ideas, there will be no barriers, and anyone can go and talk to anyone. Unfortunately, that’s not what happens in reality. In reality, we tend to find the distractions exhausting, we can never get anything done and we feel frustrated that we’re making no progress in anything. That’s the challenge. I tend to improvise with that myself.

It did keep us from chatting a lot more. We would always huddle all the time and it took away a lot of that. I was interested when they go back and forth with it seems a great idea than it isn’t kind of in the workplace. I’m always fascinated by the research and there’s another popular thing that I talk about on the show a lot and I know you deal with a lot in your book, and that’s company culture. I want to talk about that because there are so many people on the show who will say that culture comes from the top and if leaders don’t buy into the need for change, nothing is going to change. You argued that company culture is a myth. I love that because I want to talk about that. What do you mean by that?

What often happens is that we find ourselves thinking that we want to create a culture that’s consistent between the Chicago office and the San Francisco office. The New York office at the same time as Boston. In fact, what you generally find is that when you do surveys to assess what people say is the most valuable thing, what gets rewarded around here? Can you tell me a story that speaks to how you succeed in this place? You often get different stories from different offices. Normally where you can observe a coherent culture, which feels closely bonded and seems it’s consistent amongst other people is at a team level. You generally get a strong culture in groups between 10 and 40 people. You can often observe that. Normally, our best examples of culture might be our favorite sports team or the crew who works on a TV show that we love. They seem to have a great connection with them.

Often, more models of great culture come from these smaller organizations. This was my experience that I definitely worked in big companies where it’s these big efforts to make consistent cultures, but they’re often different. Google did some work a few years ago. They did something called Project Aristotle, where they were fascinated at the time, they had about 70,000 employees. It’s closer to double that now. They had 70,000 employees and they were interested. What was it that characterizes their best teams versus their worst teams? They discovered that culture could be different between two teams that might be 30 yards apart. One culture could be hierarchical. One culture could be creative and individualistic. They became fascinated with what they could learn about that. That’s my take on it. Quite often, we might want people to feel like they’re part of a homogenous culture. There’s no shame in the team that works in Boulder, Colorado, feeling like they’ve got a slightly different dynamic to the team that works in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There’s no shame in them both feeling proud of their unique and slightly different vibes.

I’m curious if it’s a myth or so to speak. What should we focus on instead? You brought up Google, and they were known for having the culture of giving a certain percentage of the day to work on pet projects as part of the week. I’ve heard mixed explanations of what they allowed and what people did. I’d like to know what the actual thing was. Was it 20% of their work time could be on pet projects? Was that even a thing? Is it still going? Do you know about that? If culture is a myth and there isn’t this 20% for everybody in the company setup, what are we focusing on then?

The fascinating thing about the time at Google, normally the reason why you sometimes hear 20% and sometimes 10% is, the original version of it was 70/20/10 relationships. It was 70% of your time is on your main job, 20% of your time was on a project of your choosing and 10% of your time could be on anything you wanted. The thing is, sometimes their 20s and 30s because it all came from that. Often it was talked about in revered terms externally. I started working at Google in 2008 and it was a strange thing where no one ever talked about it in the company. I remember once going up to a leading mobile engineer because I was in a commercial role. I said to him, “Tell me, do you guys do 20% time?” He laughed and said that it was his favorite joke, “Twenty percent of the time, we like to call it Saturday.” That was the truth. Marissa Mayer was asked when she went to Yahoo, “Would you be introducing 20% time?” She said, “20% time in as much as it ever existed was 120% time.” She said that it was the idea that people were working 20% more. They were in a fast-moving dynamic company. If you didn’t work on a Friday that you were going to fit in with the culture and you’re going to do well. That was something that we probably need to be more candid about.

There are companies that do recognize where they give workers the scope to do things that are inventive, imaginative and creative within the scope of the week. There is something that seems to come from that. I met one organization and they call Friday their investment day. On Friday, everyone was allowed to work on what they wanted. The interesting thing they said was that because everyone was allowed to work, what they wanted was no meetings on Friday, and they could do what they wanted. They said it improved the motivation of the team through the rest of the week. It’s such a fascinating idea. There’s a company that makes AI bots. I’ve no idea how successful they are but it was probably the only example I’ve seen. If someone’s trying to take the spirit of Google 20% time and adapt it to their own workplace.

TTL 693 | Modern Work Challenges
Modern Work Challenges: 70% of your time is on your main job, 20% on a project of your choosing, and 10% can be on anything you wanted.


As far as improving curiosity in the workplace, I’ve talked to a bunch of organizations that are focusing on that because they want to have that sense of whether they have the 20%, 10% or anything that. They want to have this something that their employees work on. Sometimes it’s hard. Some teams will have success doing it one way and some will have it a different way. I know I’ve had Amy Edmondson on the show when she had her great TED Talk about teams versus teaming and what works and how people collaborate. A lot of it is to work well in teams is to ask questions and to learn to be able to see things from other people’s perspectives and their perceptions. You’ve got a lot of teams out there that may have a problem getting along. Sometimes they try to infuse humor and to have happiness. You also talk about happiness and laughter can be important within teams. What I’m interested in is how do you ensure that people include humor without being inappropriate?

I’m a big evangelist for team laughter. Simply because it seems when we look into the people who’ve done the research on it, laughter seems to be one of the most important human signals connectedness and boundedness. We only laugh with people we like. It’s an important thing. Interestingly, often we laugh to signal togetherness or we will laugh and the mocking way to signal that someone isn’t with us. Laughter is a fascinating signal that evolved to have immense power, but a lot can be immensely powerful for fostering resilience. If you chat with combat soldiers who’ve been in a war zone or doctors who might be working in an immensely stressful environment, they’ll often describe that every day was filled with laughter. It’s interesting. Humans seem to use laughter to reset our anxiety. It’s an interesting tool. You’ve got those things in and you understand those things.

When you say to someone, “I want more laughter in my workplace,” it’s hard not to think of the Michael Scott style character and trying to make laughter inappropriate. The critical thing is, for us to try and create an environment where people feel relaxed and committed. I was interested in the course of my work with an interesting sporting phenomenon. It is still archaic, passed down from the past called the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. If you can imagine two ancient University colleges and they have a boat race, a rowing race that they race each other every year. For some peculiar reason, it’s like college basketball, but far more it’s like the era of Harry Potter, but it’s televised. For some peculiar reason, this is a big televised event.

There was an interesting case a few years ago where one of the teams fired their captain, the person who sits and leads the rowing boat. It’s called a coxswain. They fired their captain largely because the coxswain had been trying to disapprove of them laughing together and certain team members. They fired the captain and their results went through the roof. They started winning races. They won the overall boat race for the first time in the year. It was this interesting phenomenon where quite often we can find that repressive, domineering form of management that some managers impose doesn’t free us up to do the job in the way that we know we should or could do it.

It’s interesting what makes anybody work more effectively and what makes teams more cooperative. Sometimes you hear a lot about Millennials not wanting to be the leader of a team as much but maybe somebody they go to for advice. Things are different from the Boomers and the things in the Mad Men days. We’re talking about bosses in general and what makes for happiness at work. We know people leave bosses more than they leave their jobs if you have a bad boss. I’ve had leaders who were so negative that they don’t realize they’re making life miserable for everyone. How do you recognize if you’re a leader doing that, you’re maybe a control freak, or whatever it is? What is it that we need to do to make the workplace a little less miserable for people?

The world’s leading laughter expert was a wonderful man called Professor Robert Provine and he passed away. He was probably one of the most important people in terms of teaching us what laughter was good for, but he did something interesting. First, he observed that when you put strangers in the room and you start showing them comedy DVDs and comedy videos, they don’t immediately start laughing. That might seem a self-evident discovery, but it’s an important one because we sometimes think that watching old episodes of sitcoms creates laughter, but it doesn’t with strangers. We laugh a lot with friends and family. Often things that aren’t as funny as anyone recording the volume of laughter in the room might hear. Laughter is a way for us to signal togetherness.

Robert Provine said that laughter in many ways performs the same function with humans as birdsong does with birds. When you hear two birds singing that effectively connect with each other, they’re signaling to each other. He said that’s what laughter does in humans. It’s a fascinating insight but he was asked, “What would you do to encourage more laughter in our workplaces?” He said, “We’ve got to create environments that are laughter ready.” What he meant by that was, in your team meeting, it’s this clear signal that the boss or anyone who runs that meeting gives a place that people can bring something along that they saw was funny as part of their presentation. Can someone end by celebrating someone’s birthday by saying a humorous story about them or an amusing tribute? Could someone bring along the photograph of someone who was leaving and maybe tell a funny story about them?

[bctt tweet=”Laughter seems to be one of the most important human signals for bonding people together. ” username=””]

There are little things even in the way that we engineer our offices, we construct the rituals that we have in our workplaces that signal to everyone, whether this is a laughter ready environment or a serious environment. Many of us find ourselves in a situation where we feel we need to signal seriousness, we need to signal that we’re not being frivolous, silly and trivial. Back to the Robert Provine research, when we remove laughter from workplaces, we remove that sense of togetherness. Learning a lesson from Robert Provine, what I discovered was companies who took time to maybe ensure that they had time for people to chat socially within their working environment. There was a team offsite or get together of teams. There were moments where everyone could collectively feel that they had time to get to know each other. These things seem critical.

There are so many critical things we could do to make the workplace better. You’ve listed at least 30 hacks in your book. I love some of the things you had for walking meetings and different strategies. I’m all for turning off phone notifications and things and some of the things you talk about for recharging, sinking and buzzing throughout your advice are important. I could see why this would be a book that a lot of people could use. I am sure a lot of people are reading this. I know you’re in the London area, in the UK, right?

That’s right.

If they’re in the United States, how can they reach you?

Everything is on my website, which is EatSleepWorkRepeat.com. I’m fortunate that people have said that the book is entertaining. It’s got moments of humor and plenty of research that you could show to your boss. I know that workbooks can feel hard work at times but hopefully, this one tries to at least make it less of an ordeal to read.

Did you consider adding any of your original cartoons?

If it was up to me, there would be plenty of cartoons on it. I don’t think my publisher would be equally keen.

TTL 693 | Modern Work Challenges
Modern Work Challenges: Removing laughter from the workplace removes the sense of togetherness.


I understand what you’re saying. It was so nice of you to share all this for us. I could see why you’ve been so successful and I hope everybody takes some time to check out your book. Thank you for being on the show.

Thank you so much. It’s so wonderful to talk to you.

You’re welcome.

I’d like to thank Bruce for being my guest. I’ve got so many great guests on the show. I learned a lot from Bruce and I love his enthusiasm. A lot of things we talked about tied into the work I do with curiosity. It’s so important to look at some of the things that keep us from being curious. In my research, I found Fear, Assumptions, Technology, and the Environment so the acronym of FATE are the things that keep people from being curious. We need to work on developing curiosity so that we can create workplaces that don’t go along with status quo thinking and can be more innovative, engaged and productive. I love the conversation and how it tied into the things that I talk about all the time in terms of curiosity. A lot of people could get a lot of value out of determining the things that keep them from being curious and to do that, you can go to CuriosityCode.com and take the Curiosity Code Index Assessment. It’s also available at DrDianeHamilton.com if you go to the Curiosity part at the top.

What’s great about taking that assessment is you get your results instantly. It’s like taking a DISC Assessment or an emotional intelligence test or something like that where you’re getting immediate feedback. It’s a 26-page PDF that gives insight into 36 areas within these four factors that keep people from being curious. It’s so important to change how we show up and do the same old thing in our workday. When I was talking to Bruce, it brought to mind that old Dunkin Donuts commercial, “It’s time to make the donuts.” You get up, work, do it, and repeat. You’re calling and calling it and that’s why we’re getting so much low engagement. I’ve been continuing to work on connecting, engagement, productivity, and all these things to curiosity because curiosity is the spark that ignites all the things that we’re trying to do in terms of building more motivated and creative workplaces.

How we think about culture and all that is we have to question and that’s what Bruce is talking about. There isn’t a one size fits all approach to anything. Sometimes if you’re in meetings and everybody’s all in agreement and if you think that’s a good thing, it might not be a good thing, because we want to have the discussion. We want people to question the status quo. We want to develop a strong culture of advancement and innovation. We’re working on doing that within my company at Tonerra. A lot of the companies I deal with on a daily basis are interested in doing that. What I do is I help HR professionals and consultants if they want to learn to become certified, they can get five hours of SHRM recertification credit for going through the training. All that is again at CuriosityCode.com or at DrDianeHamilton.com if you want to go and find out more about that.

We also have an affiliate program. If you go to the DrDianeHamilton.com site and go down to the bottom, you can see the affiliate. Feel free to sign up to be promotional with the assessment if you don’t want to train people to do it, but you think it’s a great idea for people. I’m happy that you want to support that. There’s so much great content that people get when they get this report. They find out ways to create a personal action plan to overcome the factors that keep them from being curious. Plus, if they go through the corporate training program, they can learn ways to help overall organizational leadership and give them feedback for how they can help build curiosity within the company. There’s a lot of information there that I wanted to touch since Bruce and I had such a great conversation about some of these things on the show. We get so many unbelievable guests on the show and Bruce is one of them. I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope you join us for the next episode of Take the Lead Radio.

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About Bruce Daisley

TTL 693 | Modern Work ChallengesBruce Daisley was previously Twitter’s most senior employee outside of the United States, in his role of Vice President across Europe, Middle East and Africa. He joined the company in 2012 having previously run YouTube UK at Google. He has also worked in the magazine publishing and radio industries having got his first break by mailing a cartoon resume of his life to prospective employers. Bruce’s passion for improving work led to him creating the podcast Eat Sleep Work Repeat on making work better. It became a number 1 smash in the UK (also hitting the business top 10 in the US).

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