Laughter as a Disciplinary Offense

I read the following passage in a summary of Daniel H. Pink’s book, A Whole Mind, under the subheading Play:

“Why is Dr. Madan Kataria laughing? … Kataria a physician from Mumbai, India likes to laugh. A lot. In fact, he believes the laughter can function like a benevolent virus — that it can infest individuals, communities, even nations. His popularity around the world, and especially the gradual acceptance of his laughter clubs in offices and boardrooms reveal another important dimension of the conceptual age — a move away from sober seriousness as a measure of ability

and the elevation of the next essential high-concept, high-touch aptitude: Play. Kataria says, ‘When you are playful, you are activating the right side of your brain. The logical brain is the limited brain. The right side is unlimited. You can be anything you want.’ Contrast Kataria’s movement, and the workplace laughter clubs it has spawned, with the Ford Motor Co. of the 1930s and 1940s. At Ford’s River Rouge plant, laughter was a disciplinary offense — while humming and whistling and smiling were evidence of insubordination. Work and play Ford feared, was a toxic combination. If they weren’t quarantined, each would poison the other.”

Wow, laughter in the workplace as a disciplinary offense!

I realize science has cast great doubt on the right and left brain theory, so I think of it in terms of our logical mind, versus our creative mind. Hence, the physical space plus our mental/emotional state is critically important. We must create environments where people feel “safe” tinkering, or, as I prefer playing. I spent much of my life as an engineering technician, and we often found the solution when the group members felt safe in offering what might have seemed like an absurd solution to a complex technical problem. And often the most comically simple solution solved the most technically challenging, complex problem. This is a far cry from the sober seriousness required by yesterday’s major corporations. A change I have witnessed in my lifetime.

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