The Power of Humor to Drive Organizational Change
Tim: You're a funny guy, but you're also a marketer. What's better, being a marketer or trying to be a funny guy all day long?
Tom Fishburne: I like doing both, to be honest. My day job is working in cartoons, but it involves a lot of marketing too. I have a lot of time at my desk dealing with all the typical stuff every marketer deals with all day long. What I found is that to be funny, I have to dedicate time in my day focused explicitly on that. And so, I spend the first couple hours every day just purely working on cartoon ideas, and then the rest of the day is when I deal with all the other stuff, the emails, the client calls, et cetera. And I found that once I started doing that, even when I've had traditional marketing assignments, it allows me to be more creative in the rest of my day. Having that two hours of cartoon time, it's like exercising a creative muscle that helps me in the rest of my work, working with clients, and doing more traditional marketing stuff too. So I love both. I think I like the idea of pure creativity for a little window, and then it just bleeds out on everything else.
Tim: You're a lucky man being able to do that, and I will say that we have a little bit of that here too. If you didn't see, we kicked off our session, we got to go out in Colorado and blow up some laptops and have some fun, so being creative in is fun. Let me ask you this. What's an easy way for the average person to start using more humor at work? I totally agree with you, humor, empathy, got to make fun of yourself. I think we do that here. Richard and I host a podcast that we're always making fun of ourselves. How can the average person start doing that more in their own workplace?
Tom Fishburne: Yeah, great question. I think humor doesn't necessarily mean having to be suddenly a stand- up comedian. Being humor just means showing more of your true self at work, it means being more human. I think one of the best places to start is to look at how we all communicate inside of our companies. Take a look back at a recent email you wrote on a certain topic and think," If I were to rewrite this with a little bit of levity, a little bit more humanness to it, strip out some of the corporate lingo and sound more like you'd actually be talking to a friend, how would my communication work in that sense?" I think another great place to look is your own LinkedIn profile. If you talk about yourself in your LinkedIn profile in a way that you would never ever talk about to somebody you actually know, that's an opportunity to bring more of yourself into that, and I think it stands out, because the typical marketing corporate world internally can get very lingo- centric quickly, and if you can come across with a little bit of levity, it goes a long way. And it's particularly important if you're responsible for leading teams, because the way you demonstrate as a leader you your comfort level, letting your guard down, being your real self, laughing at yourself, that trickles down to your teams, which makes them more comfortable doing the same thing, and changes the whole culture of the organization, I think.
Tim: Yeah, I totally agree, and that last point there, I recently put my foot in my mouth with one of my global team members, and I had to eat it and I felt very bad, it was just miscommunicated, and I sent them a voodoo doll of myself and I said," Hey, the next time I upset you, or you're just like,'Ugh Tim, that's a horrible idea,' just pin the heck out of that voodoo doll." So yeah, you got to have fun and you got to own your mistakes as well, so I get it. I get in a lot of trouble at work. I used to produce the Jackass guys in a different world, and here, we blow things up, we jump out of planes, we hire rock stars for our content. Have you ever gotten in trouble from some of your cartoons or some of the work that you've done that was maybe taken the wrong way or out of context?
Tom Fishburne: It's funny, I used to really be scared about that, and I really haven't, but not only did I think I would be getting in trouble, most of my co- workers at various times thought I was going to get fired for it. And the biggest experience for me was at General Mills, this giant company, I'm new there, I'm drawing these cartoons, and everyone's like," You're kind of poking the bear a bit." I wasn't too shy about sometimes drawing some of the executive leadership team into the cartoons. I just kind of let it fly, and everyone's like," You're going to get fired for this," and I finally get a call from assistant to the chief marketing officer inviting me in for a conversation, and everyone's like," You better back up your files, it's over." And I show up to the meeting, and the CMO, who I'd only had limited interactions with before, he said," I just want to say, I love the cartoons. I love that you're doing it. I love that you're making fun of what's happening, we're talking about it. It's such an important thing to do, and I want you to keep doing it." And it ended up being a great lesson for me that sometimes my own internal self- editor fearful of putting myself out there, can cause me to play it safe, and instead, when I try to override that and just be comfortable using humor, it ended up really benefiting me and my career at all the different places where I worked. And I think that can happen a lot, particularly when we're working in big companies, we're a little bit reluctant to do that, and I guess I found in my own personal experience, whenever I did it anyway overtop of the fear, it ended up actually helping me.
Tim: That's great. That's good advice. I mean, I guess it's a slippery slope, you got to understand your managers, but that's also a good sign of great leadership, right? Being able to understand," Okay, there's some humor in this, and yeah, there's some obvious white elephants in the room, and let's address them." I worked for Mark Cuban as well, who was like," Bring it on, man. You want to make fun of me? You want to do this and that?" And that's a sign of good leadership when they can take it on the chin.
Tom Fishburne: Absolutely. You have to tie it to the culture of the place, for sure.
Tim: Yeah, and look, humor can lift the culture of a place, especially in this age of COVID, it's nuts. The office is never going to be what it was again, there's never going to be prairie- dogging the way it was. So yeah, you got to find that humor and that connection, that human thread. I want to ask you about writer's block. We're marketers, and most marketers watching probably have to come up with these concepts, who can get killed by finance, or legal, or whomever. Don't talk to me about legal, all my ideas get killed by legal, but do you get writer's block or do you get pushback of like," Ah, this didn't work, or that idea didn't work." How do you combat that, and does it happen to you?
Tom Fishburne: That's the other thing I was sort of scared about starting out, I used to think I had this well of ideas, and one day, it would just be dry. And I realize over time, it's much more like exercising a muscle. The more I exercise at it, the more the ideas are there. If I get complacent and I don't have that window of time every day to try to be creative, and then I try to just dip into it between one client call and looking at a accounting spreadsheet, it's not quite there, but if I use it like a muscle during that window of time, I find that I can rely on it. And so, for me, I think humor, creativity, all of that, it kind of goes back to Cal Newport's Deep Work idea that if you set aside and dedicate time for it, the ideas will be there, and some ideas are more creative than others. I try to go into that period of time not saying," If I get to the end of it and I don't have this many ideas, it was a failure," but more my job is just to sit there for that period of time and just work on as many creative things as possible, and then when I do it consistently day in, day out, at the end of a week, I'm generally happy with what I was able to accomplish.
Tim: Yeah. Fair. You got to find your process, you got to find your way. Well, look, you're a very funny individual. All of your cartoons in there, they just ring so true, but you also, you do more than do cartoons, right? Some of our brand clients might be able to use your services. What do you do? How can people find you, and how do they look you up?
Tom Fishburne: Great. So everything is at marketoonist. com. I kind of use that as the collecting point that now has 20 years of marketing cartoons I've been drawing, but also some case studies of some of the things I've had a chance to do with companies. I've worked with over 150 businesses now helping them tell stories with cartoons, sometimes used as their external marketing, so cartoons can be a way that they can connect with their audiences, and sometimes used like in the DBS Bank example to help them use humor internally. And so, I have some profiles of some of the fun work I've gotten to do, but I'm always learning from the companies I get to work with and the marketers I get to work with, to learn about their challenges and think of ways that humor can help them accomplish what they want to do.
Tim: I love it, I love it, and I'm glad that we found you, I'm glad we reached out. Thank you so much for such a great presentation. It was excellent to have you today. I implore everybody to go look at The Marketoonist, check out some of the funny stuff. If you need some internal work or some external work, hit up Tom, and keep it funny. So, Tom, thanks for joining us. Have a great rest of your day, and we will talk soon.
Tom Fishburne: Sounds great. Thanks so much for having me, a real pleasure to be here.
Tim: All right everybody, get over to the next session, which is Click it on the Mountain with Pierre DeBois. That's happening at the bottom of the hour, bottom of the hour. Signals rolls on. We'll see you soon.
Humor is the language of culture change, and at Cheetah we don’t do boring. So we recruited Tom Fishburne; one of the funniest people in marketing, to deliver a session that will leave you laughing out loud, but also thinking about how you can implement cultural change to empower and inspire your team.
Join this session for a raft of cartoons, case studies, and comedic punchlines fused with ways to discuss topics in marketing that are otherwise difficult to talk about. Click the image below to add your best caption and Tom will show a few submissions in this session. In fact, his favorite caption will win an oversize print of it for their office wall!