The Power of Humor to Drive Organizational Change

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This is a podcast episode titled, The Power of Humor to Drive Organizational Change. The summary for this episode is: <p>Humor is the language of culture change, and at Cheetah we don’t do boring. So we recruited&nbsp;<strong>Tom Fishburne</strong>; 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.</p><p>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!</p>
COVID-19 was an accelerant, not a change agent.
02:30 MIN
Marketers are trying to deliver a better customer experience, but are in an awkward adolescence stage.
01:36 MIN
The Marketoonist caption competition.
02:13 MIN
Making sense of marketing through humor.
02:38 MIN
How humor can drive organizational change.
03:26 MIN
Brands that have humor at the heart of their DNA.
01:36 MIN
Avoiding marketing myopia.
01:54 MIN
The failings of the classic marketing funnel.
02:25 MIN
People don't want a quarter inch drill, they want the hole.
00:40 MIN
Charmin: SitOrSquat?
01:22 MIN
Humor can be disarming, but also a Trojan horse.
00:53 MIN
Creepy personalization is dystopian, not utopian.
02:24 MIN
Don't focus on vanity metrics.
01:27 MIN
Bloom & Wild using data to show empathy.
00:32 MIN
How humor can break down silos.
03:54 MIN
Fear kills creativity, and humor is our most powerful tool to drive fear out of the system.
00:27 MIN
What's better, being a marketer or being funny?
01:03 MIN
How to show empathy and humor at work
04:21 MIN
20 years of hilarious marketing cartoons.
01:25 MIN

Tom Fishburne: Hi, I'm Tom Fishburne. I'm speaking to you from a corner of my cartoon studio, just north of San Francisco. For nearly the last 20 years, I've been drawing a weekly cartoon on the world of marketing, called Marketoonist, and I'm very excited to be speaking with you at Signals today, about the power of humor to drive organizational change. I thought I would start with a cartoon that I drew just about 18 months ago. We have a few executives sitting around a table." Digital transformation is years away. I don't see our company having to change any time soon," as this big COVID- 19 wrecking ball comes from the side. And I think this relates really to any form of transformation that we've been going through in our organizations, and particularly in the world of marketing, but I think so much of the change is not necessarily completely new changes, as its accelerations to change is already underway. This is how Professor Scott Galloway put it looking at the last 18 months:" COVID- 19 is an accelerant, not a change agent." The reality is, is that marketing is always in change, and part of being a marketer means navigating some of the twists and turns of that change." This year, we're disrupting how we do marketing."" Didn't we do that last year? Last year, we transformed marketing."" No, that was two years ago."" Oh right, we're reinventing marketing. It's about time." And so, things are constantly in change and constantly in flux, and can often at the same time, feel both faster than ever, and incredibly slow." Can we please stop calling this pace of change the new normal?", at the same time that we have meetings like this." Now that we've agreed on the marketing technologies we need, let's move quickly to integrate them into our operations," so simultaneously fast and slow. My friend Scott Brinker described the phenomenon a bit like this:" Technology changes exponentially, organizations change logarithmically." And so, for marketers, we're right at the point of the spear, we're right at the place where we're trying to make things happen that both feel faster than ever before, and sometimes slower than ever before, and the result I think relates to a lot of marketing that can sometimes fall flat, a lot of customer experience that can sometimes fall flat. I think the stage that we're in right now is the awkward adolescent stage of marketing, where many of the digital tools are available, customer expectations have never been higher, and yet, sometimes our mindsets in our organizations haven't kept pace with the state of that change, and we can have a lot of misfires in customer experience." This subway has no internet access, but that won't stop us from asking you to scan the QR code in this ad," or if you've ever seen a QR code on the side of a moving bus, as if somebody's going to walk down the street, take out their phone, try to scan the QR code and it takes them to a website that's not optimized for mobile, that's a bit what I mean of this awkward adolescent stage that we're in right now. Here's somebody sleeping, phone starts going off. Keeps buzzing, keeps buzzing, finally wakes him up." Having trouble sleeping?$ 5 off nighttime sleep aid liquid caps."" I think my Nest smoke alarm is going off. Google AdWords just pitched me a fire extinguisher and an offer for temporary housing."" Order Kleenex." Ordering Amazon Basics facial tissues."" No, I said Kleenex. Amazon Basics is 50% off the name brand, but I said Kleenex. Kleenex."" Here is the weather for Phoenix." And we're constantly through our customer experience, bumping up against some of these things that the awkward adolescent stage makes painful in the world of marketing." Our privacy policy has changed. Agree to our terms of use. We store cookies. We share data with third parties." So we're in this funny stage where we're trying to navigate and create better customer experiences, but there's a lot in the world of marketing that we have to make sense of, and I believe that our sense of humor is one of the best tools at our disposal to help us do that. Ahead of this event, we sent out a cartoon caption contest to you to help bring to life this scenario, why is this person holding a chainsaw in a meeting room? And I thought I would share the 10 funniest ones I thought that came through, and thank you to everybody who contributed to this caption contest, because I think it can tap into our sense of humor, making sense of some of the things that are happening in the world of marketing." I know how to kill the cookie."" So who's ready for the hackathon?"" Thank you for sharing your feedback on the color selection and font size. Would anyone else like to give design feedback?"" I know you love the sound of your voice, Bob, but cut to the chase, or I'll help you."" When times are tough, we have to cut our margins."" Ready to recycle those holiday returns?"" Who was it that said they'd give their right arm for this opportunity?"" I know what to do with our third- party data suppliers."" This meeting could've been an email, Dave."" I thought it was bring your online personality to the office day." So thank you to everybody who sent in these captions. I think that humor can help surface a lot of things that we're going through better than any other form of communication, but often in the world of business, it's something that we don't always bring with ourselves to our work environments, and I think it can help not only how we communicate with audiences outside of our brands, but how we communicate internally. I love doing cartoon caption contests like this, because you can immediately see people's humor come to life. Occasionally, people will get very creative, start adding to captions, making even more to the drawing than was originally in the drawing, and in other cases, I get responses asking if they can remain anonymous. And I feel like that comfort level, how comfortable we are sharing our sense of humor, is a big indicator of how comfortable we are embracing some of the change that we're all going through in marketing. I had the opportunity a couple of years ago to be cartoonist in residence at the first ever MBA level course on the power of humor. These were the professors, Professor Naomi Bagdonas and Jennifer Aaker, teaching at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and I had a chance to sit in on the course, learn about humor as a business tool, and there was one particular conclusion that they shared that really resonated with me. They defined this thing they described as the humor cliff. The humor cliff is basic a study looking at the number of times an average person laughs in the course of a day, over the course of their life. They had over 1. 4 million participants in the survey, and they looked at the number of times that you laugh and noticed that there's this cliff right around the time that you start joining the workforce, that you no longer laugh as much as you used to. It continues to decline until a few years after retirement, and then starts to creep back up again. And their big takeaway from this course is not to fall over that cliff, that humor can be a powerful tool for us to lead, to engage with others, to communicate, and not falling off of that cliff allows us to bring this superpower of humor with us into the workplace. And so, this is something that's followed my own personal life. I've loved cartoons ever since I was a child, I dreamed about being a cartoonist when I grew up, and then like everybody else, I kind of gave that up for a number of years, and it wasn't strangely, until business school that I picked it up again. I started drawing cartoons in the student newspaper, finding humor in things that we were grappling with as students, and then when I graduated from business school and started working in marketing, I realized there was a lot to make fun of in my day job, and it basically followed along over the course of my marketing career, as I went from General Mills, to Nestle, to a smaller startup called Method. I was interim chief marketing officer at Hotel Tonight, and all along, I drew weekly cartoons about my day job. And I noticed that the cartoons were not only cathartic for me, but ultimately led to a lot of really interesting conversations with my co- workers. We brought up things that we really needed to be talking about. I used to work in a cubicle environment, particularly at General Mills. This was before a lot of the open plan offices, and there was this expression when suddenly, everybody had something they wanted to talk about, they called it prairie- dogging, and I used to send my cartoons out during the work day, and then sometimes this prairie- dogging thing would happen where we would all talk about some of the things that I tried to bring up in the cartoons. It allowed us to make sense of the world we were working in, allowed us to talk about that and to move forward, and I think that that is an important element today too, in all aspects of change, to help us navigate the changing world of marketing. So I want to walk through a few different ways that I think that humor can help us drive some of this organizational change, and I want to talk through some of the ways that I'm seeing marketing changing, and along the way, I'll share a whole bunch of cartoons, and some case studies as part of my observations. But the first idea I want to share with you is the idea that humor can be an active empathy. Humor kind of took a hit over the last 18 months. There's this unspoken rule in the world of marketing that it's better too serious than sorry, and a lot of the marketing in the last 18 months has been tremendously serious, and sometimes missing the opportunity to connect with people on a human level, as a result. Some brand we apparently gave an email address to three or four years ago, wants us to know they're here for us in this difficult time. Our inboxes were besieged by messages like that. There was actually a teacher who wrote a poem that went viral called The First Lines of Emails I've Received While Quarantining." In these uncertain times, as we navigate the new normal," and on, and on, and on with every cliché stock phrase. And this is an example of brands wanting to find the appropriate tone, but ultimately, sounding like every other brand, looking like every other brand. There's someone who collected a lot of the TV advertisements, particularly early in the pandemic and said," They all look exactly the same. The same empty streets, the same sad piano music," and this is the path of least resistance, but I think there's an opportunity to bring our sense of humor along with us, particularly when times are tough, because they're most needed when times are tough. Don Boyd Is a researcher at Kantar, and he studied 20,000 advertisements over the last 20 years, and found that advertisements running today are twice as likely not to have any form of lighthearted humor in them, and he saw that as a missed opportunity, that when every brand is sounding alike, humor can be a way to actually connect on a deeper level. There's an old Vaudeville expression that," Laughter is the shortest distance between two people," and I think that laughter and humor can be a way to connect from brands to audiences, as long as it's done appropriately. And part of the myths I think that can happen, is that we sometimes assume that all forms of humor are the same, but they're not. There are lot of varieties of humor, and there are different varieties of humor appropriate to individuals, and also appropriate to brands. This is Professor Ron Martin who studies humor at the University of Western Ontario. He defined that there are really four different types of humor, and different types of humor are appropriate in different situations, and I think it can be useful to think about these in the context of how we communicate as individuals and brands. There's self- defeating humor, putting yourself down. There's aggressive humor, putting others down. There's self- enhancing humor, where you laugh at yourself, and then there's affiliative humor, where you laugh with others. And if you think about it, these four different types of humor really vary based on empathy and based on where you're directing the humor, and I'm a big believer that some of the misfires that we've seen or that we're worried about in the world of marketing and humor, is when we're using not the right type of humor for the right occasion. But if we stick with high empathy forms of humor, laughing at ourselves, laughing with others, that can often tap into an appropriate type of humor that can work better than any other way of communicating, and can really be a superpower in how we connect with others. So a quick example of a brand that I think does this extremely well is Betabrand. They have a lot of humor in the DNA of their brand. It's basically a clothing company that uses a lot of humor in how they communicate, but I particularly love what they decided to do early in the pandemic when they recognized that people needed a little bit of lighthearted humor, and that they were a brand that could provide this. One of their breakthrough products as a clothing company is dress pant yoga pants, so yoga pants you could wear to the office. They quickly had to think about how to pivot that in a world where most people were working from home, and they decided to shift it to the ideal clothing for work from home. But what I love in particular is that very early in the pandemic, they launched the Work from Home Fashion Show, recognizing that there were all these people stuck at home, and this was a chance for a brand to bring a little bit of needed levity and humor to everybody who was stuck at home. So people sent in photos and videos of themselves basically walking the catwalk in their own homes, giving different category awards for different things that they were wearing, and it was exactly what people needed in the moment, at that time. It's a great example of a brand tapping into its innate sense of humor, just when people needed it most. And this was my favorite example, there was a woman who walked into her living room, took off her shoes, and then immediately did a full cartwheel, and anyone who can drive that type of brand response over the last 18 months, is doing something right, and I think it's something that we can learn from, whatever our brand challenge. There are moments for lighthearted humor, where we can collectively find ways to laugh, particularly in times when we need it the most. The second thing I think that humor can help us do, particularly inside the world of marketing, is remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. Marketing can oftentimes be stuck in a little bit of an ivory tower where we take our brands, we take our marketing a little bit too seriously." According to our brand strategy, you buy our brand to compensate for being a time- pressed working parent who misses the idealized family meals of your own childhood. Isn't that right?"" It's a box of croutons." And so often, we can get so used to talking amongst ourselves that we forget about the actual consumer on the other side of our marketing. We forget that they're not thinking about our brands as much as we are. We create brand dungeons That can be a little bit overly serious and self- referential, and sometimes take ourselves a bit too seriously." Essence: all the brand's hubris in one word. Purpose: why that hubris is good for the world. Promise: how that hubris is good for consumers. Values: the same clichés used by everyone. Reasons to believe: a word salad of buzzwords no one understands." And if we have documents about what our brand stands for that nobody outside of our marketing community would really fully understand, it's an opportunity to take a step back. If we're not careful, we can get a little bit of marketing myopia, where we look at the world through a certain set of glasses. This is particularly true when we think about customer funnels, which can be a very useful tool to think about how to organize our marketing, but can also blind us. It can give us myopia, it can cause us to think about consumers as purely along a path to purchase, along a transactional path to purchase rather than actual, real live people who have needs and understandings of our brand, beyond what we're trying to communicate. The classic marketing funnel often looks a bit like this:" Do whatever drives the most traffic like listicles about cats. Relentlessly harass them with marketing automation. Trick them with a bait and switch offer, and then hope they promote your brand to all their friends," and what this type of lens often forgets is that people are a lot more complicated." Actually, I'm just looking for the bathroom," and there's room for brands to take a step bigger and think about what needs they can deliver in the moment, that are broader than just that path to purchase. This is something that we all as marketers, or also ourselves, consumers and customers, we experience this, and some of the leaping off points for my cartoons come from experiences I've actually had when I've been marketed to, and I understand what the marketers and the brands are trying to do, but there can sometimes be a missed customer experience because of that marketing myopia. I had that experience not long ago when I walked into our kitchen and our dishwasher was broken. It was flooding the floor with soapy bubbles, and to make matters worse, when I walked up to the little display to see what the problem was, it was flashing the letters" FU" at me over and over again, which I had to Google to learn stood for" Failed unit." And that's a bit of an example of the myopia effect, but it continued as I went on the path to actually buy a new dishwasher, and every step in buying a new dishwasher was actually a frustrating customer experience. Searching leads to clickbait, sites not optimized for mobile, overwhelmed by choice, sifting through fake reviews, unclear tech specs, looking for a number to call, waiting on hold, endless retargeting ads. We may have to get used to washing these by hand. And that's the type of experience that can be created by some of this marketing myopia, where we're purely focused on driving somebody down the next step in the customer funnel, and sometimes doing it in a way that can be counterproductive. We're testing new digital ad formats that are harder to ignore. If you actually scanned inside an average customer's brain, they're not thinking about your brand as much as we often think that they are." My husband, my kids, my career, my friends, I don't see our brand of pickle relish anywhere." And so, it's an opportunity, I think for us as marketers to take a step back to not take ourselves too seriously, to think about our brands in the proper context of how they relate to our audience's lives. Professor Theodore Levitt was the one who coined the idea of marketing myopia, and he described it this way, that" People don't want a quarter- inch drill, they want a quarter- inch hole," and too much in marketing, we're so focused on the right way to talk about our quarter- inch drill, we miss the ways of having empathy and understanding of the quarter- inch hole. The reality is, they're not really thinking about the quarter- inch hole, as much as they're thinking," I want to hang this frame on my wall." And so, if we can get ourselves out of that transactional mindset and out of that myopia, out of customer funnel vision, we can think perhaps about ways to deliver better value and utility to customers in a broader sense. Here's a quick example of a brand that I think has done this in an interesting way. Charmin toilet paper brand, they obviously have the same needs as every other brand. They're trying to get people to buy more of their product. They think a lot about that transactional path to purchase, but they also started to take a step backwards, and take a step bigger and think, what could they deliver as a brand that's broader than just driving somebody to a path to purchase? They ended up creating an app that they call SitOrSquat, that recognized that there's a need out there where people are looking for clean public restrooms, and here's a value that a brand that sells toilet paper could actually deliver. You pull up any city, and it gives you basically a map of different public restrooms, and you don't want to go to one that's marked in red. And so, here's a brand providing a simple utility with a lighthearted sense of humor, to help you find a clean public restroom. And I think it's a great example of brands thinking about delivering on needs in the moment, and not necessarily try to do a buy one, get one free offer. It's a little bit broader in that path to purchase, and this is something that became even more valuable over the last 18 months, as it became even harder to find available clean public restrooms. But I think it's a great example of brands not taking themselves too seriously, taking a step backwards and thinking about how can they deliver some value and utility." We finally found a way to get people to engage with our content." The third idea I want to share with you is the idea that humor is disarming. It can help you talk about things that we really need to talk about in the marketing community. The things that are hardest to talk about are often what we most need to talk about." Careful, the last content was full of marketing." Humor can operate a bit like a Trojan horse. It can wrap something up and make it palatable and comfortable discussing, and find a way to move forward. And one of the biggest areas where we're currently in in the world of marketing, is our relationship to data." Don't worry, it's only marketers collecting our personal data, so they can create more relevant advertising for us." This is an area where I think it's important to really think about the value we're delivering in marketing, how we take full advantage of the data that's at our disposal, but doing it in a responsible way, and this is an area that's in a tremendous amount of flux, and oftentimes, there's different opinions on how this should look. Not long ago, just about every marketing conference I went to, somebody would pull up a video of the famous 2002 movie Minority Report, where the Tom Cruise character named John Anderton walks through a futuristic mall, and you see the future of marketing. Around the mall, they have ways to scan his retina to figure out who he is, and then deliver very personalized marketing based on his personal data. And for a long time, when I would go to marketing conferences, that was portrayed as some type of utopia, which I think illustrates a little bit of the disconnect sometimes that can happen in marketing versus the regular population, because at the same time, I would often see this particular scene referenced in news media as a dystopia. Can you imagine how creepy this would be? And that's an area I think that often comes up in marketing, where we need to talk candidly and openly about all aspects of a situation, so we can figure the right way through. I drew this cartoon inspired specifically by that scene, imagining John Anderton in a mall with ads for hemorrhoids and the next Danielle Steel novel, and helping him with his incontinence, to illustrate in a funny way some of what's going on and that we need to be thinking about. We're thinking a lot about data in a more nuanced way than ever before. I drew this cartoon illustrating some of these different aspects of data." Zero party data. The gym shoes you liked in our survey are on sale."" Great."" First party data: the gym shoes you browsed last year are on sale."" Okay."" Second party data: I hear you have a new gym membership. Need any shoes?"" Wait, what?"" Third party data: maybe you wouldn't have skipped your workout today if you had new shoes." And so, there's this line between what's cool and what's creepy, and what's interesting and valuable, and what can often cross that line." Well, Timmy, if you didn't want me to see you when you're sleeping, know when you're awake, know if you've been bad or good, and then sell that data to third parties, then you should've checked your privacy settings." And this is compounded by the fact that all of this extra data doesn't necessarily even help us deliver better or more targeted marketing responses." Based on our latest CRM data, our marketing team thought you might like these coupons for cute stuffed animals for your son," completely missing the life stage that he's in right now. So there's opportunities for misfire, and I think that applies in all aspects of how we work with data and marketing. There's an opportunity to become savvier and understand it better, and to use it appropriately. Here's some people looking at two trendlines, sales and shaved heads." We found this correlation in the data. Everyone take a razor." And marketing dashboards can often feel a little bit like this too." Vanity metric that has nothing to do with sales. Graph that doesn't match any other department's numbers. A chart that hasn't been updated lately. A really pretty map. No idea what this is, or what to do with it," and this can play down at the tactical level too. If you've tried to unsubscribe from a marketing newsletter, sometimes the experience can feel a little bit like this:" Step one, tap link marked'Unsubscribe.' There it is in a four point white font on a white background. Step two, verify your identity, email, name, password, street where your uncle lived in 1994. Step three: manager preferences, pause for an hour, only send one email per day. Unsubscribe to this email, but keep all of our others coming. Step four, give feedback. Why would you like to unsubscribe?'I don't like to save money.''I'm an idiot.''All of the above.' Step five: confirm. Are you sure you're a quitter?" And then it greets you with a 404 error. And so, how we use data, there could be a reason why this process is so difficult, if you're just measuring by the number of people on your email list, but obviously it's a misfire if you're thinking about the actual customer experience. And so, I think there are opportunities for brands to be sophisticated. One of my favorite examples that I came across recently is the British florist company called Bloom& Wild. They used a lot of data to understand different occasions. It helped them understand that there's an opportunity for Grandparents' Day, for instance, but it also helped them understand that maybe there are opportunities to think about when not to do marketing, like on Mother's Day. They're one of the first brands to have a way to opt out during Mother's Day, if you don't want to be besieged by marketing during that day. And that's a way of showing empathy in the types of data that we use as marketing, and I think is an opportunity for brands to think about. The fourth idea I want to share with you is the idea of humor breaking down silos, and silos are one of the biggest areas that can sometimes get in the way of customer experience, between the silos, having moats with alligators, and how we bridge that gap is important because it shows up in end customer experience." I placed an order on your website and it still hasn't shipped."" Well, it could be a problem with our web team, or our technical team, or our fulfillment team, or our inventory team, or our payment team, but I can't access systems, so there's no way to tell."" Aren't you all part of the same team?"" No, I'm only in charge of excellent customer service." And so, it's important to break down some of the silos. It's important to be able to talk to different groups without getting in the way of customer experience, and how we do that, I think that humor can often help. It can often illustrate some of the things that can happen that make our marketing ideas smaller." This was our compromise with legal." Because all of the different functional groups in our organizations have different thresholds for risk and how they look at things. The glass is full. Let's throw a launch party."" The glass is half full, it has many of the features we wanted."" The glass is half empty. There's a lot of risk in the model."" The glass is empty. Someone could drown or get cut on the glass." And so, I think the challenge for us as marketers is to navigate in our organizations finding ways to make sure that our best ideas don't turn into applesauce, because applesauce, which are pale shadows of our original ideas, are not going to break through and have an impact. I think if we're not careful, a lot of marketing ideas can turn into applesauce. I once came across this photo of the very first Apple Macintosh, and if you bought that Mac, you'd find the signature of every single team member who helped bring that Mac to life, and I think the same is true for all of our marketing experiences. Our cross- functional teams help bring our brands to life, and finding a way to break through those silos to make everyone feel like they're part of an extended marketing team can create a lot of impact. And then finally, I want to close with this, the idea that humor can help drive change, because there's a lot of resistance to change." When can we get back to normal and start resisting technology, and ignoring changing customer needs again?" So we're bumping up against a lot of status quo thinking. Our org charts can feel a bit like this:" Chief status quo officer, VP of wait and see, VP of play it safe, VP of more analysis," all the way down to" Manager of I give up." So we have to break through that, and I want to close with an example from a brand called DBS Bank. I had a chance to work with them directly. They're on a big digital transformation and customer experience journey. They're the largest bank in Southeast Asia, headquartered in Singapore, and one of their struggles as DBS Bank is that one of their nicknames in the market is," Damn bloody slow." So there's a lot of things they wanted to address internally to help them work forward on this journey. I had a chance to work with them directly, and try to bring humor to some of the issues that were standing in the way of them being effective as a bank. I had the chance to interview a number of managers, and I kept hearing the same word" scolded" pop up. There was a fear of being scolded by their managers, a fear of being scolded if they made a mistake, and this was a case where humor could actually bring some of that to life. I started playing with a very American- centric model of someone having to wear a paper dunce cap in the corner because they had been in trouble, and nobody knew what this paper dunce cap was in this bank. So I asked them," Are there any examples when you were growing up, when you got in trouble, that the teacher would make you do that could be a reference point?" And one of the executives in this meeting suddenly stood up, walked in the corner, held into his ear lobes, and squatted. And everybody started laughing at this, not only because it was a reference point they could understand, but here was a leader in the organization willing to laugh at himself to drive home a point that this is sometimes what it feels like in that organization." Does anyone else have a hypothesis they'd like to test?" And I think humor can often provide that moment where we're able to laugh at ourselves and therefore, have something that we can point at to drive change. Hiroki Asai was a long- term executive at Apple, and I want to close with a quote that he had in believing that humor was one of his greatest assets as a leader in the organization:" Fear kills creativity, and humor is our most powerful tool to drive fear out of the system." I hope you have a great rest of your conference, thank you.

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!

Today's Guests

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Tom Fishburne

|Founder, Marketoonist