Leading with Humor with Joey Zwillinger, Naomi Bagdonas and Jennifer Aaker


This week’s World Reimagined podcast explores how leaders can leverage humor to create a better workplace environment. 

Laughter not only feels good, it’s good for your mental and physical health. It reduces stress, promotes creativity and helps people feel more connected. It can also help make you a more effective leader.

In this episode, host Gautam Mukunda speaks with Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas, co-authors of Humor, Seriously, and Joey Zwillinger, Co-founder and CEO of Allbirds about why and how leaders should use humor to unite and motivate employees, and improve their work culture.

You often hear people suggest that great leaders tend to be vulnerable leaders. I think that humor can be such a great tool to unlock vulnerability.
Joey Zwillinger, Co-founder and CEO of Allbirds
Humor is this really powerful way to get very serious things done. I think part of it is upending this  deeply ingrained cultural corporate belief that humor and seriousness are at odds.
Naomi Bagdonas, Lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business
“Creativity and humor are inextricably linked.
Jennifer Aaker, Professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business


Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life (And how Anyone Can Harness It. Even You.) by Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas

Guest Information for Leading with Humor:

Joey Zwillinger is the co-founder and CEO of Allbirds. He has long been passionate about making things from renewable resources, which led him to start Allbirds and begin tackling sustainability issues in the footwear industry. Prior to co-founding Allbirds, he spent six years at biotech firm Terravia (formerly Solazyme, Inc.) leading its renewable chemical business, developing and selling high performance algae-based chemicals into various industries such as CPG, personal care, and industrials. Previously, Joey worked in advisory and investment roles at Industry Ventures, Deloitte Consulting and Goldman Sachs. He sits on the Board of education nonprofit Stiles Hall, as well as the Advisory Board of Wharton's Baker Retail Center. He earned an MBA from Wharton with honors, and a BS in industrial engineering from UC Berkeley.

Dr. Jennifer Aaker is the General Atlantic Professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a leading expert on how purpose and meaning shape individual choices and how technology can positively impact both human well-being and company growth. Her work has been widely published in leading scientific journals and featured in The Economist, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and Science. A recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award and the MBA Professor of the Year, Aaker counts winning a dance-off in the early 1980s among her greatest feats.

Naomi Bagdonas is a Lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an Executive Coach. She helps leaders be more creative, flexible and resilient in the face of change by facilitating interactive sessions for Fortune 100 companies and coaching executives and celebrities for appearances ranging from Saturday Night Live to the Today Show. Formally trained at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, Bagdonas performs at comedy venues and teaches improv in San Francisco’s county jail. Her constant stream of foster dogs describe her as gullible and full of treats.

Episode Transcript:

Gautam (00:00):

Whether it's a Zoom meeting, a seminar or a Fortune 500 company, sometimes you want to lead with a joke.

Joey (00:09):

Great leaders tend to be vulnerable leaders. I think that humor can be such a great tool to unlock vulnerability.

Naomi (00:16):

Humor is this really powerful way to get very serious things done.

Jennifer (00:20):

When individuals are asked to do a presentation, and they integrate a humorous testimonial quote into it, they're seen as about 37% higher in status.

Speaker 1 (00:34):

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda. A leadership podcast for a changing world. An original podcast from Nasdaq.

Naomi (00:43):

Don't ask, will this make me sound funny, instead ask how will this make other people feel.

Gautam (01:01):

During the Napoleonic wars, the Great British General, the Duke of Wellington was leading Britain's tiny army, against the so far invincible forces of revolutionary France. He found himself in a tough spot, when he received what we'd normally think of as good news. Reinforcements were on their way. However, in those days, British officers had to purchase their commissions. They literally had to pay to be promoted. And the higher-up they went in the army, the more those promotions would cost. This had predictable effects on the quality of the Officer Corps. So when the Duke saw the high-ranking officers who were riding to his rescue, he was notably underwhelmed. He wrote back to his superiors in Britain, when the enemy sees these names, I only hope that he trembles as I do.


He wasn't trying to make anybody laugh, he was making a point. But the joke he used to do so was memorable enough, that we still chuckle about it two centuries later. Humor has been proven time and again, to be one of the most psychologically helpful ways of dealing with hard truths. The benefits of laughter are myriad and well established. But on top of that, it's just fun. And yet, while we have a whole cottage industry of awards for the people, movies, TV shows, and Broadway musicals that make us smile, the current relationship between jokes and leadership is tenuous at best. So, why don't we see work as a place to be funny? And how can leaders bring their teams together by making them laugh?

Jennifer (02:41):

One of the things that we have found with our students, but also even the executives we work with, is that, it isn't actually about being funny.

Gautam (02:52):

Naomi Bagdonas and Jennifer Aaker, are a lecturer and the General Atlantic Professor respectively, at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. They're also the authors of Humor, Seriously, which is subtitled, Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life, and then parenthetically, And how Anyone Can Harness It. Even You. In other words, it's a very serious text about being funny.

Jennifer (03:17):

It's about this idea of humor, much more as a mindset. We often treat humor and being funny as the same thing, but they actually are not. And this is important for a couple of different reasons, but one of them is just when leaders use humor, it can be incredibly powerful. But when you try to be funny, it can be almost the worst. There's nothing really worse than trying to be funny. So we talk a lot about this idea of how do you bring about humor and levity in work and life.

Gautam (03:48):

You know the old adage, that if you have to explain the joke, it's probably not funny. The same goes with trying to be funny in the first place. As Jennifer and Naomi will tell you, humor is a powerful tool, but it's not one that leaders can just turn on when they feel like a pick me up. Humor and levity don't come from a reasoned and logical PowerPoint presentation of why something was funny. And they certainly don't come from just firing off jokes, especially if you are bad at it.

Joey (04:18):

Why I certainly don't try to tell jokes, because I'm terrible at that.

Gautam (04:22):

Joey Zwillinger is the Co-Founder and CEO of Allbirds, and a self-professed, big fan of Naomi and Jen. The three of them have even collaborated in the past, despite Joey's somewhat tongue in cheek, inability to land a punchline.

Joey (04:37):

I would dispel that as the definition quite quickly. But, I think what Jennifer's saying is right in the sense that, it's much more about keeping perspective in my mind. And so I think, a lot of the work that we're doing is quite serious and the outcomes that we're trying to achieve is quite serious. And so, how do you keep perspective and make sure people just have the context that this is still life, and the fact that we're trying to do serious work and trying to do really big things and ambitious things, you still need to have the context of where you are as a human being. And, you can create a such a nice sense of calm using humor, by just maybe pointing out the obvious of what a current situation is and how we fit in this world as a little speck on a big planet.


And that perspective, I think is the same thing as saying that humor's a mindset. And so I would agree with that. That really it's about being able to bounce from the serious to the existential, and make sure that the context is abundantly clear for everyone that, we're just humans here.

Naomi (05:40):

I love that. I'll just add on to, Joey you mentioned a sense of calm and perspective, and I think what people don't necessarily think of when they think of humor at work is, we sort of inherently understand that laughing feels good, that it relaxes us, but we don't think about the neuroscience that's going on behind the scenes. So, we know that, for example, when we laugh, we lower our brain's release of cortisol, so this makes us feel calmer, it expands our minds and makes us more able to make connections that we wouldn't have otherwise. We release endorphins, so we get that sort of energizing hit, that also by the way, makes us better able to bounce back from setbacks, and less paralyzed by our own failures. And we release hormones that make us feel more bonded and more connected with other people. And so, humor is a way to shorten the distance between two people.


And there's an incredible amount of research underlying this. But one study, for example, found that strangers who laugh before having a conversation, versus strangers who don't laugh before a conversation, end up disclosing about 30% more personal information about themselves. And so it breaks down this facade that we have, and especially a facade that we often bring with us to work, that we think we need to show up a certain way. Laughing together actually is a really powerful way to not just calm us down and give us perspective, but to also help us bring more of our real selves to work.

Jennifer (06:59):

And also, you live longer. Okay so, this podcast is already paid for itself. But it's actually true. There was this one large scale study, I think conducted in Norway where I think we can all agree, people are not humorous. I'm Norwegian, so I can say that.

Gautam (07:16):

My wife is Swedish, so she would totally get behind those.

Jennifer (07:20):

So people who scored high on a sense of humor, these are just people that said, yeah, I have a sense of humor. Not even a good sense of humor, just a sense of humor. They tended to have, I think it was like 50% lower risk of death from across causes, and they lived longer than those people that said, they didn't. And this was particularly true, even in heart disease, and death from infection. So this is important, not just in business, but also in life.

Joey (07:48):

I just want to go back to one thing. I want to live a very long life, so I hope I can do that. But to Naomi's comment about, just bridging the gap between people. The thing that I find a really important about that point, is that in a business where there's often a hierarchical structure, however flat you want to keep an organization, there's someone's the boss typically, and I often find myself in a situation where particularly as a growing company we have a lot of new people, and people want to impress me in particular when they're in a meeting with me. And what I find is that if I can utilize a little bit of humor, just to let the air out of the room a little bit, just calm everyone down a little bit. And I can allow people to be more themselves, and I can allow their performance to actually be a whole lot better. You often hear people suggest that great leaders tend to be vulnerable leaders. I think that humor can be such a great tool to unlock vulnerability. And you have to use it intelligently, of course, like if you're poking fun at somebody else, that's not going to work to make yourself vulnerable. But if you're taking, maybe something from your own personal life and connect it, and add a little levity to a conversation, particularly in the beginning of a conversation, I think it can really diffuse a situation that might be high pressure for other people, knowing that your title and your business card might convey something that you don't necessarily feel yourself as an...

Joey (09:00):

Convey something that you don't necessarily feel yourself, as an individual.

Gautam (09:04):

So I find it fascinating that one of the things that came out, right, is this idea of the instrumental value of humor. It makes you live longer. I mean, there are plenty of things that can make you live longer. I would say that being a vegan makes you live longer, or at least it makes it feel that way.

Jennifer (09:15):

And really funny, the vegan comedians we know, they never die.

Gautam (09:20):

Yeah. So laughter, right? Laughter, particularly shared laughter is one of the most purely positive of all human experiences. And yet somehow we feel a need to justify the instrumental value of humor, right? It can't just be that laughing together is great because it feels great. It's laughing together is great because it also serves a purpose. Why do you think that is? Why do we feel the need to justify our humor?

Naomi (09:46):

Well, I think that misperception especially holds at work, because there's this perception that if you take your life, if you take your mission, if you take your goals at work seriously then the presence of humor betrays that mission. That gravity and levity are somehow at odds. And so we feel really good about laughing on weekends. We feel great about laughing with our friends, and yet we see this huge humor cliff when people go to work. And so this is actually based on a global data set of 1.5 million people in over 160 countries that were asked a really simple question, "Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?" What they found was that at 16, 18, 20, the answer is pretty consistently yes. And then right when people hit 23, when they go to work, they fall off this cliff and the answer becomes no. And not only that, but we find people are especially not laughing during the work day.


And so you're totally right that we have this... We know that humor and laughter is good. We know it's connecting. It feels awesome with our friends on weekends. But we often bifurcate ourselves when we go to work and we think, "Okay, this is now time to be serious." And the research tells a very different story around there, that humor is, as we mentioned earlier, this really powerful way to get very serious things done.


So I think part of it is upending this sort of deeply ingrained cultural corporate belief that humor and seriousness are at odds. And then the second thing is upending this belief that Jennifer mentioned, that this is about being funny. And Joey mentioned this too, right? I don't think about being funny. I think about creating a culture where joy can come more easily, where we can feel more like ourselves, where we can speak truths that might be harder to speak, where we can break down the status barrier and get things done. I think that's sort of the root of where it comes from.

Gautam (11:37):

In the years following World War II, Bing Crosby was arguably the biggest star on earth. And in 1947 he tasked an electrical engineer named Jack Mullen with overhauling his entire career. Crosby was tired of recording two live shows a night, and Mullen had discovered an amazing new device during his time with the US Army in Frankfurt, a magnetic tape recorder that captured sound with an absolutely unprecedented level of fidelity. This let Bing record his entire show before it aired. And it wasn't long before he and his producers were messing with the order of sketches, cutting any flubs out of his delivery, and, of course, adding and subtracting audience reactions as they saw fit. In other words, Jack Mullen and Bing Crosby had just inadvertently invented the laugh track.


This practice of piping laughter into broadcast quickly became commonplace. But not everyone was in on the joke. A number of people, including its accidental progenitor Jack Mullen, derided the laugh track, and famed actor David Niven called it, "The single greatest affront to public intelligence I know." Nevertheless, it caught on. And when later test audiences were shown the same clips with and without these canned sound effects, they regularly preferred the version with the laughs. Bottom line, one of the easiest things to do when you want to make someone else laugh is to laugh yourself.

Jennifer (13:09):

Naomi referenced the finding where, when people laugh together our cortisol decreases. So it does make us feel calmer. And then when we feel calmer, certainly other... We know emotions are contagious, we know that that relaxes others. Also really like the way Joey described it, when he can show that he's not taking himself so seriously that empowers others to do the same.


There's this great phrase we like to share in the class, which is that humor is one of the best antidotes to arrogance. So if you can create that culture where you're calmer and more open to laughing and allowing others to do the same, you also get this incredible benefit of increased levels of creativity. So that we know from the research that when individuals laugh together before a creativity exercise they tend to be twice as likely to actually solve a creativity challenge.


And going back to your point about, what are the instrumental goals associated with humor as well, there's other research that shows that when individuals are asked to do a presentation, and they integrate a humorous testimonial or quote into it, they are seen as about 37% higher in status and also significantly more competent and confident. And what's even interesting is that, even when the humorous aside didn't go well, people are still seen as more confident and competent. You just can't have something that's inappropriate. There's a lot of instrumental goals that are associated with humor, including this idea of empowering others because you are indeed more open, calm, and you can defuse tension.

Gautam (14:51):

So I'm struck by this tie between humor and creativity, because what occurs to me is that much of humor is about the sort of unanticipated or juxtaposition of things that are not normally put together. But that is of course also what the creativity scholars would tell you is the definition of innovation on creativity quite often. So I'm really intrigued by the fact that, is it the decrease in cortisol or is it the fact that humor often gets you to think orthogonally in ways you would not have done so before?

Joey (15:13):

I would go back to something we talked about earlier, which is if there's less pressure in a room and people feel like they can be their authentic self, they're going to do more creative work and they're going to have better output. They're not going to have fear of reprisal for saying the wrong thing, which inevitably is going to lead to a more rich conversation with diverse ideas put forward. I think it can create this environment where people can be their best.

Naomi (15:40):

Yeah. I'll bring in a nerdy social scientific explanation here, which is, social scientists explain laughter by something called incongruity resolution theory. So it's basically, as far as our brains are concerned, humor comes from the incongruity between what we expect and what actually happens. And so you're absolutely right that creativity and humor are inextricably linked, because it's looking at what is expected, it's breaking that mold of expectation and thinking differently that creates both innovation and also humor.

Gautam (16:12):

A political opponent once accused Abraham Lincoln of being two-faced. The 16th president quickly replied, "If I had another face, do you think I'd wear this one?" Honest Abe, in addition to being one of the greatest politicians and greatest leaders of all time, was famous for his quick wit and his love of laughter. And not just any laughs either.


According to people who knew him, Abraham Lincoln, the serious guy on the $5 Bill, the author of the Gettysburg Address, the Savior of the Union, was a huge fan of dirty jokes. Tragically, not many of Lincoln's bawdy stories are known today because the people who heard them consistently wrote that they heard the president say the funniest thing the other day and they could not, under any circumstances, repeat it. Frankly, the ones that survive are not only dodgy for 19th century newspapers but for 21st century podcasts as well.


Lincoln's love of a naughty chuckle poses an interesting question for modern leaders though. How do they bring people together for a laugh while making sure everyone is in on the joke?

Joey (17:23):

I think the observation is right, first of all. I don't think it's a new context, but I do think there's a heightened level of awareness that divisive humor is not necessarily the right kind of humor to be using, particularly in a setting where you're in a leadership role for an organization and particularly in an organization that's really values driven and purpose first. So I would say that it's having your own mindfulness around that context and making sure that you are utilizing humor in a way that is empowering. And oftentimes the easiest way to do that is to kind of poke fun at yourself sometimes. And I often find that that tends to...

Joey (18:00):

...poke fun of yourself sometimes, and I often find that that tends to be the most disarming and the quick path to vulnerability, which can unlock so much greatness in a group dynamic. So I do think that that is important. I would also say that the over political correctness is sometimes really destructive, and so while I try to be extraordinarily mindful, I don't just take whatever the new En vogue term or En vogue view is on any specific topic and then adopt it as my own immediately, because I think that that can come off as sounding very saccharin.


So there's just a balance between that, and it is a really significant challenge, and if you're deliberately utilizing humor to lead in a particular way, I think you also need to be deliberate about the words you choose.

Naomi (18:51):

Yes. I love that. So there are three reasons, I think core reasons, why we see people fail when it comes to humor. And by the way, this is totally outside of just this moment that we find ourselves in, although it is amplified in this moment. So number one is the bounds of appropriateness are constantly shifting. If you look at SNL 10 years ago versus SNL now, this will become viscerally apparent. And so the Cardinal rule that we share with our students and execs is if you are thinking of saying something humorous, don't ask, "Will this make me sound funny?" Instead, ask, "How will this make other people feel?" And to recognize that the goal isn't to get a laugh, it's to warm up the room and make people feel more at ease. And so that can often help you tap into this sort of aspect of cultural appropriateness for this moment.


The second reason that this is hard is, as you rise in relative status, your playing field shifts. So Joey made a great point about really focusing on empowering others and poking fun at yourself. So self deprecation is this really interesting form of humor where, when you're at high status levels, it's incredibly power enhancing. When you're at low status levels, that's where you have to be a little bit careful not to over index on it, because people will view it as genuine insecurity. But Joey's right. When you're high status, self deprecation is super powerful.


And then the third reason is, the more status you gain, the harder it is to stay calibrated, because people are laughing not necessarily because you're funny, but because you're the boss. So to illustrate, there's this great study that behavioral scientists did where they took this joke, now I'm going to tell you the joke and brace yourself, because it's not good. The joke is, two muffins are baking in an oven. One of the muffins yells, Wow! It's hot in here." And the other muffin replies, "Holy cow! A talking muffin." Okay. So this is a grade a dad joke, right? Well, so what social scientists did was they had people come into the lab, and for half of them, they said, "The person that you're about to meet is a peer of yours." And then for the other half, they said, "The person you're about to meet is super high status. They're very important." All this stuff. And what they found was that in the peer group, crickets. A couple of sad laughs. But in the other group, pretty much the entire room erupted in laughter.


And so what this means is as we rise in status, we have to become really aware that our barometer of appropriateness is super wonky and oftentimes inaccurate. And so for this one, we tell the execs we work with, "Have a set of trusted testers." And if you use humor, or if you're thinking of using humor, ask them, "Hey, how do you think this could land poorly?" Or, "How do you think this could offend?" Rather than asking, "Do you think this is funny?" What are some of the things that your barometer is not going to pick up on?

Joey (21:45):

Yeah, [inaudible 00:21:47]. And just say that if you get it wrong, which I've done multiple times, because if you don't take some kind of risk in this stuff that you're probably going to have a hard time actually creating the levity that you're trying to do. And that's not jokes, but it's even in just self deprecation, I think you can have unintended consequences because, it casts a shadow on what other people might be feeling themselves. I've gone out and just either written an email to a group and apologize for something that I said, and I think that's okay. And I think it's okay to take responsibility, and people actually believe you're even more authentic in the event that you could actually own up to something that you don't think landed well or have your own sensitivity to. And why leave doubt and assumption out there, just close the loop and take ownership over it.

Gautam (22:31):

A key factor in letting humor take root is acknowledging when something you said wasn't funny. But what about when there's very little humor in your workplace to begin with? I asked Joey how someone should deal with that situation.

Joey (22:48):

I would say that they should probably leave. In seriousness now, I guess it's easy for me to say being from a more entrepreneurial background and in the position that I am today, but I think that every individual has the ability to create the culture. And you might not have the high levity place of work, but there's opportunities to infuse it everywhere, and if you look for those opportunities, I think you, as an individual, can create the culture in a way that's quite meaningful and reshape it. And I always think of a culture of a company as a little ameba. And I like that analogy, because you can poke the side of an ameba and the whole blob moves around a little bit. And each individual has the ability to make a change on the culture, just like a finger poking the side of an ameba.


I think using humor and infusing it in ways... And the points that Jennifer and Naomi are making around self-awareness and understanding your type of humor that you use, and also just reading the room and using EQ to make sure that when you're delivering this stuff that it's done thoughtfully. But I think it's absolutely critical, no matter how important the kind of work is that you're doing. You point to running the free world. We're not quite doing work maybe that important here at Allbirds, but we are working on something that we think is deadly serious in climate change. And everything that we do on a daily basis is with a group of people that are focused on making shoes that are way better than what the competition is making from an environmental perspective, particularly around climate change. Yet, at the same time, if we're going to be successful, we have to invite our customers in and make this approachable, so that climate change just doesn't stay this little esoteric realm of environmentalists, but really something that everyone in culture can be a part of.


Using humor and making sure we can do that even with our brand voice, that is absolutely paramount. We use the word "irreverence" to suggest that our brand tone needs to be one where we're talking about serious stuff, but we can't take ourselves to seriously. And so we have people like Travis Barker introducing sustainability for us from a bathtub, or Marshawn Lynch doing one of the funniest bits that we've done as a company, talking to a group of high school kids. No matter how serious the work is, there's always an opportunity to infuse fun and levity and just make something so much more approachable and improves the culture.

Naomi (25:13):

Don't you just want to put Joey in your pocket and never let him leave you? Go try and save the world with Allbirds.

Joey (25:21):

Please do that. Yeah,

Naomi (25:22):

It's so true. It's so true. I love that Joey.

Gautam (25:26):

So there's this sense of fit. If you're not in that environment, you're not fitting in. But just from this conversation, it's just striking to me how natural this is. So Joey, let me ask you, and I'd love Naomi and Jennifer to come in on this as well, were you always funny? Was that something you decided to learn? And so can people learn to be funny? Can they train themselves into it?

Joey (25:48):

I don't know if I would describe myself as funny to be honest. So I don't think that's what I'm describing here actually, but I think that I have honed a skill of observation and understanding the dynamics within groups and understanding the power of, in particular, observation about just making sure people remember to keep things in perspective. I think that's something that has grown over time and is something that has been an important learned tool. And I will say, it is increasingly challenging for me now. We've gone from two guys and a dog in 2015 to close to a thousand people in the span of five years with a pandemic in the middle of it. The tools that I'm using have to change very quickly. And I need to sometimes get really good feedback of the fact that I think that I'm adding levity to a situation, and in fact, I'm doing something counterproductive, and I need to be open-minded to that feedback, because it's tricky and it's changing and it's dynamic.

Naomi (26:50):

I would totally agree with Joey that I have always valued humor and the ability to find joy, but I haven't been necessarily striving to be the funniest.

Naomi (27:00):

I haven't been necessarily striving to be the funniest person. For me, I was doing business consulting, but I was also doing improv comedy on the side. For me, improv comedy is all about listening. I mean, the principles are make your partner look good. Basically take whatever they give you and add something else. The most important skill is to check in with yourself about what's true, be completely in the moment, and tilt your head just a couple degrees to the right to look at it in a slightly interesting way.


I'll give a quick example of this that's actually, it's not my own, but we had the pleasure of interviewing General Mark Welsh, former US Air Force. He served as chief of staff of the US Air Force and a member of the Joint Chiefs. He told us about how in his interview for this position, the Chief of Staff, so the top military position in the Air Force, he was interviewing with President Obama and Secretary Panetta in the Oval Office.


He told us about walking into the room and feeling surrounded in this really sort of stressful moment where President Obama was there, Secretary Panetta was there and he recognized it in himself. What came out of his mouth was, I got to be honest with you, I feel a bit like a gazelle surrounded by cheetahs right now. It just, President Obama and Secretary Panetta laughed and Secretary Panetta have been eating his lunch. By the end, he said something like, Well, the good news is the cheetah's eaten so I think that we're satiated or something like that.


It's this great example of not necessarily trying to be funny, but navigating your life on the precipice of a smile. Just looking for what's true and looking for reasons to be delighted rather than disappointed, a bit lighthearted versus let yourself sink into that stress.

Gautam (28:56):

It's been said that someone is a truly great comic if they can make other comics laugh. I wanted to know who had given these three the gift of a workplace with more joy and less cortisol. Who had most impressed them and why?

Joey (29:12):

I would say that it's my business partner, Tim. He is what I have just constantly been impressed by. Our relationship and the level that I'm impressed by him has grown every year that we've worked together. That doesn't show signs of abating anytime soon is because of his level of humility and his capacity to learn. We have a company value of live curiously which is about having a low ego and the ability to know that you don't have all the answers and hence you ask the questions. I've just never seen someone absorb so much information and learn and adapt his own style and or decision making criteria based on the right information that he's taking in in such a high amount of capacity. Fortunately, I get to work with him every day.

Jennifer (30:05):

Okay, I'll go next.

Naomi (30:07):

Jennifer is mine. Mine is Jennifer.

Jennifer (30:09):


Naomi (30:11):

No, I'll go ahead and go next.

Jennifer (30:14):

No, I am going. I would like to say the person I admire the most is Naomi and here's why.

Naomi (30:20):

I am too. I am too.

Jennifer (30:23):

No, I'm actually serious. She never interrupts is number one. The reason I admire the most is she lets me speak first. Number one reason I admire her. What you're saying Joey is so great and the fact that you do have those three words in there in your career, who you mind the most. I am every day overwhelmed with awe around Naomi. She's a closet academic. She loves data. She's an incredible experience designer. She lifts people up relentlessly and she's able to just be just a phenomenal partner. You should see what she does with our students. They leave our class, we just got our ratings back yesterday and they were like 4.9 out of 5. It has so much to do with the ability to transform and Naomi does that. Who do you think, Naomi?

Naomi (31:14):

Well, okay, for the record, I was already going to say this because Joey was, no, but it's so true. I feel incredibly lucky that we took on this partnership. I didn't really understand until we went on this journey. We started this journey a decade ago that it is sort of like a marriage. I don't know that we knew that necessarily we were signing up for that, but I'm super grateful.


Jennifer, along this journey was steadfast that we were going to live by these principles at every step of the way. Even though I have more of an improv background and humor sort of has always been really important to me, I also tend to get really mired in the seriousness of what we're doing. Jennifer just relentlessly, like no matter what hard thing came our way, if we got an email that was bad news or if we got turned down by something or other, she would call me and be like, Okay, we're going to laugh about this in a year so we're going to laugh about it right now.


We would just go through every detail of what had just happened and we would force ourselves to do what we call levity reframe which is take something that is hard or bad and reframe it. It's been not just inspiring to see that, but also inspiring to see how she's built a family around these principles and designed experiences for her family that will be totally, completely miserable in the moment, but great funny stories later.

Jennifer (32:39):

After my kids have therapy.

Gautam (32:41):

The great satirist Mel Brooks once quipped, tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die. As funny and ever so slightly dark as that joke may be, there's a wisdom to it too. All leaders have a myriad of serious issues that demand their attention every day. Do they need to be addressed for the team to succeed? Absolutely, but is it just as important to keep these in perspective and see them in context for what they are? 100%.


These are the paper cuts. The things that need care and attention, but can't take up too much bandwidth or nothing will ever get done. Then there's the big picture. The things all leaders are tasked with safeguarding, including the wellbeing of their teams, of their organizations, and of the planet on which we all live. These tasks could have any one of us in a ball on the floor if we took in their full magnitude at once, so maybe it's better to come at them sideways. With a joke, with a smile, with a sense that we are all in this together and that maybe the best thing we can do for the people on our team, for the whole human race really is to laugh with one another and celebrate one of the best parts of being human in the first place.

Speaker 1 (34:03):

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda. A leadership podcast for a changing world, an original podcast from Nasdaq.

Speaker 2 (34:15):

Gautam Mukunda does not speak on behalf of Rose Park Advisors, LLC or any of its affiliates, and is not soliciting investments or providing investment advice.

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