All work and no play makes Jack dull… and unproductive.

There is, buried somewhere deep in our psyche, an idea that it’s the serious, the boring and the power-crazy-cut-throat that drives our businesses forward. Think about the opening credits of ‘The Apprentice or Dragons’ Den, any film that includes ‘Wall Street’ in its title, and even drab suits and claustrophobic cubicles somehow become magical agents of professionalism and profit.

A lot of people see ‘fun’ as the very opposite of work. Or they eagerly wait to clock off at 5pm so that work ends and fun begins. In the course of my work I’ve visited hundreds of offices, and I’ve seen how glaringly absent fun can be from many working environments. I’ve also seen how small and inexpensive things like bake-offs, office sweepstakes or the Friday beer trolley can make office life not only more fun and engaging, but feel more like having an extended family.

Creating positive morale and a feel-good factor is obviously a nice thing to do in its own right, but the benefits of fun go much deeper than that. Fun can reduce stress levels, cut down on sick days, increase creativity and improve productivity. And in a rapidly changing workforce, the millennial generation (those born roughly between 1980 and 2000) are not just looking for the organisations where they can earn the nice pay packets, they’re looking for the places that offer them a sense of fun and fulfillment. Just think about the companies that are changing our world, such as Facebook, Google and Apple. Their offices look more like someone accidentally switched over from the BBC business programmes and found Sky Sports or the CBeebies Channel instead. They’re playful, creative and interesting places, filled with chalkboards, astroturf and bowls of free chocolate.

So it’s time to re-educate ourselves. To unhook ourselves from the limiting belief that fun has no place in the office, or is counter-productive. It’s time to embrace the stress-busting, creativity-enhancing, conflict-reducing, morale-boosting, sickness-day-busting power of fun. And since it also enhances productivity, the question is no longer can you afford to, the question is can you afford not to.

Graham Allcott: A more honest Biography

A couple of years ago, my friend Eugenie Teasley introduced me to the idea of the “honest biography”. In a world where every situation from conference programmes to Instagram accounts seem to beg for everyone to put forward only the very best versions of themselves, I think the idea of mixing in a little honesty is pretty important. How much easier would the world be if we could openly discuss the failures, foibles and complications, rather than just the so-called successes? So I wrote this. And I actively encourage event organisers to use it instead of my more conventional biographies. I totally understand that some of them, having paid lots of money to hire me, kind of need to ‘justify’ that by having me show off on their bio sections, but where it’s possible to get away with something a little closer to the truth, this is what appears. Enjoy…

 

Graham is one of the laziest and most impatient people he knows. He hates anything that takes longer than it needs to and spending 5 minutes in a queue is a recipe for self-combustion. Unfortunately he’s also hyper-ambitious about changing the world and doing good work and his strategic sense always focuses on the longer term rather than the easy. He has been wrestling with these ridiculous contradictions for many years.

Despite being the author of a book called “How to be a Productivity Ninja”, Graham’s own productivity can be pretty variable. He is allergic to detail of any description and will regularly do the exact opposite of the things he talks about in his book, then remember he wrote a book about it and try to correct the bad habits again. Repeat cycle. Regularly. Aston Villa defeats usually result in a few days of sulking on Facebook.

For someone whose work often means putting himself and his ideas “out there”, he’s a bit of an introverted hermit at heart. He is scared of making phonecalls. He is both terrified and bored by small talk and he’s the guy at networking events who has one really deep conversation and forgets to, y’know, network. Most mornings he switches off the internet, lets his emails go unread, puts his phone on silent and retreats into a kind of cocoon, which is where he does most of his writing and gets ideas. He calls this “going dark” and cunningly turns it into a ‘ninja tactic’ in his books so that no one suspects a thing.

Although his career to date can be disguised as a neat narrative arc, in truth he has still yet to decide what he wants to be when he grows up. Previous ideas include, in chronological order: fireman, footballer, aid worker in Africa, charity chief executive, folk singer, tea shop owner, author, soap-maker, the man who tells you off for checking your iPhone too often, and jazz club owner. When he finally cracks it, he’ll be sure to let you know.