A serious point about levity

A fiend of mine recently posted a new mail address to a large-ish list of his friends and acquaintances. In his post he wrote something which a number of us found funny and to which we "replied all" in the spirit of a little light hearted humour not doing anyone any real harm.

This then provoked a number of grumpy responses from people telling us how not to use "reply all" and asking to be removed from the list. The tone of these responses was that these people were somehow grown-ups who those of behaving childishly were distracting them from important things and that they held some sort of moral upper hand.

This is an attitude I encounter all of the time in talking to businesses. There are those who even react badly to the "social" in Social Computing. Mucking around is frowned upon and there is an assumption that "business like" behaviour is the most appropriate and the most effective.

However, in direct contrast, I am more convinced that this is one of the more insidious mindsets in the workplace and one that is significantly curtailing the effectiveness of business.

The collusion behind "we don't do things like that around here" or "that is not the sort of thing we should be talking about in a work context" can be intimidatingly strong. And although it appears on the face of it to be a reasonable position to take when you think about it what are their motivations in saying these things? Is it really effective to curtail your conversations in the workplace to a very limited and closely controlled range of topics with which you are already familiar and comfortable? If you don't get to find about people through their whimsicality, their passions and even their prejudices then how are you going to be able to establish enough trust to be able to work with them effectively? What are they so afraid of? Chaos? Anarchy?

In so many ways this coercive attempt to control others' behaviour is more about maintaining power and control than it is to do with organisational effectiveness.

If the nutters with daft ideas, those who are prepared to banter and exchange their views and to "think different" get their way and make the status quo messy then maybe we would have to change and to change we would have to think and we don't like doing that too much because we have been trained not to do that at work .....

If you get an e-mail from me that is pointless, unfunny or plain daft then rather than waste the time and energy it would take to try to change me why not just delete it and move on to the really, really important things I am sure you have to do!