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GIGGLING FOR FUN AND PROFIT



Published: Tue, July 17, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Chicago Tribune: What's so funny about manufacturing?

Nothing, really. Cranking out widgets can be excruciatingly dull work.

Well, now, hold on. One chief executive officer of a Milwaukee-based manufacturing company swears that making her employees laugh improves her business. In the July issue of Harvard Business Review, Katherine M. Hudson urges companies to inject some fun into the workplace. She did, she says, and it has helped business. All the chuckles and giggling going on inside the walls of Brady Corp. have helped double sales and triple net income, Hudson states.

Hudson is head of a 3,200-employee operation that produces industrial signs and coated materials, among other things. She calls it "a traditional ... old-line company that has always taken business very seriously." So seriously, workers weren't allowed to drink coffee at their desks until 1989. This company needed to be tickled.

Groucho: So now in her office hangs a picture of Brady's top executives, all wearing Groucho Marx glasses and standing before a display of mounted toilets in a Kohler bathroom fixtures design center near Milwaukee. This work of art is labeled "The Great Wall of China."

"The fun has made us fiercer, by making the organization more flexible and dynamic and our people more creative and enthusiastic," she writes. Hudson sets out five principles of workplace fun, including "People aren't always as stiff as they seem" and "You can still cut up during tough times."

The Japanese, who like to hold ritual laughing ceremonies, long have been on to humor as a secret of business success. A joke is told to initiate ripples of laughter, until the gathered group is doubled over in tearful roars. This, it is believed, ensures a good agricultural season.

Businesses in the United States are discovering that work needn't be pure Kafkaesque drudgery. Work can be fun. Or perhaps drudgery can be momentarily obscured with a hearty guffaw.

Apple Computer named seven of its buildings Lust, Envy, Pride, Anger, Sloth, Covetousness and Gluttony. Fun!

Under its "Guppy Love Program," the Hotel Monaco in Chicago gives guests a live goldfish to take care of during their stay.

World record: Goldman Sachs last December staged the "world's largest hug" among 899 of its investment bankers gathered for an annual conference. With four of its younger bankers dressed as Teletubbies and strains of "Lean on Me" setting the mood, the 10-second group squeeze set an official Guinness world record.

So there's hope that even if the current economic slump continues, all this built-up corporate good humor will keep companies laughing ... even if it's all the way to bankruptcy court.




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