I have a memory: my one-year-old child is squatting in the kitchen looking a touch restless. Feeling it my maternal duty to play, I approach with a synthetic 'let's-have-fun' voice.
I offer him the tasteful wooden train from that expensive catalogue we middle class parents knew at the time. He indulges me with a little light playing while I sneak away guiltily to make an essential work phone call. In the distance I hear the noise of cupboards opening and then saucepans and their lids clashing joyfully on to the floor. Now that was more like it - real fun - especially since it was forbidden.
Synthetic fun has been in my mind since reading about the success of Fish! A remarkable way to boost morale and improve results and one of its many spin-offs, Fish! Sticks: a remarkable way to adapt to changing times and keep your work fresh. These are books emerging from the trend for "positive psychology": the idea that instead of focusing on unhappiness, we should focus on fun.
Fish! is based on the hilariously happy culture of the Seattle fish market where fish are tossed from person to person while people sing out witty stuff like: "One salmon flying to Montana!" The book offers some rules for doing the same in your organisation. Sample rules: "find ways to play" and "be present". The book is written as a story in Janet and John style and follows the patronising parable genre established by The One Minute Manager and Who Moved My Cheese?
And as if we hadn't had enough already, Ken Blanchard has also written a book of hints based on the tricks used by SeaWorld trainers to get their animals to perform. It's called Whale Done: the power of positive relationships - these fellows are shameless in their use of terrible puns.
I hate to be a cynical old grouch, falling into one of the seven habits of highly ineffective people, but I can't see how you can create fun by trying to create fun.
Frankly, stand-up comics usually leave me quietly asking someone else to explain the joke. I don't laugh at laughter workshops. If someone asked me to join a drumming group, I'd be the one scowling at the back.
True enjoyment at work comes from a high trust, high feedback climate with few formal rules, where people perform to self-set demanding standards, where there is an obsession with personal development and where there are also incentives to improvise, experiment and innovate. Fun and play are the by-products of such a climate. Play is also much more common in the excitement and madness of the start-up phase in a brand-new organisation than later. I observe that it's only the most exceptional leaders who can make this happen in a mature organisation and that such leaders don't do it by following trite recipes.
Fortunately, decent parodies of Fish! must appear any minute as, hearteningly, they did in the wake of the Cheese books: for instance, I Stole Your Cheese and Who Cut the Cheese? A cutting edge way of surviving change by shifting the blame.
Also, of course, let me strike terror into your hearts by reminding you of one name: David Brent.