Humor: the Secret for Innovative Events

How does the event of the future look like? A question every event organizer who is involved in innovation asks. We don't have the answer. However, Jaspar Roos reveals the secret of innovation, and that is humor.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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How does the event of the future look like? A question every event organizer who is involved in innovation asks. We don't have the answer. However, Jaspar Roos reveals the secret of innovation, and that is humor.


Hi Jaspar, welcome to our studio. If you were an event organizer, how would you do things differently? 


Well, of course it would be a challenge for me to be an event organizer, but if I would do that, of course I would create a beautiful experience. A beautiful experience in which clients feel at home and the speakers feel at home. But... 


There's the first 'but'. 


There's the first but. I wouldn't make it perfect. I would keep that perfect disease out of it, and I would create some interventions in which people would be like: "oh my god, is this really happening?" 



Like what, for example?  


Imagine that you would have to remove the red carpet, and change it for a small part into a sandbox. You would have to jump over that. I'm not sure whether it's a good idea, insurance-wise or whatever. 


They wouldn't expect it. 


Exactly, they wouldn't expect it and they would probably pay more attention on the red carpet than on something else. It could also be, for example, that you create stickers for the organization, in which people would get stickers which say: "this is not an event". To which people say: "this is not an event? So what's happening?" So I would be interested as such to create a beautiful experience, I would not try to make it perfect. Because that's what I see at a lot of events that I don't remember. The only thing I do remember about them is that they were perfect. Everything was completely solidified. Every speaker was on time. And so... I as a person prefer to have an imperfect experience. But so I can dream about that. So I can live that. And this includes for me adding a lot of humor-elements. Whether it's stickers, fuck-up nights... 


Fuck-up nights? 


Yeah, fuck-up nights are a nice phenomenon. Sorry for my French. We do a beep over it. Beep! Fuck-up... Beep! Night... So that's a concept originating in Mexico. So what you usually have at any conference or any company... "What was the best success of this year?" And: "yes, we made it. Yes, we can". Which is important. However, when there's a winner, there is always a loser. And usually, the losers don't get that kind of respect through attention. And so a fuck-up night... You can do all kind of different variations. It focuses on: okay, some may have won, but other ones may have failed while trying to reach that goal. And is that wrong? No, it's not wrong, because it's very human that we make mistakes every now and then. So let's cherish this. Let's create some brilliant failures and let's share these with each other. The funny thing what happens... So when you do this... And of course you have to pour in some alcohol at times. 


That helps, because I just wanted to ask: are people willing to tell about their failures? 


Surprisingly: yes. You may not get everybody in the group to do that, but likely 70 to 80 per cent are willing to do that. So what we do when we organize a fuck-up night, is that first of all we give some examples ourselves. And sharing, like: "these are the rules of the fuck-up night, so share, be open, we will not record it, we will not video-tape it". So you can just share it with your colleagues. And these are some examples: many in the end have examples like: "okay, I was supposed to forward it to my colleagues, and by accident I replied it to my client. And we just said like... Oh, this customer is such a 'peeep'." And people have these kind of stories. Everybody has them. And it's fun itself to do that. And based upon that, people start to laugh. Like: "oh my god, I had this story on what happened..." We recently did a fuck-up in Germany, in which the CEO told them how he scared away investors, when he was still young, starting the company. After his sharing of his story, people said: "oh my god, I didn't know this about you. You're so cool". And so he was proud, because like: "yes of course I am, and I try to do my things best". But apparently he had never found a way to also share his vulnerability. So he has always had issues of apparently doing that. 


Jaspar, to be really honest: when I invited you to come over to talk about innovation, I thought we would talk about making things perfect, like for example Apple is innovating with the iPhone, making it more smooth, making it better and better. and now we're talking about failures, imperfections, and... 


I think for over the last decade, we've been in a search for excellence, a search for perfection. Because technology makes our lives easier. So what you see in innovation: the last decade has been focusing a lot on perfection. And now you see a shift happening, due to the crisis, due to new business models arriving. Also that people are realizing that being perfect is very lonely. It's very lonely at the top, if you're perfect. So you rather get down a bit with all the other imperfectionists and have more laughs. So I believe more as an innovation model in trying to experiment, to dare and to try, and so: one of the tools I mainly use for that... Of course, we use Agile, we use Lean, we work with start-ups... that we usually use humor. 


And how important is that for creating space for innovation? 


I think it's pivotal for creating an innovation culture. So we've done lots of research on that, for example, how people value humor, in their personal life and in their business life. We've done lots of experience on asking like: "if you add humor to your résumé, what would change?" And in the end, it's a very funny story. So when you, for example, add humor in your job-ad, you get twice as many applicants as without.  


Is it for real? 


Yes, it's for real. And you see this happening. So when you add words like 'playfulness', or 'humor', or 'fun', when you deliberately start to input that, that people start to connect to that. So what you see is that humor usually, when you do it with a smile and a wink and just giving them some feedback in a different way, that people experience it totally differently. And that people feel much more relaxed... Because again: this is what humor does. So people feel more relaxed because they laugh, because they joke around it. And so they're more receptive to change. When you are more receptive to change, you get more creative. When you get more creative, you get more innovative. 


But with provocation, how far can you go? Because at some point, it's getting offensive.  


Yes, so provocation is a central theme in creativity. The same like copy-catting, so copying... So people think, when they talk about innovation and about creativity, it should be like this light-bulb, like: 'ping!' Something came out of my head. And technically, how creativity and innovation work, two central themes are that for example artists learn to copy. That's taboo in an organization, to copy. But technically how an artist learns to draw, for example, to learn to draw from a big artist. Secondly: provocation... Because it makes you create new patterns. So: "an Irishman and an Englishman walk into a bar, and something strange happens..." 


And then we all laugh. 


And then we all laugh. And that's the provocation. So we have a normal situation, and something strange happens. And then, people start like: "oh my god, I didn't realize that". And so they laugh about the joke, because in this case it's a joke. But you can do this in your organization as well, and to me provocation is a central theme of what I like to do. Coming back to your question: "so how far could you go?" But the funny thing is: most organizations don't even dare to get out of the building. They don't even dare to play with this, because they're afraid that HR, Compliance or Legal, heavens forbids what other department is not allowed to. The funny thing is that people like it. The funny thing is that, when you do... And of course you need to define within the organization of the event how far you can go. So of course you need to pay close attention. To give you one example: for a large, one of the largest telecom companies in the world, we have been creating stickers to enhance the message of innovation. 


Stickers for adults?  


Stickers for adults, yes. And these are like drawn stickers exemplifying some innovation items, like: "don't meet too much, go and innovate". Like one of the diseases in a lot of companies: they're meeting all of the time, so they have no time to innovate. So we create stickers like: "don't meet to much, go innovate". And for example we also created a sticker for coffins, for when people are dead. And we created like: "you can always think inside of the box". And you can imagine that corporate communications were not too happy with several of the stickers. 


No, that's not how they are used to communicating.  


Exactly, this is an America-based company, so they are very strict on that. So they said: "you've got to reduce them; less provocative". At a big innovation event, a couple of months later, we got approval from the organization that we could display all the stickers. But we just wanted to see: "which one did you like best?" So we had a competition: which was the most funny or ugly or whatsoever sticker. The good news for us was that the stickers the people had never seen, because they were not allowed to be seen, the most provocative they loved best. Because they said: "I know it's provocative, but it helps me to think. It helps me to change my mind, and it helps me just to contemplate on what's happening". So the funny thing is... To me, provocation; you should connect it to the local culture. So that's why for example you always take the local culture as a centerpiece, and say: "what's going on?", and: "what's not going on?" And what's not going on, can we change that a bit? Can we provoke that? There's a dialogue on that. And again, what I see: there's a need from people in events or companies, to have something like a surprise. And that they can say: "this is something that I'll remember". And what we see nowadays in the world is that there is a lot of perfection happening. A lot of perfect events, perfect companies. Everybody says: "hi, how are you?" "Yes, I'm fine, fine. You as well? Okay, perfect! Bye, bye!" 


Yeah, that's not bringing us anywhere.  


Nobody remembers. And my quest for life, or at events, or at a speech, is that people will remember. Likely, some people will not like it, because they will say: "oh my god, this Jaspar. He's..." 


Too much?  


He's too much. But on the other hand, I see a lot of people then saying: "this is awesome". "This is awesome, because I remember it." And I rather have for any event... Of course you don't want to have from a scale from 1 to 10 all kinds of 1's, like: "that's the worst presentation ever". But usually, I prefer to have maybe some 6's. That people say: "okay, the content was okay, but he was a bit annoying". But then I would like to have 80 per cent saying: "I gave a 10" or an A in English terms. Because he was the best one I ever heard. And what I see is that organizations more or less like to go for a 6 or a 7. Because they are afraid to do that. 


That's safe. But you want to remember it. 


At least, I would say that most people don't remember that. 


Okay Jaspar, thank you very much for coming over. And you at home: thank you for watching our show! I hope to see you next week.