Who says business can’t be fun? Warren Buffett for one

By JJ Rosen May 18, 2022
Humor in Business

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.

A couple of weeks ago, the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder’s meeting was held in person for the first time in three years.

This meeting, which has come to be known as the “Woodstock of Capitalism,” takes place in Nebraska where investors from all over the world show up to listen to the “Oracle of Omaha” Warren Buffett and his sidekick Charlie Munger spend six hours answering shareholders’ questions. It was a full house, with an energetic crowd of nearly 20,000 packing the arena.

Although I am a very (very) minor shareholder, I decided it would be a worthwhile learning experience to make the pilgrimage out west to see what the fuss was all about. I figured with Buffett being 91 years old and Munger being 98, it could be now or never if I wanted to experience what many serious investors and businesspeople view as essential education.

When I asked my wife if she’d like to join me, she gently patted me on the on the back and said, “No thanks. That sounds pretty dull.”

When I landed in Omaha on a cold and rainy Friday evening, I could sort of see her point. Although I was excited, I could understand why not everyone would deem traveling Nebraska to watch two elderly men talk about stocks and bonds as a recipe for fun.

Entering the arena Saturday morning, I was all in. I was one of the many investor geeks who showed up with pen and paper in hand ready to write down any pearls of wisdom that Buffett and Munger might offer up.  I’d considered wearing my one suit and bringing an old-school briefcase to get into character for some very serious learning.

But as soon as the meeting began, I realized that despite the serious topics, the tone that Warren and Charlie used to discuss them was anything but.

There were jokes and gags from the beginning to end of the meeting, like the opening video featuring Bill Murray as a security guard refusing to allow Buffett to enter when he forgot his credentials. Or this gem from 98-year-old Charlie Munger when asked about his future with the company, “All I want to know is where I’m going to die, so I’ll never go there.” They were using one of the most underrated skills in business, that is, humor, to communicate with their fellow Berkshire owners.

Somehow, these two legendary businesspeople were able to impart their deep knowledge of macroeconomics, P/E ratios, and company financials, in a way that was funny. My wife had been wrong (finally!). The comedic duo Buffett and Munger made what most people consider boring topics both interesting and fun.

Humor and business typically don’t mix. But as I listened throughout the day, I was reminded that they really should. As Warren and Charlie showed, a dose of fun in the work world keeps people more engaged. But it’s deeper than that.

According to Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas who teach “Humor: Serious Business,” at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, the benefits that humor brings to traditional business settings are critical for companies to be successful. They teach students how “Humor builds bonds, defuses tension, boosts innovation, and bolsters resilience through hard times.” They cite scientific research to prove their points.

But for anyone who’s ever laughed, it doesn’t take a scientific study to know that humor is healthy.

However, by its very nature, humor can be subjective, and using it at work is not without risk. What’s funny to one person can be upsetting to another.  Experts agree that when it comes to using humor in the workplace, it helps to follow some basic guidelines:

It should be about levity, not about making fun of someone else.

Especially for those in leadership roles, self-deprecating humor is effective because it shows co-workers that it’s OK to have weaknesses.

It should be politically correct. Buffett notes that he never, ever jokes about religion, politics, or anything else controversial at work.

And finally, it should be genuine and unforced. It’s funnier and more inclusive when it’s sincere.

Cubicles, suits, briefcases, and lots of meetings mean business can sometimes be dull. I learned that a dose of humor can radically change that. So, have you heard the one about the stockbroker, entrepreneur and businessperson who walked into a bar?

JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba. A Nashville custom software development and IT support company.  Visit www.atiba.com or www.atibanetworkservices.com for more info.

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