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We don’t typically think of scientists and humor as being a synergistic relationship. However, it’s important to remember that like many other profession’s science is a team sport. Rarely do remarkable scientific breakthroughs occur without the effort and commitment of a team of individuals. In this article, the author highlights the importance of humor in building highly functioning relationships in goal-oriented professions.
So, there we were. In the middle of the night in an unnamed third world country returning to base after completing a mission. This particular mission was particularly sensitive, and we could not coordinate with our trigger-happy host nation counterparts. As we move through the shadows and bump stealthily across a road, we see a pickup truck with a mounted machine gun and a spotlight speeding toward us. Instinctively, one other green-eyed devil and I dive into a gutter at the edge of the road so as not to be seen. We both immediately notice that the “gutter” we dove into was actually part of a sewage system. As the truck drives past us slowly, we see the spotlights move over our heads, and we can hear the voices of the guys inside the truck. We both sink as low into the gutter and its contents, and we remain absolutely still. Then, at the very height of a life and death scenario, my partner who is laying in the gutter beside me whispers “Well, this is shitty.” Legendary.
I’m always fascinated by skills that bring a unique capability by being tangentially beneficial. In fact, I think this is what separates the best performers in the world from the rest. Formula one drivers frequently juggle to improve hand-eye coordination. Boxers, like Vasily Lomenchenko, incorporate brain bender puzzles into their workouts to enhance their capability to think strategically under physical duress. The one-liner made by my fellow gutter swim buddy was absolutely typical of the kinds of remarks that come at unmistakably stressful times on missions or tense situations, and the team is better for it. This type of improvised humor reframes the context into a nonlinear way of thinking, which in team environments, is crucial.
The article references NASA’s own propensity to develop and harvest humor in astronauts because it helps build relationships and by definition, helps them complete missions.
“A comedian analyzes the mundane from a variety of angles and finds the thread between two points. Connecting two seemingly disparate ideas inspires smiles at the unexpected twist.”
Design, Decision, Discipline:
This article is obviously about using humor to make teams more effective and complete the mission with which they’re tasked. I think the more significant point is identifying the skills, like humor, that bring a unique benefit to performance. Especially within a team.
Make a concerted effort to comprehensively view the skills and qualities necessary for a team to be successful. Identify and write down 3 ways you can enhance your own ability set to further the mission.