During this week’s launch of SpaceX’s successful rocket, you were probably focused on the stellar achievement: “the first time a rocket this powerful has been sent into space by a private company rather than a government space agency,” as reported in The New York Times.
So you may not have noticed another element–one that is essential to the success of all Elon Musk’s enterprises.
That element is fun.
Musk’s very serious rocket contains a comical cargo: a red Tesla Roadster sports car. In the driver’s seat is a mannequin wearing a SpaceX spacesuit with his hand on the steering wheel. On the dashboard are the words “Don’t Panic,” a nod to the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
“It’s kind of silly and fun, but silly and fun things are important,” Mr. Musk said.
Elon Musk knows what other innovative business leaders realize: that fun can help drive success.
Take Southwest Airlines, for example.
Although founder Herb Kelleher struggled to get his airline off the ground, he understood that you can have fun while pursuing a serious purpose. In a 1996 profile in D Magazine, Joseph Guinto wrote: “His little Texas airline has a corporate culture that is envied and often copied by companies within the airline industry and those outside of it. Southwest’s esprit de corps is grounded in the story of the airline’s early days, and in Kelleher’s devotion to the Southwest mission.”
As Kelleher famously said: “The spirit of Southwest Airlines is exuberant, it’s caring, it’s dedicated, it’s diligent, it’s fun, it’s rewarding, it’s a joy.”
Or take online retailer Zappos. One of the company’s core values is “Create fun and a little weirdness.”
What does Zappos mean by that? Trish Chistoffersen, a company blog writer, explains:
“Rather than being all corporate and boring like the other guys, we instead inject fun and humor into our daily work and surroundings. Over the years this has come in the form of over-the-top Nerf gun battles, themed new hire parades, and even Tutu Tuesdays.”
Zappos believe that combining fun and weirdness has a serious purpose: “Employees become more engaged in the work that they do and the company as a whole becomes more innovative,” writes Christoffersen. “Sure, it may be a bit unconventional, but hey, we wouldn’t have it any other way!”
The nice thing about fun is that it comes naturally to most people. (Even if you’re not that much fun, it’s likely that someone on your team is.) And while you don’t have to encourage everyone to wear tutus, it’s easy to inject fun into everyday work. For example, you can add fun into even the most dreadful meeting.
Plus, as Elon Musk, Herb Kelleher and Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh have proven, fun has significant benefits. Kevin Eikenberry, a leadership and learning consultant, writes that when people have fun, they are more engaged, less stressed and more productive.
“Work and fun don’t have to be two separate activities; if we are having fun while we work, our energy and motivation is higher and we will get more done.”