Thomas Edison seemed so serious. In every photo, he appears to be lost in thought, contemplating a new invention or making some crucial calculation.
But one photo tells a different story. Edison and his posse of co-inventors are sitting in their invention factory in New Jersey. No one is smiling, but…what's that on the back wall?
Rising up to the ceiling is a series of parallel pipes, each of varying length. Could they be test tubes? No…wait…they're part of a pipe organ.
That's right. Edison and his crew had installed a pipe organ in their workspace. Edison decreed that each major discovery should be marked with a song, preferably a lively dance tune.
Co-workers who left behind journals said that on average, a big Eureka moment occurred once every two weeks -- at which point someone would crank out a boisterous song. Edison himself led conga lines around the work tables. So much for Mr. Serious, eh?
The fact is, a little fun can go a long way. When we lighten up, we reduce stress, break down barriers, open the way to more dialogue, and gain a renewed sense of hope. That's just what we need during trying times like these.
It worked for Edison and his team. And it can work for us, as long as we're willing to take positive action.
Try these fun ideas for size:
We all need a digression from the recession. So read the following, pick an idea, and turn it into action.
Get in the game
Stock your break room or lunch area with favorite games like Scrabble, Uno, Pictionary, Yahtzee, chess, checkers, and whatever else people want to bring from home. That's all you need to do -- the play will unfold spontaneously.
Let off some steam
If you have outdoor space where people can congregate, get a big plastic bin and fill it with Frisbees, badminton gear, a croquet set, and whatever else will get folks moving during break time and lunch.
Hit the (indoor) links
Turn a carpeted section of your workspace into a nine-hole miniature golf course. Organize a tournament that gets everyone involved. (This is for putting only -- no indoor chip shots, please!)
Cook up some fun
Hold a chili cook-off, or a pie-baking contest, or a cookie bake-off, or a ____ (fill in the blank with your favorite food!) cook-off. Let everyone be a judge, having them rate each of their samples on a secret 1-to-5 scale.
Orchestrate a workplace scavenger hunt. Hide some low-cost treasures (cookies, gas cards, movie tickets, a Frisbee, etc.) before everyone arrives at work, then use break time to set the search in motion.
Be of service
Contact a local nonprofit, and team up with colleagues to help on a service project. This would be after hours, of course, but teaming up outside of work is a great way to build morale.
Gather a group
Cobble together some of your colleagues around a specific interest area. Perhaps you're a reader who wants to start a book group. Or a bicyclist who wants a team of weekend riders. Or a musician who wants to start a band. Put out the call and see who answers.
Showcase that talent
You're familiar with American Idol and Britain's Got Talent. Why not produce your own Workplace Idol? It doesn't have to be fancy. Talk it up, have people sign up, arrange for a space, and let the fun begin. You can even have a judges panel complete with loveable people like Simon Cowell!
Cheer on the home team
Attend a local sports event with your co-workers. It doesn't matter what it is: baseball, football, basketball, cricket, curling, whatever. You'll build your own sense of team by having fun outside of work.
Take time to celebrate
If you have a dozen people in your work area, you can justify having 12 parties a year. Make the most of those birthdays, honoring people on their big day and using the celebration to express appreciation for their hard work.
Puzzle it out
Post a writing board at the entrance to your work area, and mark it up at the start of each day with a trivia question or puzzle that will get people thinking and talking. The next day, write down yesterday's answer -- along with a new question or puzzle.
Bake with a purpose
Have people unleash their inner chef, cooking up their best stuff for a workplace bake sale and fundraiser. Donate all the dough to a needy group in your community.