Humor as Catalyst (another example)

Melody McLaren, whose giant greeting card I described a few days ago, told me another example of using humor to change behavior:

I was working at LA Incentives, a small promotional merchandise company in Barnes (southwest London). We (Liz Amies, the MD and I) were running a very small company in the midst of a recession (1987-1990). We were having difficulty getting our clients to pay us on time.  Money was tight for everyone and the big companies were notoriously late at paying small suppliers, who had no resources to hire people to chase their debts.

So, being desperate, I tried the humor route once again (this was a couple of years after the ad agency incident).  I drew cartoons that illustrated why clients might not be paying us – e.g. “You’re probably just trapped under something heavy” under a crude illustration of a guy pinned to the floor by a filing cabinet.  Weird, whimsical stuff.  I faxed the cartoons to the companies’ purchase ledger departments.  Although this didn’t work with everyone, quite a few people paid up immediately. It was the power of surprise, I guess.  No wars were stopped by this approach – but it did help us keep the company afloat for a while longer.

So effective you might think it would be obvious, but it isn’t. Although economists have a hard time using anything but incentives to explain economic behavior, notice that no incentives were changed.

4 Replies to “Humor as Catalyst (another example)”

  1. “I’ve never seen anyone change his mind because of the power of a superior argument or the acquisition of new facts. But I’ve seen plenty of people change behavior to avoid being mocked.” -Scott Adams

  2. I vaguely remember hearing something about a cop who was particularly good at defusing tense situations via an expert use of empathy and humor. Or maybe that was a movie I saw. Anyway, it seems like a better idea than shooting people (or threatening to do so).

  3. Dear Blog,
    Maybe a little off topic, however, Why are there so many white people creating fake profiles proclaiming to be black, then posting dumb stereotypical questions?


    Why don’t we see the opposite? how telling is that?

    and more importantly

    why do people respond? you only ignite their ignorance or bad humor, whichever is the catalyst
    BTW great blogpost

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