VOL.7 NO.220 THURSDAY, JULY 14, 2005 www.national.post.com
Laughing all the way to the bank
Executives to learn a few tricks about creative thinking at Just For Laughs
By Graeme Hamilton
Businesses seeking a competitive edge will turn to an unusual source for inspiration next week: the world's largest comedy festival.
A new partnership between McGill University's International Executive Institute and Montreal's Just For Laughs festival advances the theory that rolling in the aisles can be a precursor to rolling in profits.
About 50 senior managers from such major companies as Verizon, Bombardier and the Bank of Montreal have signed up to learn how comedy can improve their creative thinking. In addition to three days of workshops on the McGill campus, participants will receive VIP passes to a festival gala where they can rub elbows with famous comedians.
"The seminar incorporates Just For Laughs as a vehicle to identify key elements in improvisation, timing and creativity that may serve as a model for more effective management thinking," the McGill institute said in a news release.
Fred Rosenzveig, a Montreal consultant who is leading the seminar, said business can indeed be a laughing matter.
"Any new idea in business is like the punch line of a joke. There's something very new and different about it that surprises people," Mr. Rosenzveig said. "Generally, a new idea, whether it's in business or a joke, you're saying to yourself, 'Why didn't I think of that?' With the proverbial slap across the face." To get the point across, he will be telling a few jokes himself and bringing in some of his favourite cartoons.
McGill will be offering two sessions next week. One is tailored to a group of about 25 managers with Verizon Super Pages, the Dallas-based publisher of phone directories, and the other is open to anyone willing to pay $2,000 to attend, with space for up to 30.
Companies that are sending managers include Bombardier Inc., Abitibi Consolidated Inc., pharmaceutical giant Merck Inc. and the Bank of Montreal. Representatives of Canada Post and Export Development Canada will also be yukking it up.
Vanessa Banks, one of the Verizon contingent taking part, said the seminar's focus on creative thinking is useful to an established company like hers.
"As we are trying to help our entire organization begin thinking about how can we be more innovative, how can we be less risk-averse ... these are the people who will set the tone and come back and share those messages with their teams," she said.
If they return to the office with a few good jokes, all the better. "When times are tough and you get stressed out, I personally would much prefer to work with people who want to keep up that humour and add a little levity to the situation," Ms. Banks said.
Kenny Smilovitch, marketing director for the McGill International Executive Institute, said he approached Just For Laughs about the partnership. The program has been designed to draw on elements of the festival's comedy shows, which this year include appearances by Colin Mochrie, Jim Belushi and Dame Edna.
"Humour is a big factor in management. Timing is a big factor, thinking on your feet, so we tried to match shows that are reflective of some of those concepts," Mr. Smilovitch said.
Bruce Hills, the comedy festival's chief operating officer, said he was initially surprised when his staff approached him about working with McGill.
"But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, 'This makes a lot of sense,' " he said. And the partnership with a prestigious university certainly does not hurt the comedy world in its quest for respect.

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