“If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: They’re hobbies.” – Jon Stewart
“Playful Communications” is not so much a business name as a mission statement and commitment of value. Intentionally so.
I once had it thrown back at me on a feedback form from someone who thought I talked too much and didn’t allow enough time for play and interaction in a workshop I’d run.
I was mortified, but they were right. I fixed it pretty quick.
That’s not something you forget in a hurry and I’m happy to say I’ve had no complaints since.
I’ve worked in organisations where values were neither mentioned or lived. That’s not to say defining and living to a set of values is easy, but it must be done. They’re the foundation of your brand. They represent what you stand for. You don’t give up on that.
A good start is aligning the work of your department with the organisations values. That way when teams and individuals are planning their activities they know what to measure their outcomes against.
You have to be accountable to your values or they mean nothing to the people who work for you or your customers/people who use your services. And, like Jon Stewart says, they can’t be hobbies – hobbies are a nice-to-have; something you dabble in; something you can’t fully commit to. Values can’t be that.
Values with character
A number of years ago I was in a team meeting (of a previous employer). Collectively we were responsible for the organisational values and were trying to be creative with how we made them relevant to staff.
– “Use them as a screen saver”
– “Put them on the wall”
– “Devise a motto that includes the values…”
There were lots of ideas. Meanwhile, in my head, I’m trying to visualise the values.
“What do our values look like?” I asked
“What if they looked like Robin Williams?”
I read out my list. Aahh…
This was long before Pixar’s “Inside Out”, but it’s a similar idea. Imagine each of the values personified as characters from Robin Williams movies…
I’ve since recreated the list to reflect the values of Playful Communications – Passion; colLaboration; empAthy; creativitY; Fun; valUe; Learning. This is what they look like:
Dr. Malcolm Sayer from Awakenings (1990)
Against the odds Dr Sayer awakens patients from a catatonic state. Not so much a story of success as a story of belief. Having passion doesn’t mean you have the right idea, but the right attitude.
Dr. Sayer: Everyone else said it couldn’t be done.
Dr. Kaufman: It can’t.
Dr. Sayer: I know that now. I proved it.
Perry from The Fisher King (1991)
While Williams’ humble and homeless Perry convinces self sufficient Jack (Jeff Bridges) to help search for the Holy Grail, Jack introduces Perry to a life he might never have known…
Jack: Where would King Arthur be without Guinevere?
Perry: Happily married, probably.
Jack: Well, that’s a bad… that’s a bad example.
Sean Maguire from Good Will Hunting (1997)
Through patience and compassion and personal experience Sean helps Will see beyond the trauma of his life and embrace vulnerability…
Sean: You’re an orphan right?
Sean: You think I know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you?
I can’t learn anything from you I can’t read in some book.
Unless you want to talk about you, who you are. Then I’m fascinated. I’m in. But you don’t want to do that do you sport…
The Genie from Disney’s Aladdin (1992)
Both on and off screen Genie is the epitome of creativity. Williams’ famously improvised the script while the Genie in the movie gets creative with his powers to help Aladdin win the affections of Princess Jasmine and expose evil Abanarza.
Genie: You never had a friend like me!
Daniel Hillard/Mrs Doubtfire from Mrs Doubtfire (1993)
Using a disguise divorcee and out of work actor Daniel Hillard is able to bring fun and joy back into his household… the real challenge is doing that as himself.
Mrs. Doubtfire: …I understand the pain you’re all going through.
Lydie (Daniel’s daughter): Yeah. Well, I also wanted to thank you.
Mrs. Doubtfire: For what?
Lydie: For making my mom so happy.
Mrs. Doubtfire: Oh…
Lydie: She hasn’t been in this good a mood since… I can’t even remember. It’s been a long time.
John Keating from Dead Poets Society (1989)
An english teacher inspires his students to find purpose, seek out the extraordinary and seeing things from different perspectives…
John Keating: I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.
Mork from Mork & Mindy (1978-82)
Week after week, honest and morally strong, alien Mork (from Ork) would check in with the god-like Orson and share what he’d learned about the contradictions and inconsistencies of human behaviour…
Orson: What makes [humans] so violent?
Mork: I dunno – i think it starts when a baby is born – the first thing the doctor does is hit it!
PLAYFUL (did you see it?) is the thread that ties all of these together. When we’re in a safe environment where failure is a tool for learning and play is a form of exploration, then we’re open to new ideas, innovation and possibilities.
My definition of innovation is “different with value” – and my values are what enable me to bring value – they’re the foundation of my brand. I have to sense check what I do against them – and if I don’t, someone else will, just like the person who thought I talked to much.
And maybe having values with character will bring them to life… how would you chracaterise your values?
I’m Jon Gill – a designer with 30 years experience in creative industries. I help people define their brand story in words, pictures and filmmaking.