Part of the Humourology series
Season 1, Episode 3
Billionaire David McCourt reveals how to laugh all the way to the bank
Fun is fundamental. Revolutionary businessman David McCourt shares his secrets of successfully making billions whilst keeping a laugh on your lips.
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Fun is fundamental.
Revolutionary businessman David McCourt shares his secrets of successfully making billions whilst keeping a laugh on your lips. He explains how and why the smartest business people value humour and effectively use it to persuade, influence and network. He never views making more money as the goal – it’s all about having more fun.
As David says, “Life is too short to spend time with people who don’t bring you joy. To succeed, spend time with people who bring you good energy and laughter.”
Listen and learn how to laugh all the way to the bank
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The Humourolgy podcast with David McCourt
– If you could work at a place where everyone is willing to laugh at themselves and willing to use humour to communicate, of course it’s a more fun place to be for sure, for sure.
– Welcome to the “HUMOUROLOGY PODCAST.” With me, Paul Boross, and my glittering lineup of guests from the world of business, sport, and entertainment who are going to share their wisdom and their use of humour. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business success and your life. Humourology puts the fun into business fundamentals, increases the value of your laughing stock, and puts a punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to like, subscribe, and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. My guest on this edition of the “HUMOUROLOGY PODCAST” is a revolutionary billionaire and communication business legend, who has an uncanny knack for blowing up successful business models with innovative thinking and action. His down-to-earth humour, business credentials, and total tenacity have won him plenty of plaudits and also a seat at the table with presidents, prime ministers, power brokers, moguls, and monarchs. A US newspaper once called him “Che Guevara in a suit.” David McCourt, welcome to the “HUMOUROLOGY PODCAST.”
– Paul, thank you for having me. My pleasure.
– Well, I love your book “Total Rethink,” and when I read that quote about “Che Guevara in a suit,” I was thinking, “Does a revolutionary have to have a sense of humour?”
– Well, of course they do, and I would have worn my suit, Paul, if I had remembered about that quote. I apologise, I don’t have it on, but of course they have to have a sense of humour. Everyone has to have a sense of humour. Otherwise what’s the sense of making your way in this world without one? Why would you?
– Yeah, you’re right. What makes you laugh, Dave?
– Oh, my own human frailty, probably, my own stupidity, my own mistakes, repeating the same stupid things over and over again, you! You make me laugh.
– You’re very kind, and of course, our mutual friend and your old roommate, Paul Provenza.
– Exactly, I haven’t seen him in years. I should call him, actually.
– Yeah, well, funny enough, I was on a Zoom with him about four or five weeks ago. He’s moved to a new apartment and he was carrying his laptop around and, not apartment, it’s a house in Hollywood, and he was carrying his laptop and it looks very nice and it’s got a guest wing. So we’ll be fine.
– So we can stay there. Exactly, we’ll be fine.
– We’ll be fine. So many stories in “Total Rethink” about the business success and how you basically revolutionised the world of communication. What are the funniest stories that you can remember about those times?
– Oh, there are so many. Probably how little I knew and how little I understood, which is what allowed me probably to be successful, Paul, is because I just wasn’t afraid because I knew so little about what I was doing at the beginning that I was just trying to put one foot in front of the other, but it all worked out. It all worked out.
– I was taken by how little you knew and how much confidence and bravery you have to do that is, I mean, what level of that confidence and where does that come from?
– Oh, I’m sure it came from my mother. She lived to be just short of her 103rd birthday, she died a year ago, but not only did she have a great sense of humour, she was also a woman that gave me huge confidence in my ability to accomplish anything. So I assumed ’cause my mother told me I could accomplish anything that it was true, so off I went.
– I love one of your, you talk in the book about your mother’s said she’s all about attitude, gratitude, and acceptance, and it sounds like that recipe for success was there. Did she have a great sense of humour?
– Oh yeah, for sure, very. I mean, she couldn’t tell a joke to save her life because she always forgot the punchline, but she had a great sense of humour and she didn’t take herself seriously, Paul. She took life serious, but she didn’t take herself too serious, so she had a great sense of humour and a great attitude and always woke up in a good mood and was in a good mood all day, every day.
– And do you think that’s where you learn? ‘Cause you talk a lot about the influence that your parents had over you. I mean, was there a lot of laughter in the house with you and your siblings?
– I mean, okay, there’s seven kids, two parents and two grandparents, right? So there’s 11 of us with one bathroom, so you can imagine that there has to be a lot of humour to survive. To survive, there has to be a lot of humour. Yeah, of course there was. I mean, it was one big, happy Irish Catholic family under one roof. It was great, it was great. And I say that just to give it a description. You envision South Boston in those days and what you envision as with a bunch of Irish immigrants is exactly what it was.
– And the Irish are known for their humour because my mother, my mother’s family came over to Glasgow from Ulster, and actually one of the ways that they managed to assimilate was through humour. I mean, was that very prevalent in the Irish community in Boston?
– Oh, sure, storytelling and humour is part of the DNA of the Irish and it wasn’t lost. In fact, not only was it not lost, it was probably exaggerated when they came to America because they needed that to be able to navigate a new country and a new time. They needed to be able to tell a story and tell a joke to be able to sort of navigate through the New World. I mean, New York was a tough place and Boston was a tough place in those days, so they needed that sense of humour. And you know, Paul, better than anyone. That’s what your whole podcast is all about, is about how humour can play a role in not only making life more interesting, but making it more fun, making it more enjoyable, making it a more creative place, and making a more productive place, making the workplace more productive by interjecting some humour, making it easier to learn. With humour it makes it easier to learn, it makes it easy to remember your mistakes, it makes it easier to remember what’s the right thing to do, releases stress. I mean, it’s not as good as sex, but it does release stress and sex in the workplaces is, you’re not going to be able to get. There’s already a podcast that covers that, Paul, so you’re not going to be able to have that.
– I hear it can be frowned upon in some boardrooms.
– Well, if in the boardroom, yeah, yeah.
– But actually, what comes across, and having known you for a few years and got to know you, is that business is, I talk about putting the fun into business fundamentals. Business has to be fun for you. Has it always been that way?
– Always, always, if it isn’t fun, why would you do it? Why would you do it? Then it’s just a job. It’s fun every day, fun every day.
– So do you see that there’s an intrinsic link between people who are good at business and people who know how to have fun or have a good sense of humour?
– Well what’s interesting about a good sense of humour, from my observation, is you have to be pretty clever and pretty smart to have a good sense of humour because anyone can be funny to a very narrow strip, a very narrow strip of a demographic, but if you want to be funny to a wide range of people of all ages and all economic backgrounds and diverse in their thinking, in their upbringing, you have to be pretty smart and to be able to thread that needle because everybody has a different perception of life, so you have to be able to thread that needle and make a common sort of red thread between all those different ways of thinking. So you have to be pretty clever to be able to do that. So someone who you and I would say, “That man a woman is very, very funny to a wide range of listeners,” that person is fundamentally going to be very, very clever in my view.
– Well, it’s funny because that reminds me of, in “Total Rethink” you talk about they made a documentary about successful business people and they interviewed your mother and your mother said something which I thought was really telling, was that, “He could always talk to anyone,” and surely that’s a sign of empathy. It’s a sign of, and you just talked about real intelligence. I think real intelligence is the ability to meet everybody on that level as a psychologist and connect with them.
– Make them feel like you’re meeting them on their level, right? Making people feel that their issues are your issues and that you’re meeting them on their level, so you have to understand what their level is if you want to meet them on their level.
– So how do you do that? I mean, because the listeners to this podcast are going to be, “Okay, I want some laughs, but I’d like some takeaways as well.” How does Dave McCourt do it? What do you think that you are doing that’s different and better from other business people?
– Oh, I don’t know. I’ve been very, very lucky for one, so it helps, it helps to be lucky, but I guess trying to put yourself in the future and imagine if you wake up every day imagining what you have already accomplished, or when you enter into a business situation, you imagine what it’s going to look like upon victory, it makes it much easier to get there because you put yourself in the victorious position and then you build yourself a plan to get there. It’s much easier to do when you have all the confidence that you’re going to be successful because in your mind, you’ve already accomplished it, and all you’re doing now is the detail work to get to where you know you already are. So you know you’ve already accomplished your goal, you know you’ve already been successful, so all is you’re doing every day is all the detail work so everybody else can catch up to what you already know, which is you’ve already accomplished it. You know what I mean? It’s a, it’s a different way. If you look at the problem from the ground up, it’s overwhelming. If you look at all the things you need to do, it’s overwhelming, but when you look at it in its completed form, you say, “Okay, now I know what I need to do. I need to sort of, I need to mix the flour, I need to mix eggs, I need to mix the water, I need to put all these ingredients together, but I already know I’m going to be successful, so I’m not worried.” So it’s just a different way of looking at life, I think.
– Well that’s really interesting because actually the analogy that came to my mind was the analogy of a joke because my mother could never tell a joke either. And actually to tell a joke, I think, is like the secret of succeeding in anything, you have to know the punchline and work towards it. And what you just described to me was the equivalent of knowing the punchline. I know where I’m going, there’s my goal, and now I’m just working my way to it.
– So many great joke tellers, they start laughing halfway through the joke because they actually, in their mind, they’ve already lived through the joke and they realise how funny it is, and they make you laugh. It’s infectious. They make you laugh because they’re laughing so hard, and they’re laughing so hard because they’ve already sort of played the joke out in their mind. They’re not just reading from a cue card, they’re actually living their joke.
– Oh, that’s really interesting ’cause there’s an analogy for business as well. I mean, as a psychologist, ’cause I originally studied psychology and I do a lot of psychology work as well with business now, so I work with a lot of businesses, and I always say that if you want anybody to go into any state, you have to go into that state first. And what you just described with the comedian was they were already finding it funny, and that becomes the collective consciousness and is automatically displayed to people. And every successful person who I’ve met, and who you’ve met, I think has an element of that. Would you think that’s true?
– Yeah, every so often one sneaks by the goalie, every so often you get someone that’s successful and you wonder, “How did that happen? They’re not empathetic, they don’t make their issues the issues of the people they’re leading, they’re not very funny, they’re not very charismatic,” every so often that happens, but usually they don’t get re-elected, usually, they don’t. Usually-
– No names, no pack drill.
– Get reelected, so let’s hope so.
– Oh no, but it’s really interesting though because just before we came on air, we were talking about that your father entered Berlin in ’45 as did my father, but in completely different ways, and they could have met, which is it. But my father always used to describe himself as lucky. And I used to think well, it doesn’t sound that lucky to have been, after the war, put in a prisoner of war camp, and then having to survive rate months there before you were shipped back to Hungary, and then in ’56 the uprising, having to escape because they were going to kill you ’cause you weren’t a communist. So, but luck is perception, is it not?
– Well I think it’s perception, but I think also after your father went through all that, then he was able to have a family and he did as best he could with you, Paul, so he did, he did-
– Worked out well, but-
– Gave it his best effort, so he looks and he says, “Look, I produced a family, I was able to care for them, I was able to support them after everything I came through.” And I think people who look at life that way live a much more rewarding life. People that are, “Woe is me, if only this, if only that,” those people that, “Woe is me,” they’re never very happy. They’re never very happy. And they’re not funny either, and they’re not fun to be around.
– Well exactly, but on a business level, do you think you are consciously choosing people because they’re fun to have around, as well as, of course, everybody’s got to have the nous and the business sense and be able to do the job, but are you unconsciously choosing, say, CEOs for your businesses based on human factors as well?
– Oh for sure. Look, life is too short to spend time with people that don’t bring you joy, people who don’t give you energy, people who don’t make your life more fulfilling, you know? And I tell my kids this all the time, I said, “Look, there are people that suck energy out of you and there are people that give you energy, and you find yourself wanting to spend time with people who give you energy.” So people are going to perceive you that same way. If, Paul, if you spend time with someone and they feel better after they’ve done spending time with you, they’re going to want to spend more time with you. If they feel exhausted after spending time with you, and they feel drained, they’re going to want to spend less time with you, so you want to deal with people who give you energy and make you feel good. Certain people walk into a room and you just smile, before they say anything, you just smile, and you want to be around them ’cause they make you feel good. And life is too short to spend time with anybody other than people like that. You want to spend time with people you love doing things you love. End of story, game won.
– Yeah, well, no, I couldn’t agree more, but I’m just thinking is that an instinctive thing on your part or is something that you’ve learned over years of successful business?
– I think both. I think it becomes instinctive after you’ve learned it, after years. It becomes instinctive after you’ve learned it. I think all good habits should become instinctive. Someone one time, there’s a guy W. Clement Stone, he wrote a book “Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude.” I was on a charity board with him a thousand years ago, and at that time he was a thousand years old, so I’m sure he’s been dead for hundreds of years now, but anyway, during the board meeting, he was telling me about his upbringing, his book, and he rolled the pencil off the board table as he was talking to me, and he bent over and he picked it up and he said, “You see how an adult can drop a pencil and pick it up without losing their concentration? A little kid would drop a pencil and they’d go down on the ground and they might not come back up for five minutes. They find a bug or a crumb or they’d find something to do while they’re down there.” He said, “You have to take everything that’s important in your life and make it so instinctive that you can do it without thinking, so that you never have to use any brain power for the things that are instinctive.” And he said, “If you can do it for picking up a pencil, then you can do it for the important things and make those things instinctive, so they take up none of your brain capacity, and none of your energy every day.” And it was a lesson that I took away. I was a very young man when he taught me that, but it was a really important lesson, for me anyway.
– I think that’s brilliant. No, because, but anything you repeat, and if you want to repeat good stuff, you repeat it over and over again until you build a neural pathway that just becomes like, well, that’s instinctive. I always talk about that being at the top of the triangle. At the bottom of the triangle is conscious incompetence, and at the top of the trial is unconscious competence where you just kind of flow state. You were a hockey player, weren’t you, and everything, do you think everybody can be funny or it’s a gift from God?
– I think everyone can be funny, but they have to be observer of life and humanity, they have to be willing to listen, and they have to be willing to observe. And if they’re totally self-absorbed and only watching themselves and only worrying about themselves, then they’ll never develop a good sense of humour.
– You said an important word, which I’m always talking about with clients and businesses at board level is that listening. My mother always said, “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.”
– And actually it’s, I mean I actually think the most humorous people or the best business people, very similar, they listen a lot. Now they may talk a lot, like you and I talk quite a lot as well, but you’re listening on some level at all times as well, aren’t you?
– Trying to, when I’m at my best, I am.
– [Paul] Well but-
– When I’m at my best, I am. When I’m misbehaving I’m not, but when I’m at my best, I am.
– Well yeah, but I know very few people who spend more time at their best than you, Dave, to be honest with you. So you’ve locked it in, haven’t you?
– Well, I’m a work in progress. I’m trying to remember all the things my mother taught me and W. Clement Stone, and the thousands of other people whose shoulders I stood on have taught me. So I’m trying to be better at that. And the better you are at it, not only the better at business you are, the funnier you are as well.
– You talked about all the people who taught you stuff. I was fascinated with the book. Then you talk about, you just said standing on the shoulders of giants, but you’ve always been brilliant at asking people for help-
– That, now Paul, that comes back to the earlier point about being an energy giver because if those people knew, when I asked them for the help, I was going to give them a headache and suck all their energy out, so they couldn’t, the rest of their day was going to be miserable, then they wouldn’t give me their time. If they felt like at the end of an hour with me, they were going to feel rejuvenated and feel better about themselves and better about life, then they don’t mind doing it. Some people just don’t know how to do that and they just suck all your energy out.
– Well I think-
– Then they wonder why everybody abandons them.
– That’s it, but there’s two sides of that, it’s one which being empathetic and fun to have around, but also the other side is having the willingness to ask, which I think is very important, isn’t it?
– Well yeah, if you don’t ask you’re definitely going to get, that’s for sure.
– Well no, I was fascinated by-
– Who’s very busy is going to call you up. No busy, successful person is just going to randomly start calling people up and saying, “I want to offer you my help.” I mean that’s, you know, you have to ask, for sure.
– I mean, but that’s a part of your success and part of your charm as well, I would say. I love the, you told me a story many, many years ago that you actually wrote to Jack Welch and just said, “Can I come around and get some ideas?” Could you talk a little bit about how you had the chutzpah to do that?
– Well I wrote him a letter and said, I admired him and I wanted to come speak, learn from him. And he wrote me back a letter that his secretary had typed that basically said, “I’m busy, I’m over-programmed, can’t do it,” and then on the bottom or on the side of the letter he wrote “Standard,” and then the bottom he wrote, “Call me after the new year. Have a happy Christmas.” So after the new year I called him and he let me come into his office, and the first question I asked him was how much time is he going to give me? And he said like, I think he said, “How’s two and a half hours or house three hours.” I thought it was going to say 20 minutes. So I was like, “This is great.” So I sat down and I said, “Look, I’ll take notes. Just tell me the most important things you learned during your 40 year business career, and I’ll just take notes.” And he went off and he didn’t stop for three or four hours. It was brilliant. It was brilliant.
– So it’s like a masterclass.
– It was unbelievable because everything that was important to him, and I didn’t waste any time on bullshit, I just got to, what was it that was so important to him, that he learned, that he wished that he had known 30 years earlier and it would’ve saved all sorts of time. It was great. It was like a masterclass. It was great.
– So what did he tell you that could relate to attitude, could relate to humour, could relate to empathy? Was there anything that stood out from that on that basis?
– Oh, so many things stood out. He told me, “Make sure that the HR department reports directly to you ’cause the people and the culture and the type of people in your organisation are critical. You let someone else do all the hiring, you’ll never have the DNA that you want.” He told me, “You have to repeat a message a thousand times.” And a lot of CEOs are always looking for a new way to say something, and let’s add new words and let’s tweak it to make it sound different. He was saying, “The hell with that, just say it the same way over and over and over again. You may get sick of saying it, the person you sleep with may be sick of hearing you say it, but the audience needs to hear it over and over and over again.” He taught me to celebrate the little victories and the big victories. He told me when you give someone bad news, obviously do it, our mothers taught us which is give them the good news first, then give them the bad news, follow it up with a memo because when they leave your office, they’ll only remember the good, they’ll never remember the bad you told them, so if you don’t follow it up with it with a memo, they’ll leave and they’ll be like, “Yeah, Paul said that I did great this year. I might have lost a million bucks, but he said I did great,” and they’ll only remember that, so you have to follow it up in writing. He taught me so many good things.
– Like I say that, I think that people being good to you is because they like you, is it not?
– Well, I would say it’s clearly much easier to be good to someone you like than it is to be good to someone you don’t like. That’s a hard one. That takes a lot of, that takes a saint to really spend a lot of time and give you a time, which is the great equaliser. It’s the one thing that God gave both you and I to equalise us, which was 24 hours in a day, and it’s the big equaliser. So if you’re going to give up that one thing that you have that everyone else has in the same quantity, if you’re going to start giving up yours, you’re going to have a huge disadvantage, unless you’re giving it up in exchange for something. And if that exchange is a pleasurable experience that made you laugh, made you smile, made you feel better, gave you more confidence in yourself, then you’re willing to do it. If it sucks all your energy, you’re not going to do it.
– So what would the world be like without humour?
– It would suck because it would be flat, it would be bland, you wouldn’t be able to get your point across, it would be harder to make a point, it would be harder to connect with people, it would be harder to relate to other people. When someone’s going through a tough time and you want to make them feel better, but yet there’s a lesson to be learned, if you’re going to add a little humour to it to help them remember that lesson, but yet maybe make it sting a little less, it’s a much easier way to do it. So humour, I think, is a really important vehicle to deliver good news as well as bad news.
– From a psychological standpoint, of course humour changes everyone’s state. So do you use humour consciously in business to change people’s state or is it just now, as you say, instinctive?
– Well, I think maybe early on I developed it as an arrow in my quiver because maybe I was trying to get attention. If you’re the youngest of 11 in the house, maybe you were trying to get attention, maybe you were trying to make your way in the world, in a big busy world, but by this point it’s just comes natural. It’s just instinctive.
– Do you find yourself funny, Dave?
– Oh, I get a kick out of myself, yeah, yeah. I make myself laugh more than I make everybody else laugh, for sure, for sure. Yeah, 100%.
– But there’s different kinds of the laughter, isn’t it? If the boss can laugh at himself, do you think that changes the whole atmosphere in a company? And you’re talking about billion dollar corporations, is-
– Of course of course, I mean, if you could work at a place where everyone is willing to laugh at themselves and willing to use humour to communicate, of course, it’s a more fun place to be, for sure, for sure. Someone who has studied psychology, you know how important humour is, you know how important it is in getting your message across, you know how important it is in storytelling, you know how important storytelling is. Look, someone has to… A business is run based on a P&L statement in the balance sheet, but the balance sheet and a P&L statement are just stories that have been put into a numerical format. You have to unbundle those and tell the story that backs up those numbers. And if you can tell that story in a way that people will listen and understand, then it’s easier for them to make their budget ’cause they understand what they need to do.
– It was really interesting because I think there’s a lot of takeaway for people listening to this, that actually, even at the highest level, you have to understand that everybody wants the same stuff. Everybody wants, ultimately, to feel good.
– Look, do what you love with people you love, and then you’ve won the game of life right?
– Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Do you think people laugh enough in the workplace?
– No, people don’t laugh enough. Look, and there’s lots of reasons why, I mean there’s a lot of stuff going on in the world right now that’s not very funny, so that’s a problem, but it is… No, of course they don’t. And if you think about the great leaders that got us through turbulent times, most of them were pretty funny and could tell a pretty good story.
– That’s true, actually. And the people we love and admire the most, whether that’s in politics or business, there is a commonality of humour or a thread of humour that goes through it, isn’t it?
– Sure, but when you say that’s true actually, does that mean everything else that when you when you don’t have the word actually, that means everything else I said was not true, right? So that’s just a frame that this is one thing I finally said that’s true, yeah.
– Exactly, exactly, everything before that was bullshit. I know that.
– But this one is true and this is the point. This is like the punchline of a joke. This is-
– [Paul] Finally,
– [Paul] Finally.
– Finally we have something we can use. Everything else will be edited. Two and a half hours this podcast lasted. Only hear a small portion of it.
– Yes, welcome to the “HUMOUROLOGY” three-minute podcast with Dave McCourt.
– These great leaders were very, very funny because then they can get their message across, and great storytellers.
– So that’s really interesting that the leadership is about storytelling and ultimate storytelling changes your state. And one of the biggest, the arrows in your quiver is humour in that storytelling.
– For sure, 100%.
– So who are the leaders who have impressed you most?
– Well, look, what we’ve learned about leaders over the last few weeks is that as these statues have been torn down around the world, is that every man and woman has frailties and parts of their personality that are less than perfect, but we put statues up to represent something that they did that was worthy. And it doesn’t mean that everything in their life they did was worthy. It means this thing that they did was worthy of acknowledgement in the context of a human being with faults and deficits and complexities and frailties and everything else that we all have. Winston Churchill, I’m sure had all sorts of failures in his humanology in his life and his being, but he did stand up to Adolf Hitler at a time when we needed him to, and he did any did say that the world has to come together and if the Brits don’t stop Hitler, then probably no one else will be able to. That was the sort of a line in the sand. So we’re not saying that he was perfect. We’re saying he stood up to an evil man at the moment we needed someone to, and if he hadn’t, the next stop after the UK would have been America and then there would have been a whole different world. The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important documents ever written. Thomas Jefferson was not a perfect man by any stretch of the imagination. So I think rather than say, “Do I look up to any one person?” You look up to pieces of people’s personality, recognising that they all have faults and frailties, like we all do you. You look up to Ronald Reagan at the stand-up to the Soviet Union at a time when someone needed to. Lots of other things he didn’t accomplish that he should have. So each person that I look up to, you look up to them for something that they represent. And people now are, I think, are too critical and saying, “Yeah, but what about the fact that Paul did this, or Paul did that?” That’s right, and we should put that in the context of what you did that was good. We should put that. Now some people, their evil is so is so deep that you have to look at the one good thing they did and say maybe that was the oddball. That was the odd thing that they did good, but in general, you look up to certain aspects of men and women and what they accomplished that was genuinely sort of move the ball of civilization down the court. But there’s so many, and there’s so many, and most of the ones that are real heroes, most of your viewers would never have heard of, right? Most of them are silent heroes that most people would never have heard of, right?
– Yeah, and I mean, and actually one of the things about Churchill is he was renowned to have a brilliant mind and a great sense of humour, wasn’t he, which he used to persuade, and without that, that passion, that humour, would he have been able to get into a position of power in order to lead the government to save essentially, well, you could say the Western world at the time. I think probably not. I think that one of the things we forget is that he was incredibly persuasive and that came from humour as well.
– I think you’re absolutely right. And there are so many people that you look up to for a piece of what they’ve done. It’s hard now where everybody’s entire life is out in the open. It’s hard to look at someone and say, “Their whole life represents goodness” ’cause it doesn’t, and I don’t think anybody can stand up to that test, but there’s a lot of people that have done good, but most of them are of the silent heroes, you know? Most of them are sort of behind the scenes there.
– Yeah, this is really in your wheelhouse and if I asked you to write a business case for humour, what would you include?
– Joy in the workplace, which is going to create greater productivity, right? It’s going to have greater productivity. There’s an argument that a healthier, happier workforce will have less stress and will be more productive, so I would argue that they’d be more productive, they’re going to have better relationships with their coworkers, they’re going to collaborate more, they’re going to be able to get their message across better, they’re going to be a collaborate better and communicate better, they’re going to have more empathy for each other, they’re going to want empathy for another person or department’s point of view, so therefore there’ll be better inter-department communications, so the whole company will function better. For sure the company will function better.
– But how would you actually measure return on investment? Because that’s the main thing when you go into companies and you go, “I will make everybody in this company feel better, think better,” and everything, one of the first things that gets thrust aside, I’m sure not in your companies, is training or celebrating, all of those things, and especially in times like this. To actually tell people, “Well, there is a real return on investment and the bottom line can fundamentally be changed.”
– Yeah, but I would ask the question, “Is the bottom line the only thing that’s important or is contributing to the community and everybody’s wellbeing just as important? Is it okay to make a little bit less money for a while to have a better place to work?” And then if everybody’s working better together, you’re going to make more money, you’re going to make a better return on your efforts regardless of whether you try and not. It’s just going to happen. It’s just going to happen instinctively. But I don’t know if that has to be the first measurement all the time is whether or not you’ve made more money than the year before. Maybe the measurement is is everyone happy and is the community you’re serving better off? And are you making a fair profit? Maybe that’s a better measurement.
– And would you encourage CEOs around the world to actually look at it in a more holistic approach as a result of the way you’ve… I mean, you have been phenomenally successful, so people listening to this are going to be trying to get nuggets of like, “Would Dave put things into operation at times like post COVID or during COVID that you couldn’t see an automatic return of investment?” Would you still be doing those things?
– Sure, do those things all the time. Businesses have, over the last 50 years, have evolved. I know this is not a business podcast, but this is the facts. Businesses have evolved to learn how to extract value as opposed to contribute value to the communities and make a profit, and that’s a dangerous shift that they’ve made, not all, but most businesses are more focused on extracting value than they are in contributing value to the communities they do business in. And consequently people instinctively think businesses are bad, and that’s bad for business because if your customers think you’re bad, it’s bad for business, so you have to spend all this money on a marketing campaign to get people to trust you. Well, if you did something that made you trustworthy, you wouldn’t have to spend all that marketing money, so you’d make more money. So businesses over the last 50 years have made a dangerous shift to be extractors of value instead of contributing to the communities in general. If you take a business that owns a hundred stores, and a private equity shop buys that business, in the old days, they’d take the bottom performing stores and they’d say, “How do we get these stores to perform better?” And they’d get the guys, the men and women from the top and they’d send them down to the stores in the bottom and they’d say, “How do we get this to perform better?” Now they just cut off the bottom 10 stores, which makes their metrics better, which makes their average revenue per store better, which makes the average revenue per sales person better, which makes the average revenue per employee better, which makes their stock price go up, which makes their stock share goes out, which makes the executives more money, but they forget about the employees and the community at the bottom. And that’s why people are pissed off about business. And that’s why capitalism has a bad name when it’s better than any other form of, it’s worked better than communism and socialism, but has a bad name now because they’ve overdone the profit thing instead of having a more balanced approach. So again, I know it’s not a business show, but if business people-
– It is, it is, I mean, it’s how humour can be used better in business, so it really is. Understanding the fundamentals of business is crucial to this show.
– Well if people don’t fix that problem, people like, in your country, Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, they will come into power and they will put laws in place that, coming from people who don’t understand business to solve a problem, when business should solve the problem themselves ’cause they understand business. And business and policy makers should work together, and the business people don’t trust the policymakers because they’re just trying to get reelected. They’re not really trying to implement policies for longterm change. They’re just trying to get reelected, so you get a dysfunctional political system and a dysfunctional business system.
– Have you ever taken a joke too far and crossed the line?
– No, I’m pretty good at that. I’m pretty good at not doing that. I’m pretty good at, and that probably comes with… I’m sure I’ve done it with like people like brothers and sisters, of course, because that’s what you do, but I’m pretty good about that. I’ve lots of faults, but that one I’m pretty good at.
– And how did you learn to be pretty good at that? Was it all instinctive or do you just, I mean, is it just that you have empathy?
– Probably the truth is I probably did take it too far not knowing I did. You know what I mean? It’s probably so far long ago that I forgot, but I’m sure I have. Most successful people forget all their things they’ve done wrong and they just sort of adjust going forward and you sort of move on.
– Well, that’s an natural psychological way, isn’t it. really? We remember the good stuff about ourselves and we erase the bad. On the converse of that, have you ever used humour to get yourself out of trouble?
– All the time. All the time. I remember once when I just got my licence and I was trying to pick up my girlfriend across the street. She was across the street and I was going to pick her up after work and I pull this U-turn and as I started pulling the U-turn the cop stopped me and rolled down the window and he said, “What kind of idiot would pull a U-turn in the middle of a busy street?” And I said, “You see that pretty girl over there? Wouldn’t you pull a U-turn for her? If she was going to go out with you tonight, wouldn’t you pull a U-turn?” And he said, you know, I probably would.” And I said that’s all I’m trying to do, I’m just trying to get to her, just trying to get to the girl. So he let me off.
– That’s brilliant, a brilliant story. Thinking on your feet as well. And also just shows that the value of humour, of bonding people. You’ve changed the state of the cop at that point, and you’ve also made him laugh. I think that’s brilliant.
– Well, it’s better than saying, “I didn’t know you couldn’t pull a U-turn. I wasn’t pulling a U-turn. I didn’t know you couldn’t do it.” They’re so sick of hearing that. So sick-
– “Heard it all before, sir.” In business, is it survival of the fittest or survival of the funniest?
– Need both, got to bring both to the table. In full force, got to bring them both.
– Well, just expand on that slightly.
– Look, we’ve established earlier in this conversation that to be funny, you have to be clever. So by definition, if you’re going to choose one, choose funny ’cause the funny person is probably pretty clever, but you want both. You want someone who… I’m not a big believer that everyone can do everything. There’s something to be said for proper training and having a narrow strip of knowledge that’s deep. So if you have a narrow strip of knowledge that’s deep and you can deliver it in a way that engages people, and you don’t take yourself too serious, then you’re better off.
– That would be nice. We’re going into the section of the show right near the end where we call quickfire questions. And I always say that like I’ve got a jingle, but I haven’t. So if you want to go away and write one, Dave, now’s your chance. Who’s the funniest person in business you’ve met?
– Oh, Jack Welsh was pretty funny. Jack Welsh was pretty funny. And Elon Musk is pretty funny, too. Those two.
– Okay, what book makes you laugh?
– Well, it’s not a book, it’s a newspaper, but the “Financial Times.” I mean the front page of that, the stock market is, look, we’re living through Armageddon, the stock market keeps on going up? Like how is that? Like everybody’s going bankrupt, everybody’s laid off their employees, 20% of these employees are never coming back, that’s a dirty little secret, and the stock market just keeps on going up like as if it’s business as usual, right? No one can go out, no one can buy anything, no one’s hiring these people back. A friend of mine has 1200 coffee shops, he laid off 20,000 people, hotels are never going to be at full capacity, restaurants are never going to be at full capacity, and aeroplanes aren’t going to be at full capacity, buses. Like how is it possible that there’s all this bad news and then it says, “And the stock market is up today.”
– It is pretty funny. What film makes you laugh?
– Oh, the old one, “Blazing Saddles,” but “Superbad” is pretty funny too. “Superbad” is pretty funny.
– You know I’m going to tell Provenza that you didn’t choose “The Aristocrats”, don’t you?
– And, of course, “The Aristocrats,” of course, would be the other one, of course.
– Do you want us to fix that in post?
– I’d like to talk with him. I haven’t talked to him in years.
– What word makes you laugh, Dave?
– Fornication, it’s a silly word. It’s undescriptive, it sounds like the guy that’s going to, the exterminator, sounds like the guy who’s going to come in and kill the cockroaches. It just doesn’t fit, the word doesn’t fit the feeling. It’s the wrong word. You know what it means, don’t you Paul? It’s a big word.
– I have an inkling, but that’s, I can’t tell you where my inkling is, to be honest with you. Okay, on a serious note, slightly. What’s not funny?
– Trump getting reelected.
– I’ll take that every time. I think you answered this before, but I’d like a one-word answer, would you rather be considered clever or funny?
– There you go. I like the fact that you thought about it for a while as well. And finally-
– I was trying to come up with a combination word. That was the only reason. I was just trying to find-
– I just thought you were trying to look clever and say funny.
– Exactly, exactly.
– Finally, desert island gags. You can only take one joke with you to a desert island, what would it be?
– Two tickets to- Two, what is that? Two to pickets to Tittsburgh. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard that one. You know that joke, right? Yeah, yeah, that would be the joke.
– That would be the joke. And that’s the joke you’re going to have to hear every day on a desert island.
– Yeah, it’d make me laugh every day. It’d make me laugh every day.
– Perfect, you’ve made me laugh, you’ve made me smile, and you’ve shared a lot of wise words. Really appreciate your time. Thank you very much, Dave. It’s been a great pleasure.
– Thank you. Thank you very much.
– The “HUMOUROLOGY PODCAST” was hosted by Paul Boross and produced by Simon Banks. Music by Steve Haworth, creative direction by Les Hughes, and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe, like, and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a Big Sky production.