Follow along with the transcript below for episode: The ‘FUN’damentals of Connecting With Scott Novis
[00:00:02] PF: Welcome to Episode 347 of Live Happy Now. If you’re looking to lead a healthier life this year, it’s important to make sure you’re getting your recommended daily allowance of fun. And today, we’re going to tell you how to do that. I’m your host, Paula Felps, and this week, I’m joined by Scott Novis, a former Disney executive and founder of Bravous, a company that helps businesses improve employee experiences through live and virtual games. He’s here today to talk about how he uses fun and games to create happier workplaces, and how you can use those same ideas to deepen connections and create more fun at home.
[00:00:39] PF: Scott, welcome to Live Happy Now.
[00:00:41] SN: Hey, thanks for having me.
[00:00:43] PF: We are excited to have you. This is going to be a really fun conversation, but also very meaningful, because you are all about those two things, really, connection, which is meaningful, and having fun. So, as we get started, tell us a little bit about what it is that you do?
[00:01:00] SN: Well, it turns out those two things are related, very strongly related. What we do is, basically we help people play together, our experiences that I’ve done a lot of research into, particularly for adults, is how do we form friendships? And the way I like to think of it is that we want to host an event where you could make a friend. How do you do that? And so, a lot of, particularly with the number of companies that have gone to remote work, we’re seeing people feeling more disconnected than ever. So, what we do is we host fun workshops that improve your culture and help you create healthier teams.
[00:01:38] PF: Oh, that’s fantastic. That’s such a necessary component right now, because it is getting more and more difficult to connect. And it seems really odd that we live in a time where we can connect virtually with anyone, anywhere in the world, and we have never felt so disconnected. How do you start bridging that gap?
[00:01:58] SN: That’s a great question. So, some of it has to go back to the fundamentals, like how do we see connection? What is it and where’s this coming from? And I love this great quote about loneliness is a sadness that comes from a lack of connection. So, we talked about people feeling disconnected, it’s really kind of the sadness, like feeling alone. And what we’ve noticed is that, particularly in the remote work environment, because it’s happening in my company. We went remote, like, “Okay, that’s it.” COVID hit, everybody got home, got rid of the office, we’re like, “This is great.” And then it was all tasks work all the time.
The problem with that is, while we were productive for a while, one of my top employees left, and the thing that hit me in the face was none of this has anything to do with me, and it was that lack of personal interaction. I thought about the offices are like engineered to cause people to bump into each other. And the key psychology term that I’ve learned is called unstructured conversations. It’s when we share, when we get to know each other, when we feel like somebody sees us and cares about us. And when we’re just busy doing task work, you don’t have those opportunities. So, we started setting out like, what do adults need for that environment? How do we create that environment online? What does it look like? And it was this awesome quote, my wife gave me the other day that said, “It’s not enough to belong, you need to do things together, so your belonging has meaning.” Right?
[00:03:31] PF: Yeah.
[00:03:31] SN: So, you’re like, well, we’re doing housework, but are we really like working together? Here’s the big thing, is it safe to fail?
[00:03:42] PF: I love this because we did have the watercooler conversations, we had ways of interacting and we had micro moments. Barbara Fredrickson, in her book, Love 2.0 talks about the value of micro moments says, just walking to the cashier, talking to the person in the parking garage, talking to your coworker, just as you pass their cubicle office, whatever it is. And we took all that away and didn’t think about what a void that was leaving.
[00:04:10] SN: Huge. So, that gets down to like, how do you feel in a micro moment? You can’t, so you can just be yourself. You can relax. But in a work environment where it’s task oriented, it’s the number one thing and all the surveys of all the companies we’ve worked with, I’ll go through, is your work meaningful? All these other things. And it was a yes, yes, yes. We’ve gotten really good at those things. They go, “What happens if you make a mistake?” Boom, it’s like, “Oh, that’s career ending. Nobody can make a mistake.” What happens in an environment like that is you can’t be vulnerable.
As Brené Brown said, “Vulnerability is the past connection flows along.” So, we need to create a space where you either can’t fail, or it’s utterly irrelevant, which is what play is about when we play and we can be open. And there’s a really interesting thing about play. If I was going to teach you a class, all the science says that you’re going to adapt your behavior to my expectations because I’m the teacher and you’re the student. We all got indoctrinated to that. We all went to school, we all grew up with that. But when we play, you can only be yourself.
So, when people get together in teams, all of those impressions and that armor goes away, because you’re so busy playing, you forget who you’re trying to impress, you’re just caught up in the moment. And that creates that openness, where people can participate. And so, we really try to focus on games that are either cooperative, collaborative, or really, really try to minimize competition, because competition, and this is probably where a lot of your listener stress comes from, is, we’re so focused on excellence and competition and everything else. Well, that is kryptonite to vulnerability, that is kryptonite to openness. And so, we’re trying, when we create our workshops in our programs, we do things where it’s like, “Hey, we got to have a safe place for you to not worry about the outcome.” That’s one of the reasons like we do a lot of stuff with video games, because like, who’s going to take that seriously?
[00:06:07] PF: Well, this is really an exceptional approach to things because as adults, we naturally start distancing from play. It just is something we decide. We’re adults now we have to get serious. And, you know, I know in the past in live happy, we’ve talked about the importance of play and it’s really difficult for a lot of adults to grasp how important that is because we think we’re supposed to be serious or we think there’s this amount of time for play. Okay, now, let’s get back to work. So, tell me about your approach to it and how you’ve developed your programs for us to interact with one another in a fun way?
[00:06:45] SN: I love it. Thank you. And I think for your audience, in particular, women have particular challenges in the workplace today, because they’re hit with a couple of different things about expectations of like effortless perfection. So, you have this, I can’t make a mistake. Play feels fruitless, I want to be taken as a serious person that can make a difference. And then you’re supposed to be perfect. Where’s the stress, right? So how do we do it?
So first, like one of the number one thing, if your audience takes nothing else away from this would be try to form a fun committee at your office. I’ve heard it called different things, love enjoys, connection committees, I try to stay away from overly corporate names something just a little silly so people don’t think they have to come in with a checklist and a bunch of stuff to do. But what we do is what’s embodied in that is we want to create a safe space, where developing better relationships with the people we work with is a priority. And so, when we move that to the front, now, what we’re moving ourselves into, and I find this is really effective for a lot of people, especially if they have a nurturing mentality, if they’re oriented to taking care of others, the fun committee becomes about how do we help our people connect? What’s magic about that is the first people’s needs are going to be met by that committee, or the people that most need to connect, that’s who’s going to volunteer, that’s who’s going to want to be on it. If their needs are going to be met, because now they’re actually spending time not working, but getting to connect with each other.
The next layer of that is there’s increasing numbers of tools. I could talk about each one, but like you’re seeing Zoom is starting to do this now where they’ve added games to the Zoom calls. How about that? To companies like us where we do a complete turnkey service with professional commentators. Because look, even executives, sorry, you can’t host your own trivia. It’s too stressful for you, the employees. It’s like there’s all these complexities of instead of it being this fun things, it becomes this weird, stilted like, “Do I really want to reveal to my boss how ignorant I am about this stuff I don’t care about?” Bringing in a host, it’s about creating a safe space. The term is psychological safety. We want to create a space where it’s safe for you to make a mistake. And we understand that adults need permission to play. They need time. You’ve got to give them space to sort of gradually walk their way in, it’s a progression. Because it’s risky.
Do you know what everybody else is saying? Other people? Am I going to be judged? How’s this going to go down? What’s going to happen? And so, the committee is that great step, the best things that can happen because an organization is endorsing. We care. We care about our people. And honestly, it makes business sense, because people are not loyal to companies. They’re the people that work with. The people have relationships with.
[00:09:36] PF: What does a fun committee consist of? How do you pick one and who’s going to be on it and what do they then do?
[00:09:42] SN: Great question. So, we had to do this internally. Because we realized we were losing people like what’s going on and it’s all about connection, like how do we miss this? So, we started asking our employees. Step one, survey your team, and you probably don’t even have to survey them to know who are the extroverts? Who are the people that just love? Like at the water cooler? Or that imaginary water cooler? They would stay on the Zoom call for 10 extra minutes to find out your kid, your dog, what did you do this weekend? When you put the call out, you’re going to find somebody who’s going to be a champion for this because they’re craving that interaction.
And then the next step is making sure it’s cross department across discipline, is if you’re doing it for – if you’re a giant company, it’s obviously probably too much. But you know, it goes pretty far, right? So, like our fun committee is from sales and operations and finance, it’s about six people cut across the whole company and their focus, and I have a monthly meeting and their agenda is planning quarterly events that will bring the staff together and get them to engage and share. And again, our goal is to create these unstructured, unplanned conversations. So, we’re all doing something together. But during that time, it’s not so – we’re not trying to hit the dopamine, I got to check a box, get a task done. We’re trying to create that environment where there’s enough space for people to chat, and people to talk. One piece of advice I strongly encourage is get everybody a camera, got to have cameras. We need to see each other’s eyes. And what’s so different than Zoom and why we use games, we play games. So, we have a whole host of games that you don’t need to install anything on your computer. They’re super trivial to play, like, what we tell our people is like your mom has to be able to play this. Right?
[00:11:34] PF: That simple or?
[00:11:36] SN: Yeah, that’s simple, because the game isn’t – both, right? Is it’s got to feel inclusive, like inclusivity is like our highest value, we say yes, you can play. So, the number one answer to the question is, can I play? Yes. We thought about it, we worked on it. So, your team that’s doing this, like one of their next objectives as they’re sort of planning events is to start thinking about how does everybody participate, and there’s huge opportunity and room for growth, but there’s already games and platforms out there. Some of them are a little silly and goofy, but that’s okay. The more important thing is, and this is what’s different than Zoom, and Zoom, we don’t know where to look, and that’s a weird thing for humans, like our capacity to see our eyes like we’re the only animal scholar, white to the eyes. We watch each other’s eyes to know what’s important to look at. We’re constantly broadcasting nonverbal cues back and forth. And in Zoom, everybody’s looking in different directions.
[00:12:33] PF: right. Mostly, they’re looking at themselves to see like, “Oh my god, can you see that?”
[00:12:37] SN: Oh, for sure. And there’s a whole unhealthy narcissistic thing about that – when we play a game, I now am directing your attention at an activity, especially if it’s a video game, because the graphics are going to fill your screen. And now you’re doing something together and you’re in sync. Once you get in sync, now the conversations become more natural, they become more, “Oh, alright.” Now, I’m lucky, I work at a video game company. Everybody in my company has a Nintendo Switch. So, we can play really cool games. We can play things like Overcooked or we can play Mario Kart. We could get into these things. The way I rationalize it is, I am in a video game company, and two, do you know what it costs to fly anybody anywhere today?
[00:13:25] PF: This is a much, much more affordable way of connection.
[00:13:31] SN: Yeah. It’s like, “Hey, let’s find a way to do this.” Like our tech support supports your game console. How cool is that? If you can’t get in the game, we’ll get you in the game.
[00:13:40] PF: Some leaders are saying, yes, I know, we’ve got to do this. We’ve got to bring people together. But playing games. Yes, it’s important, but then we’re going to cut it off. It’s like, I’ve worked with a company that does something very similar. They have a monthly meeting. And it’s like that one hour is fun. It’s done. And so, what about that? How do you continue that keep that kind of mindset going? Where things are yes, we’re working, but it does need to be playful, and it does need to be fun and we do need to have some sort of emotional release valve.
[00:14:14] SN: So yeah, it’s certainly the capstone is a hosted event, right? When you’re doing an event, everybody’s like, “Yeah, we’re playing, it’s fun, we cut it off.” What we are big believers in is habits. One of the things we do at our company and big advocates is the standing Friday coffee meeting, make it if you can. We have basically a dedicated time for people to check in with each other and we’re not – work comes up, but what we’re trying to do is we’ve human connection through our communication channels.
So, for example, we’re a big Slack company. Two super important channels for us are people headlines and raise a hand and I, as an owner, love the raise a hand channel, because they’re not like giving me suggestions. People are reasoning and going, “I need help, something’s broken.” And it takes a lot of courage, that goes company wide. It takes a lot of courage to stand up in front of every gun, “Hey, there’s a problem.” And our behavior is we’re going to swarm it and fix it. The person’s not the problem. There’s a situation that’s the problem. Then the person needs help. So, that becomes another way that we support each other. And then the flip side is the headlines channel, as like somebody did an outstanding job, employees can give shout outs that go across the whole company with all these cool reactions and things people do.
We’re now getting a flavor, a slice of what’s happening, what we used to hear in the office like, it boils down to one word, intentionality. Offices were designed and engineered to create social interaction, the watercooler, open planning, yeah, we hated tubes. But what was going on? Those were unstructured conversations that we got to know people’s preferences and what they were about and what they did. And so, what we’re talking about is, these are some of the tasks that the fun committee can begin to look to be intentional saying, where else can we create opportunities for awareness and connection. So, people feel like, not only they belong, but they are doing something together.
The fun activity is a great one. Weekly coffee, share time, and you know, it can be 15 to 20 minutes, it doesn’t have to be a lot of time. It’s that water cooler time, you can call your water cooler meeting, “Hey, we’re having a water cooler meeting show up.” And I really encourage leaders make the time, because there’s so much you can’t hear through headphones. I mean, just through the work grind, through the meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings, like sometimes you just want to sit back and eavesdrop and listen to people talk to each other, how often do you actually get to hear people talk to each other anymore?
[00:16:48] PF: Because when you are working remotely, it does feel like you’re just checking off like, “Okay, I just got to get through my to-do list.” And you don’t have that natural break in activity and little shift in your mindset that we received when we were working in an office.
[00:17:03] SN: And here’s the real risk, we’re in the middle of the great resignation, is companies are now converting their entire work staff to Fiverr and Upwork employees. Because if I really spend no time with anybody else, and all I’m doing is task work, then I’m happy to do that task for a little more money and slightly better benefits somewhere else. I literally saw that play out is after we had kind of gone through this process and really work through it. Somebody came after our marketing director, super awesome. We’d love him, didn’t want to believe. And it came down to the people, is like the team he had built and the connections he had, he just couldn’t imagine doing that at the other company and he decided to stay with us.
And that was just like, it was such a huge, like vote of confidence and everybody, was a lift for everybody like, wow, we we really do like each other like we really do get along, we really do believe in what we’re doing. And how do you put a dollar value on that? I know what it cost me to lose that person in terms of salary and everything else. And if you took just that budget, go pick one of your key people and delete them. There’s your budget, what are you going to spend to make sure that doesn’t happen? I know that that’s easy to say for me, because I can make a decision like that. But a really small level, one of the things that anyone can do, anyone can do is I think make the suggestion, form a fun committee. Do it on our own time, we’re happy to do it during lunchtime, and think of other ways to create these channels for people to interact. Especially if you can have events where you get people doing activities and fun things even if they’re not fun together. Sometimes even a bad experience could be like, “Hey, we talked about it. Don’t do that. That was a dumb game.” We played some awful games. We have sampled a lot of stuff and there are somethings where –
[00:18:56] PF: This isn’t working.
[00:18:57] SN: They’re like, “What? What were they thinking? They’ve just stolen all of our life, we can’t get it back.” That’s one of the resources we love to make available to your office is what’s available out there and what they can do, and a playbook for forming the fun committee.
[00:19:11] PF: So, I love what you say about like anyone could do it. Because not everyone who listens has a company or is in a position to be like, passing down, here’s what we’re going to do. So how do you do a grassroots fun committee? How can you start that, whether you’re working remotely or working face to face right now?
[00:19:28] SN: So, I have to speculate a little bit because in my company, actually, here’s what happened. They brought it to me. Right? They’re like, we need a fun committee. So, after that first experience for somebody left that felt totally disconnected, and we were all like looking at each other, it was one of my rank and file employees came and said we need a fun committee. We were in a video game business so they were like, “Yeah, fun of course.” We can’t be in the fun business and not know what fun is. That would really hypocritical. But we ended up there. It’s easy to get there for all the reasons you pointed out.
So, bringing a proposal, so I’m an owner, this cost me nothing. It addresses a core concern in the business and the people that are really most affected by it are the people that want to be on this committee and do something about it. That was an easy, “Yes.” Sure, there’s times where we’ve done a lot of things that we’re afraid, there’s times that come and ask for a budget, but it’s always been, I go back to my rule of thumb, what would it cost me to fly one of my employees from Virginia, Kansas City, or Minneapolis to Phoenix for a face to face meeting? Okay, if I use that budget, I can engage my entire team, in a fun activity, done. Why is it so easy to buy plane tickets? We’ll buy plane tickets all day long, maybe it’s because it’s an expense category.
But what about, hey, I’m going to use that expense to create connection. And the part I think some leaders struggle with, and maybe it’s because this would be the biggest advice I give to the fun committee, because they did it for me, is the leader doesn’t have to do anything, they just have to show up. So, that’s where having somebody else has somebody else, why do we hire outside facilitators, it’s really hard to be on the team and manage the team. And so, when you do these fun events, is you want to factor that in, is putting the burden on a team member to lead everybody, you can do it. But if you can find somebody outside the organization to do it, it pays bonuses, because people can just relax. They can just kick back and enjoy themselves.
[00:21:33] PF: That’s awesome. We know that play and fun is good for you. Can you address that a little bit? What does it do for us emotionally, and with our productivity?
[00:21:43] SN: So, what I know about play is that it triggers internal motivation. So, we call intrinsic, not extrinsic. Dan Pink wrote a great book on it called Drive if you want to know more. But what play really allows us to do and it turns out, there’s actual neural circuitry in our heads to facilitate play. So, this evolved for a very important reason. Play is the system where we find the boundaries of our capability. It really boils down to something Amy Edmondson talked about called impression management, is it’s a natural outcome. We want to know what to do, we want to know how to do it.
So, what happens when uncertainty hits us, and time pressure? We may not know what to do, and we may not be able to do it, but we clam up and we just get stiff, we choke. Play takes that pressure off and allows us to experiment and explore it. That’s actually the space for most creativity flows from it. So, play lets us find the edge, lets us find the boundaries. Play lets us go would it be dumb if – well, let’s try it. Where you get in that space is when you get back to play, it really engages that little thing in the back of your head that gets you all stressed out. Because well wait a minute, relax. There’s nothing at stake here. Once we’re in that relaxed space, our cognitive capacity shoots through the roof along with that our creative ability. We’re able to think laterally.
There are two types of intelligence and they’re orthogonal. They’re not related to each other. Linear, this is your classic school fix test. I think Ken Robbins talked about. There’s one answer, it’s in the back of the book. That’s your linear intelligence. But in today’s work environment where things change constantly, we need opening or that like, what else could this be? Where else could we go? There’s not one answer, there’s many answers. Play is the door we walk through to open up into our more divergent, as opposed to convergent intelligence. We’re suffering from too much convergent intelligence is that we get tied in a little box, we can’t get out of it and stressful. We go into play, we can diverge, and try lots of different things, and that carries over into the work we do.
[00:24:08] PF: And this has so many great benefits for us, it helps our work. But it seems like this is something we could also use to bring our friends and family together. Like we could apply this same kind of mentality to connect with our loved ones that we’re not seeing. So, how can we translate that into our personal space?
[00:24:28] SN: Oh, 100%. I would tell you that what we found and it seems so silly, but it’s real. Planning events is hard. And it sounds like, “Oh, we’ll just get together.” But what you can do is take the leadership. So, one of the bonuses for like a fun committee is once you start researching what tools are out there to bring people together that do things together, you can take them home because they’re not expensive. Some of them are free. And planning a call, setting up a call, and saying we’re going to play a game together, we’re going to do this together, we’re going to structure something we can all share in, I think the big thing that is isn’t obvious. Adults actually need permission to play and they get it from their peers. So, one of the other things that you can do is if you can make it safe for me to play, then I can make it safe for you to play. Setting that up being the host and leading that, my experience is people really appreciate it. It makes a huge difference for them and it creates the connections we’re creating.
[00:25:33] PF: This is terrific. I’m really excited that you’re doing this. This is something that we can share with our listeners, I know that you’re giving us a download to help them create a fun committee and understand how to do that. Scott as we wrap up, what do you wish for each person out there listening?
[00:25:50] SN: The one thought I’d really like to leave your audience with is, you can make a difference, because you care about the people you work with. You can make a difference because you understand how important it is for people to play and get to know each other. You can make a difference because it only takes one person to stand up and be brave, you can make a difference.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:26:20] PF: That was Scott Novis talking about how to improve your life by adding fun and games to the mix. If you’d like to learn more about Scott, download a free fun committee toolkit or follow him on social media. Just visit our website at livehappy.com and click on the podcast link. A reminder, we still have some great deals on our exclusive Live Happy merch. Through January 14, you can visit the Live Happy store and get 20% off everything in the store. Just enter the code happy2022.
That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all new episode. And until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every, day a happy one