131. My takeaways from our exclusive interview with Naomi Bagdonas, a Stanford School of Business Professor, executive coach, and co-author of “Humour, Seriously” on 9th February 2021

Every month we meet a top drawer author and put them through their paces. This month it was the turn of Naomi Bagdonas and below are my takeaways from our one hour session with her.

Naomi presented brilliantly and with expert moderation from Blaire Palmer we got a whole load of anecdotes.

But here’s the thing, the real value add is the 40-minute session which followed Naomi and Blaire with a group of 8 of us. This is where the real insights get shared which can be directly related to your and my lives.

These are my takeaways; the obvious thing for you to do is go and buy the book – you will not be disappointed.


  • Words matter
  • Your mindset is absolutely key
  • There is a distinction between the concepts of movement/exercise/sport. Same goes for Levity/Humour/Comedy:

Your Humour Style

  • Find out which humour style you predominantly are
  • It’s OK to flex your style – but be aware of the pitfalls

Which one are you? Take the test here.

Using humour to defuse situations

An example in a tense diplomatic standoff – Yevgeny Primakov & Madeleine Albright

  • Performed Westside Story duet
  • Adversaries ended up becoming firm friends

Google Joint CEO Googles “inspirational things to say to your staff” while still in a virtual meeting (by “mistake” and while still sharing his screen)

  • Signalling self-deprecation
  • Said a lot about him

When is humour OK? You need, operating in concert:

  1. A truth – we laugh at what we recognise
  2. When the pain – either physical or emotional – is ‘OK’ for people
  3. When people are sufficiently distanced – time, geographical or psychological)

Jokes are not universal, laughter is!

And Creativity is helped by laughter

Try recalling the 3 funniest things in your day:

  • Programmes your brain to look for it
  • Brain cocktail – see above


  • “like exercising + meditating + having sex” – all at the same time … and also HR approved!
  • gives a relaxed focus
  • Apple’s Hiroki planned moments of humour months in advance
  • Helps tell the story
  • moves you through the emotions faster – speeds up the process from trust to respect
  • gives a sense of connection – for example, couples 30% more satisfied after laughter

How leaders signal using levity 

Another example – Richard Branson and the Elders who then included Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan and Peter Gabriel aiming to solve the real problems of the world).

The scene: Necker Island 2004

  • The planned agenda was crammed with hugely well researched PowerPoint presentations
  • Branson ripped that up and insisted on 50% play time
  • Perversely this made space to be human
  • Desmond Tutu & Jimmy Carter
    • after a swimming lesson
    • toes in the sand
    • First cut of the Elders’ founding principles

How to be playful and intimate on virtual calls (which we are all doing a lot of these days)

  • Show more of and about ourselves
  • Salesforce execs use signs made by their pre-school children
  • Nike compiled executives’ TikTok videos

And finally …

Fancy playing Comedy Roulette

  • all attendees submit videos anonymously
  • show the videos
  • then identify which video made by whom

Do let me know if you are interested in receiving details of our future Meet the Authors events – these are the ones coming up:

Posted in People and Leadership.