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Eight reasons why comedians make good leaders
After a landslide victory, a popular comedian with no political experience becomes Ukraine's next president. Are comedians really the best leaders?
If you were browsing Netflix's comedy section recently, you might have noticed the Ukrainian sitcom, Servant of the People. In it, an ordinary history teacher is unwittingly elected president of the Ukraine.
In an unusual turn of events, the star of that series, comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, was recently actually voted in as the next president of Ukraine. While there's no doubt Zelensky is a popular comedian – does he really have what it takes to lead the country?
As part of my ongoing doctoral research, I surveyed 230 musical directors to find out what skills they think they need to lead successfully. Many of these leaders reported that telling a joke or a funny anecdote was important. Of course, we all enjoy a good giggle, but is cracking jokes really a useful way for leaders to spend their time? The research I have been exploring on humour and leadership suggests that we might be better off employing Michael McIntyre than Bill Gates. Here, are eight key ways that leaders can usefully use humour in their work:
1. Creating a 'team'
Good leaders want a unified team behind them, if for no other reason than it drastically reduces the chances of a coup occurring (UK prime minister Theresa May can doubtless tell you more about that). Using humour has been shown to strengthen solidarity between colleagues and successful leaders can channel humour into team spirit, uniting their followers behind them.
2. Avoiding fatigue
Laughter might not always be the best medicine, but if leaders want to motivate flagging followers, a well-placed joke might do the trick. Using humour relieves boredom and raises energy levels. This is a handy trick for leaders and not just in formal workplaces. Leaders of exercise groups, for example, might use humour to motivate class members, enabling them to feel the burn for longer.
3. Softening criticism
Often, leaders have to deliver criticism without alienating their followers. An easy and effective way of managing this is to deliver this criticism in a lighthearted way. This is particularly useful if the leader wants to get along well with their followers. Speaking of which…
4. Balancing power and politeness
Leaders depend on their followers respecting them. They will also, however, have an easier time working with their team if they do so politely as opposed to dictating. Using humour is a great way of positioning yourself as leader of a group without rudely reminding everyone that you're in charge and they have no choice but to follow you.
5. Diffusing tension
Even under the best of leaders, mistakes happen and occasionally tensions will run high. In this situation, as a leader you have two choices. Maintain a stiff upper lip and plough on in the face of revolt. Or make a joke, lighten the mood, and diffuse the tension in the room. Using comedy in this way smooths over friction and resets the mood.
6. Eliciting goodwill of followers
(Almost) everyone likes to be liked. Leaders, however, can really benefit from being popular. Research has shown not only that humour can encourage followers to think positively of someone, but that it can also suppress negative feelings towards them. You do, of course, have to be careful, as it's possible to overcompensate – just think of David Brent's relentless nonsense in TV series The Office.
7. Fostering creativity
Humour comes in many forms but a common type of joke involves unexpected combinations of incongruous ideas: "One morning I shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How he got in my pyjamas, I don't know" (Groucho Marx). One of the byproducts of combining odd ideas in this way is increasing creativity levels in groups, making teams more productive and innovative.
8. Benefiting health
We all feel better after a good laugh, but the benefits of a good giggle go further than just cheering us up. Humour expert John Morreall puts this best:
Physically and mentally, humour is the opposite of stress. Laughter lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation, reduces muscle tension and pain, and boosts the immune system.
So what does this mean for aspiring leaders? Well, comic timing isn't going to turn a terrible leader into a hotshot CEO, but it turns out that if they use humour carefully, leaders can turn laughs into votes or giggles into team spirit.
Perhaps Volodymyr Zelensky isn't really unprepared for his new job at all. David Brent probably had the right idea all along: "When people say to me: would you rather be thought of as a funny man or a great boss? My answer's always the same – to me, they're not mutually exclusive."
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From "if-by-whiskey" to the McNamara fallacy, being able to spot logical missteps is an invaluable skill.
- A fallacy is the use of invalid or faulty reasoning in an argument.
- There are two broad types of logical fallacies: formal and informal.
- A formal fallacy describes a flaw in the construction of a deductive argument, while an informal fallacy describes an error in reasoning.
Appeal to privacy<p>When someone behaves in a way that negatively affects (or could affect) others, but then gets upset when others criticize their behavior, they're likely engaging in the appeal to privacy — or "mind your own business" — fallacy. Examples:<br></p><ul><li>Someone who speeds excessively on the highway, considering his driving to be his own business.</li><li>Someone who doesn't see a reason to bathe or wear deodorant, but then boards a packed 10-hour flight.</li></ul><p>Language to watch out for: "You're not the boss of me." "Worry about yourself."</p>
Sunk cost fallacy<p>When someone argues for continuing a course of action despite evidence showing it's a mistake, it's often a sunk cost fallacy. The flawed logic here is something like: "We've already invested so much in this plan, we can't give up now." Examples:<br></p><ul><li>Someone who intentionally overeats at an all-you-can-eat buffet just to get their "money's worth"</li><li>A scientist who won't admit his theory is incorrect because it would be too painful or costly</li></ul><p>Language to watch out for: "We must stay the course." "I've already invested so much...." "We've always done it this way, so we'll keep doing it this way."</p>
If-by-whiskey<p>This fallacy is named after a speech given in 1952 by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_S._Sweat" target="_blank">Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr.</a>, a state representative for <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi" target="_blank">Mississippi</a>, on the subject of whether the state should legalize alcohol. Sweat's argument on prohibition was (to paraphrase):<br></p><p><em>If, by whiskey, you mean the devil's brew that causes so many problems in society, then I'm against it. But if whiskey means the oil of conversation, the philosopher's wine, "</em><em>the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning;" then I am certainly for it.</em></p>
Slippery slope<p>This fallacy involves arguing against a position because you think choosing it would start a chain reaction of bad things, even though there's little evidence to support your claim. Example:<br></p><ul><li>"We can't allow abortion because then society will lose its general respect for life, and it'll become harder to punish people for committing violent acts like murder."</li><li>"We can't legalize gay marriage. If we do, what's next? Allowing people to marry cats and dogs?" (Some people actually made this <a href="https://www.daytondailynews.com/news/national/cats-marrying-dogs-and-five-other-things-same-sex-marriage-won-mean/dLV9jKqkJOWUFZrSBETWkK/" target="_blank">argument</a> before same-sex marriage was legalized in the U.S.)</li></ul><p>Of course, sometimes decisions <em>do </em>start a chain reaction, which could be bad. The slippery slope device only becomes a fallacy when there's no evidence to suggest that chain reaction would actually occur.</p><p>Language to watch out for: "If we do that, then what's next?"</p>
"There is no alternative"<p><span style="background-color: initial;">A modification of the </span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">false dilemma</a><span style="background-color: initial;">, this fallacy (often abbreviated to TINA) argues for a specific position because there are no realistic alternatives. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used this exact line as a slogan to defend capitalism, and it's still used today to that same end: Sure, capitalism has its problems, but we've seen the horrors that occur when we try anything else, so there is no alternative.</span><br></p><p>Language to watch out for: "If I had a magic wand…" "What <em>else</em> are we going to do?!"</p>
Ad hoc arguments<p>An ad hoc argument isn't really a logical fallacy, but it is a fallacious rhetorical strategy that's common and often hard to spot. It occurs when someone's claim is threatened with counterevidence, so they come up with a rationale to dismiss the counterevidence, hoping to protect their original claim. Ad hoc claims aren't designed to be generalizable. Instead, they're typically invented in the moment. <a href="https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Ad_hoc" target="_blank">RationalWiki</a> provides an example:<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Alice: "It is clearly said in the Bible that the Ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Bob: "A purely wooden vessel of that size could not be constructed; the largest real wooden vessels were Chinese treasure ships which required iron hoops to build their keels. Even the <em>Wyoming</em> which was built in 1909 and had iron braces had problems with her hull flexing and opening up and needed constant mechanical pumping to stop her hold flooding."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Alice: "It's possible that God intervened and allowed the Ark to float, and since we don't know what gopher wood is, it is possible that it is a much stronger form of wood than any that comes from a modern tree."</p>
Snow job<p><span style="background-color: initial;">This fallacy occurs when someone doesn't really have a strong argument, so they just throw a bunch of irrelevant facts, numbers, anecdotes and other information at the audience to confuse the issue, making it harder to refute the original claim. Example:</span><br></p><ul><li>A tobacco company spokesperson who is confronted about the health risks of smoking, but then proceeds to show graph after graph depicting many of the other ways people develop cancer, and how cancer metastasizes in the body, etc.</li></ul><p>Watch out for long-winded, data-heavy arguments that seem confusing by design.</p>
McNamara fallacy<p>Named after <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_McNamara" target="_blank">Robert McNamara</a>, the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Secretary_of_Defense" target="_blank">U.S. secretary of defense</a> from 1961 to 1968, this fallacy occurs when decisions are made based solely on <em>quantitative metrics or observations,</em> ignoring other factors. It stems from the Vietnam War, in which McNamara sought to develop a formula to measure progress in the war. He decided on bodycount. But this "objective" formula didn't account for other important factors, such as the possibility that the Vietnamese people would never surrender.<br></p><p>You could also imagine this fallacy playing out in a medical situation. Imagine a terminal cancer patient has a tumor, and a certain procedure helps to reduce the size of the tumor, but also causes a lot of pain. Ignoring quality of life would be an example of the McNamara fallacy.</p><p>Language to watch out for: "You can't measure that, so it's not important."</p>
A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.
- A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
- Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
- This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".
Generation Ships<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a1e6445c7168d293a6da3f9600f534a2"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/H2f0Wd3zNj0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Many of the most popular apps are about self-improvement.
Emotions are the newest hot commodity, and we can't get enough.