Emily Stuckenbruck, a 34-year-old college dean, will be in St. Paul next week to tell an audience how younger and older people can more easily talk with each other. She volunteered that her own style of communication with colleagues is “more informal … than a lot of the faculty who report to me.”
As evidence, she later e-mailed a link to a YouTube video of her 2014 presentation to new students at Nicolet College, in Rhinelander, Wis. She had explained that she sometimes wrote funny songs, yet that video clip still managed to drop my jaw off the computer keyboard. The assembled new students saw their dean dance and sing — belt out, really — a parody of the 1981 rock anthem “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
The 18-year-olds sure loved it. Among the people who thought that style would be great in front of a Twin Cities business audience is 66-year-old Mike Veeck, baseball impresario and president of the St. Paul Saints.
He and his partners in a consulting and training group called Fun Is Good are, for the first time, opening their seminar to all comers here next week at CHS Field in St. Paul. It will also be Stuckenbruck’s first appearance alongside Veeck’s crew. “Our hidden weapon,” Veeck said of her, in our recent conversation. It’s likely going to be a show worth taking in.
Entertainment, of course, is only part of what Veeck and his colleagues hope to provide. His approach to educating business audiences on employee engagement and other topics seems a little like the way grandmothers once gave the young ones bitter cough medicine — best with a lot of sugar mixed in. “You can leave with good stuff,” Veeck said, in a seminar “that doesn’t have to be all drudge, and boring.”
In looking through reservations so far for an event coming up on the 24th, Veeck’s partner Fran Zeuli (who is actually called chief fun officer, or CFO) said they expected some managers, college professors, law partners and even one ticket buyer who was a finance executive looking to rekindle a passion for creating art.
“Hey, they need to get fired,” Veeck interjected, in a tone that sounded at least partly helpful.
Zeuli has a background in corporate management including the cable TV industry and is, according to Veeck, worth paying to hear speak. So is author, consultant and advertising entrepreneur Allen Fahden. Veeck plans to speak too, of course, and he described how he never expected to stand in front of a business audience and talk about anything particularly serious.
He had co-authored a book called “Fun is Good” that first appeared more than a decade ago that he thought would be read mostly as a book about baseball. Then the Great Recession came, and the popularity of “Fun is Good” among business managers took off.
“That’s when corporate America decided, maybe we need to be nice to people,” Veeck said.
And that, essentially, is the theme that will fill up a day of presentations and discussions next week in St. Paul. Zeuli has a talk built around the idea of making a point at work of often expressing gratitude. “Gratitude has an ROI component to it,” he explained. Even simple gestures of thanks and appreciation, at work or elsewhere, immediately increase the flow of communication between people.
When Stuckenbruck takes the podium she plans to share techniques for improving the quality and the quantity of conversations between people of different ages. That’s her area of expertise as a professor as well as something she’s learned how to do as a millennial in a field where baby boomers hold most of the leadership posts.
It’s common for baby boomers in their 50s and 60s to be far more aware than millennials of the organizational chart and the relative status on it of whoever is talking, she explained. What she will advise younger workers is that they need to recognize that and adapt, maybe by speaking a little more formally at the outset of a relationship with the 50-something in charge.
“Organizations work a lot better when people are simply talking to one another,” Veeck said, summarizing much of the day’s planned program. “We’ll have several ideas of how to help people actually cooperate, and not via e-mail, but actually go through the process of looking people in the eye.”
For his own talk he also plans to entertain, delivering a talk simply called “Fun Is Good.”
“People love failure” when he speaks to business groups, he said, as flops make for far funnier stories than modest successes. A little case study he always shares, now at least partly for laughs, is a nearly 40-year-old baseball marketing event that went so awry that he’s maybe still best known for it. It was Disco Demolition Night. Between games of a Chicago White Sox doubleheader, a local radio personality presided over the dynamiting of a big pile of disco records. A riot ensued.
And it was his idea.
The point of his story is not to get people to laugh at his misfortune, as he has written about how he didn’t think Disco Demolition was all that funny when he couldn’t get another job in professional baseball. He uses this story to teach, including the principle of not being afraid to try new ideas.
A failure can create a lot of short-term pain, admittedly, but it’s far worse to have all the fun and energy drained out of work year after year by being too afraid to try something new.
It’s also true that if he didn’t bring up the disco demolition riot, one of his partners might. They think interrupting each other is a good way to keep the meeting light enough so audience members feel comfortable asking questions. Stuckenbruck, the Fun Is Good rookie, said she already knew all about this approach.
“I’m totally prepared for it!” she said. “And they better be, too.”