Success is getting what you want, happiness is wanting what you get. Warren Buffett has said that he won the ovarian lottery the day he was born. He “tap dances to work every day” because he works with people he loves and loves what he does. So do we. We have fun each day because we love our work. Having too much fun can give the impression that you aren’t serious. But best we can tell, there is no correlation between appearing to be serious and actually being good at what you do. Because we love our work, our minds are always in gear. Because we are having fun, we are always engaged. As our “Other Loeb” puts it: “When your idea of fun means working to understand how companies prosper and why they are mispriced, being an investor is the best job in the world.”
Most companies try to manufacture Fun, with a capital F. As in: We are having the annual company picnic/holiday-party/off-site on Friday. There will be Fun music. There will be Fun prizes. There will be a Fun contest of some sort that will embarrass some of your coworkers. There will be Fun face painting/clowns/fortune-tellers. There will be Fun food (but no Fun alcohol). You will go. You will have Fun.
There’s a problem with these Fun events: They aren’t fun. This doesn’t have to be the case. There’s nothing wrong with organized company events, as long as they are done with flair. In fact, it’s not hard to throw a fun company party. The formula is exactly the same as fun weddings: great people (and you did hire great people, didn’t you?) + great music + great food and drink. While the fun factor can be endangered by those guests who are congenitally unfun (Aunt Barbara from Boca Raton, Craig from accounting), there’s nothing a good ’80s cover band and a fine brew can’t fix. Everyone’s fun when they’re dancing to Billy Idol and swigging an Anchor Steam.Then there are group or company off-sites. These are often justified as “team building” events that will help the group learn how to work together better. You go to the ropes course or chef’s class, take a personality test or solve a group problem, and just like that you will coalesce into a fine-tuned machine. Or not.Here’s our idea for off-sites: Forget “team building” and have fun. Jonathan’s criteria for his excursions included doing outdoor group activities (weather permitting) in a new place far enough from the office to feel like a real trip, but still doable in a day, and providing an experience that people couldn’t or wouldn’t have on their own. These rules have led Jonathan to take his teams on trips all over Northern California: to Muir Woods, Pinnacles National Park, Año Nuevo to see the famous elephant seals, and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.These events don’t cost much—fun can be cheap (Fun, usually not). The price of admission to Larry and Sergey’s roller hockey games in Google’s early days was nothing more than a stick, a pair of skates, and the willingness to be hip-checked by a founder. Sheryl Sandberg ran a book club for her sales team that was so popular in our India office that every single person participated. Eric led the entire Seoul team in dancing “Gangnam Style” with Korean pop star PSY, who had come by the office for a visit. (Eric doesn’t adhere to Satchel Paige’s advice to “dance like nobody’s watching.” When you’re a leader, everyone is watching, so it doesn’t matter that you dance poorly, it matters that you dance.)Jonathan once made a bet with head of marketing Cindy McCaffrey on whose team would have higher participation in the company’s annual employee feedback survey, Googlegeist. The loser had to wash the winner’s car. When Jonathan lost, Cindy rented a stretch Hummer, caked it in as much mud as possible (to this day we don’t know how), and then gathered her team so they could watch Jonathan wash the behemoth SUV and pelt him with water balloons while he was at it.Another time, Jonathan got the company basketball court built by bringing in a couple of hoop sets and challenging a few engineering teams to see who could put them together first. Some of these guys didn’t know a dunk from a dongle, but they knew an engineering challenge when they saw it.