Fun Money: Why Having Fun Is Great For Business

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Seth Godin has an interesting post up today on lemonade…

In it, he contrasts two kids running lemonade stands. The first one cranks out cups of store bought lemonade for $1, the other takes a different approach…

The lemonade is free, but there’s a big tip jar. When you pull up, the owner of the stand beams as only a proud eleven year old girl can beam. She takes her time and reaches into a pail filled with ice and lemons. She pulls out a lemon. Slices it. Then she squeezes it with a clever little hand juicer.

The whole time that’s she’s squeezing, she’s also talking to you, sharing her insights (and yes, her joy) about the power of lemonade to change your day. It’s a beautiful day and she’s in no real hurry. Lemonade doesn’t hurry, she says. It gets made the right way or not at all. Then she urges you to take a bit less sugar, because it tastes better that way.

While you’re talking, a dozen people who might have become customers drive on by because it appears to take too long. You don’t mind, though, because you’re engaged, almost entranced. A few people pull over and wait in line behind you.

Seth ends the parable with the customer putting $5 in the second kid’s cup and asks which entrepreneur we think has a brighter future.

The simple parable speaks to a lot of issues:

  • The notion of leveraging “free” as a means of drawing potential customers in.
  • The value of taking extraordinary care to create a remarkable product and service.
  • The intangible value of the personal connection and the extra mile
  • The ego and soul gratification of knowing you are helping a kid become an entrepreneur.
  • The notion that the experience beyond the product matters.
  • The fact that people will wait in line for something truly extraordinary.

But, what might not have been so obvious was the fact that running the second lemonade stand will undoubtedly be so much more fun. Sure, the first one might be easier and crank out singles all day long. It may generate a consistent flow of cash, at least in the short term. But, it won’t be long until your dollar-buzz begins to get worn thin by:

  • The boredom of repetition,
  • The lack of genuine engagement with the the people you seek to serve and impact,
  • The inability to to beam with pride at the outrageous product and service you’ve delivered, and
  • The relatively low level of genuine joy in the process.

It’s an odd thing to say, but as a business principle…fun matters.

Not on a superficial “let’s have scooter races in the hallways” level (though, that’s part of the equation), but on a deeper “this feels really good” level. It keeps us working hard, coming back and pushing through challenge. Because the process we’ve chosen to serve others is intrinsically rewarding.

It’s work. But, it’s joyful work. So, you not only don’t dread it, you look forward to it.

And, when you have fun at work, when your days are driven by joy, it does four other massively powerful things:

  • It infects the mood of those you work with and serve with a similar sense of energy and joy.
  • It infuses the entire organization with energy, making it easier to recruit and keep talented, upbeat employees and build a “culture” of joy.
  • It elevates the product/service you provide from a blip on the radar to a STORY that MUST be passed on with zest, creating a source of evangelistic, organic and free buzz.
  • It better inoculates you against competition. If someone moves next to the $1-a-cup store bought lemonade stand and charges 75 cents for the same thing, the first kid is toast. Not so with the second. Because the product is unique and the total experience, which is what’s really being bought, is magic. And, people don’t so easily walk away from magic.

Can you build a business purely around a need, a commodity, a price and an opening?


But, why would you want to?

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47 responses

47 responses to “Fun Money: Why Having Fun Is Great For Business”

  1. George says:

    Great point. It’s really part of Starbucks strategy. When you go for a cup of coffee or a latte, you also get a smile and some positive energy for free. If it works for Starbucks, I think it can work for us too.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Yup, and Starbucks was very open about the fact that they’re selling that “third place” experience, not just coffee

      • Kelly says:

        Starbuck’s “third space” concept would go a lot further if, like Panera and even McD’s, they offered unfettered WiFi instead of being stingy.

  2. Sami Paju says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    I think I found something between the lines that should be at the core of every business. The three reason for any organization to exist should always be to:

    Improve the quality of life of people who work there. Or in other words, be a place that makes it possible for the employees to utilize their talents, doing something they care deeply about, with the end result of enjoying a high quality of life.

    Similar to the employees, the organization’s existence should benefit the lives of its customers. And I mean real benefits that make their life better and more fulfilling.

    And lastly, the organization’s existence should clearly make the world a better place. This can be clearly seen if one is questioned whether or not the world would be more dull and not so good place if the organization didn’t exist? And I think this is where most organizations fail.


  3. Angela says:

    I think that sense of fun is awesome and can’t be faked… It comes from a deeper place of being passionate about what you’re doing. When you do have that, remember that people want to see it. I know I do, partly because it’s contagious!:)

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      I think it can faked on a “passable” level for a short time, but not so much on a sustained, high level. Eventually people see through you

  4. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by shiawase: RT @jonathanfields The Business Power of Fun | Jonathan Fields

  5. Eric Normand says:

    Hmmm. Can a business be based entirely on free + tips? I sure do hope so. I’d love to run a business like that. All I see around the net these days is how to sell $50 ebooks.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Haha, dunno if I’d go that far. I know I’m not relying on tips to put food on the table for my little girl. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Hiro Boga says:

    Jonathan, you’ve put your finger on the heart of why fun matters in business, with this line: “Because the process weโ€™ve chosen to serve others is intrinsically rewarding.”

    Doing what we love, sharing it with others in service, draws us together in a magic circle of connection through which astonishing things can happen.

    That little girl wasn’t just selling lemonade brilliantly–she was also giving of her self, her spirit and her heart. I’ll bet her customers left her lemonade stand feeling more fully seen and heard than they had in a long while. That’s a gift we’re all thirsty for. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Totally agree, it’s very much what Dan Pink was talking about in Drive and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi reveals in Flow.

  7. Jonathan, I loved this post! Having a good time doing whatever it is we do adds a really valuable dimension to our lives. It’s also inoculates us against the “it’s just business” mindset. Fun is the whimsical side of passion, it’s a game changer.

  8. Sean Aiken says:

    Great point! It’s easy to forget that “fun” is a key component to our job satisfaction.

    One of my previous employers touched upon this in his career advice. A simple concept, but makes a whole lot of sense:

    “Whatever that thing is that you do just for fun, see if there isnโ€™t something within that, or around that, that could actually be a job. If you fall anywhere near it, youโ€™re still going to have fun.”

  9. Dear Jonathan:

    Interesting observations.

    Customer service does matter, but it has to be sincere and heartfelt, otherwise people will be turned off by it.

    It should not come as surprise. People who love what they do will put the maximum amount of effort to deliver the best service possible along with a great product.

    People like to be around positive people and it seems to be the custom in today’s business world that more and more frequently people are paying for the experience rather than the product.

    This story serves as a great reminder to those trying start a business: follow your passion and do what you really want to do, otherwise you will not survive in the long term.

    Jonathan, thank you for sharing your insight into this story, I found the really valuable.


    • Jonathan Fields says:

      More and more businesses and people SHOULD be building and offering a fuller “experience,” but I fear most businesses these days are trying to compete on price and speed. Never a strategy that’s worked for me.

  10. Christine says:

    Yeah, why would you want to? But lots of people do.

    As you say, what people were buying from the little girl was magic. The magic of who she was. At the end of the day I think we each have our own magic and as your post so elegantly displays it’s our magic that differentiates us far more than any flash product or price offer.

  11. Sasha Nadya says:

    having fun is great for business? hmmm… the best thing which i know is ” find a job which same with your fav things, and then you will get fun in there ๐Ÿ™‚ “

  12. LisaNewton says:

    I’ve seen this more and more with fundraising events, like high school car washes. No change, just a donation.

    I don’t know if they make more or less money, but it’s a great concept. Plus, if people truly can’t afford the “purchase price,” it gives them an opportunity to give, just not as much.

    “The notion that the experience beyond the product matters.” is key.

  13. Woo! I am already salivating for some of that hand made lemonade. I can just feel the difference between the two. It’s something that really resonates. And I can definitely see it turning into an awesome fun story to share.

    Both you and Seth are awesome! Love the insights you shared.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Thanks for the kind words, N! And, Seth was actually the one who introduced me to the whole concept of “story” as marketing. Pretty cool stuff

  14. Tim Brownson says:

    About a month ago I decided to give the E-book version of Dont Ask Stupid Questions away fro free. It can be downloaded from my site without even needing to leave e-mail details.

    Guess what it did to the sales of my hardback version on Amazon?


    Weird huh?

    I’m not so sure about having fun though, I like to keep things serious whenever possible. Life’s too short to be laughing and dicking around all the time.

  15. Jonathon, I write and speak a great deal about the powers and benefits of lightening up and having fun while we work individually and in teams. I am cheering up here in Toronto, Canada! More voices like yours will help us challenge the old belief system that work and play must be 2 separate worlds. How’s that been working for us so far??? In this new era of creativity and inspiration, our colleagues and clients are drawn to the “LIGHT” more than ever! A professional vibe free of fear, stress and tension (that is so easily produced by taking everything sooo seriously) will lead us to great heights in terms of both performance and outcome. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Steve Wolfson says:

    I agree on the fun component, because passion without a sense of fun can cause an organization to take itself too seriously on its “mission” or “goal” and put itself ahead of its customers.

  17. Kyle Hansen says:

    I like what they founder of Pantagonia says: “we take our business seriously, but not ourselves”. I think a key thing is for a business to have the proper systems in place so it operates smoothly, then there’s a lot more potential for fun due to less crisis that take place on a daily basis.

  18. kesseff says:

    I start every task with something interesting and fun, that’s the only way for me to get anything done.

  19. Seth Elliott says:

    Driving this thought process in a related direction…

    It’s been my experience that institutional financing sources (primarily VC’s) have an unspoken recognition of these points. If a founder and management team doesn’t “leak” joy when discussing their business, it’s a quiet downcheck.

    Marquis VC’s realize that although business is a financial endeavor, business teams that are in it simply for the $ are unlikely to be successful in achieving the big hit.

    Fun and Joy = key ingredients for success!

  20. Jonathan,

    You may not believe this, but having fun at work is actually difficult for some of us, especially those trained in the technical fields such as engineering (or perhaps law?). But at the end of the day, we all need to feel good about what we do and how we do it. We need to look at our lives and the impact we make on the lives of others, and feel that we’ve left the world better than when we arrived. Each day. For me, it’s actually a challenge to smile and laugh when things are going poorly. But that’s why I read books and blogs like this. To remind me that there are people who, just naturally, get it.


  21. Nicola Lees says:

    Hi Jonathan
    This reminded me of being on holiday in Seville a few years ago. I spotted some posters advertising a free walking tour led by ‘Carmen of the Opera’. I never join organized tourist tours, but I was intrigued enough to turn up on the specified street corner at the allotted time. There I met a woman with a shopping trolley who introduced herself as ‘Carmen’. She duly led us on a tour around the city, taking in all the locations from the opera – cigar factory, bullring (where she gave a much better talk than the official museum guide) – and in each spot she told a little more of the story, every time taking a scarf or frilly skirt out of her trolley and adding it to her costume. By the end of the tour she had physically transformed into Carmen. It was enchanting and I gave her much more in a tip than I would ever pay for an official tour.

    Not only was the tour itself entrancing but it made me smile for days and I’ve often since raved about it to friends. She was definitely offering a niche product to a small group of people and was clearly having a great deal of fun herself. As we profited from that so did she.

  22. […] two lemonade stands and how simple things in the approach made such a big difference. My colleague, Jonathan Fields, also commented on this post, expanding upon some of the key differentiators that apply to all of our […]

  23. […] Why Having Fun is Great for Business. […]

  24. kevin says:

    I think I know the spirit that Seth wrote this in but let me play devil’s advocate. From the comments most people view the girl as having great business sense. I not debating that point but want to stress that *maybe* the first child saw a way to remove inefficiencies from a process… much like Henry Ford did with the automobile assembly line.

    Everyone is so quick to point out they’d gladly wait for the *homemade* lemonade but entire industries have developed (fast food is a great example) because people don’t want to wait longer than necessary . Fast food is not the best tasting food on the planet.. but each chain has a system that allows them to quickly make and serve food. Would it be a staple of my diet..NO. But the numbers don’t lie and companies like McDonalds are extremely profitable in spite of not having the best tasting food or keeping their customers mesmerized by enchanting stories.

    When I’m hungry I want to eat. I don’t want to listen to a story, haiku, a limeric, or a song.

    When I need my A/C/ fixed (I live in Florida and it does get hot and sticky down here) I want to know that the technician is competent, can do the job, and leave.

    Could businesses have more personality… of course…. but the next time you’re paying for a service and it’s taking longer than it should (for no good reason) think about this post.

    The next time you’re at a restaurant and it takes 90 minutes for your food to come smile… because really good food takes 90 minutes to prepare and “can’t be rushed”.


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  28. […] In business and in life, fun matters! […]

  29. […] In business and in life, fun matters! […]

  30. […] In business and in life, fun matters! […]

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  33. shachar says:

    good point, fun is very importent

  34. shlomo says:

    very nice post