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4-step plan to fight stress with humour

Harper Reed, US President Barack Obama’s ex-campaign CTO, stresses on the need for humour in surviving a high-pressure job.

President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign stood out for its superior technology team, made up of developers from tech giants and start-up veterans. Harper Reed headed this dream team, and in a popular TEDx talk he discusses how humour helped him survive the stressful life of a presidential campaign.

“Humour really helped us bring everything together,” says Harper. “It was an equaliser where it didn’t matter who you were, we could all enjoy a laugh in the most stressful environments. I guess it reminded us that we were human, that we’re all the same.”

Here’s his four-step plan to having fun in a stressful environment.

1. You have to be very, very good
“So just get very good at what you do. For us, we just hired the absolute best. Fun didn’t get in the way then, because they were really good at what they were doing. So when we’d stop and try and have that fun interaction or make fun, or have humour come into your life to bring everything down a notch, it was fine.”

2. Hire people with weird proclivities

Harper says that he doesn’t know how, but he ended up hiring a lot of “very strange people and they all had this strange thing”. And because they came with diverse interests, hobbies and quirks, they were able to make it an interesting office space with exposure to a wide variety of cultures. And your team members are more likely to stick around in an interesting office space than a boring one.

3. You can’t take yourself too seriously

“How do you make sure that everyone is able to have a joke, have fun, and not take yourself too seriously? Sometimes, this is really tricky. Especially when it’s really intense. And one of the things we found that helped with this is inclusion.
Oftentimes, when you’re trying to make a joke, you do it at someone else’s expense. And we really tried hard to not do that.” And Harper’s tech team was quite democratic in who they were making fun of. They even morphed their boss campaign manager Jim Messina’s head onto different animals at the end of their presentations. And got complimented for a couple of them!

4. Don’t do it, if it isn’t fun.
“The interesting thing about this is that this was an actual campaign rule that each of us got when we started. You’d come in, and one of the things was: ‘Always have fun’. If you’re not having fun, something is wrong, and you might need to leave… We worked really hard at making sure that we enjoyed every minute of it, and a lot of that was bringing fun in.” 

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