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Your work may be serious, but your business doesn't have to be

"You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything." - John Maxwell

The work you do may be very important (if nothing else, it puts food on the table) but that doesn't mean you have to take yourself, or your business, too seriously. For most companies -- whether they're coding software or making heart valves -- a healthy (and of course, appropriate) dose of levity, humor and fun is good for business. Here are four ways that a good LOL can help your ROI:

1. Humor and fun feed culture: There isn't much that's more important to a company than its culture. And while there are certainly successful businesses with "no nonsense" cultures, the buttoned-down, serious-as-a-heart-attack corporate environment is increasingly anachronistic. It's less likely to attract, motivate and retain the best and brightest in many industries, it can create unnecessary, unyielding stress (a recipe for diminished productivity and burnout), and, well, it's just no fun.

Shining example: I refer to Zappos often, because among other things, I think the billion-dollar retailer is the current standard-bearer of effective corporate culture. One of the ten deeply-held core values around which that culture is built is "create fun and a little weirdness" (disclosure: my company does business with Zappos, but I was a fan long before we ever met).

2. Humor and fun nurture creativity: Creativity, in one form or another, is important in almost every business. And I can't think of too many genuinely creative companies that don't have a good amount of fun and humor in their DNA. In fact, I can't think of any off the top of my head. To my mind, real, transcendent creativity can't be born -- much less thrive -- in a fun vacuum.

Shining example: John St. Advertising. This small agency created the "Catvertising" parody video that has been viewed by about 1.2 million people in just the past few weeks. By having what was clearly an enormous amount of fun, John St. both showed off its creative chops and grabbed colossal, overnight exposure for its business in one funny, fell swoop.

3. Humor cuts through the corporate B.S.: Humorless, uptight companies are often paralyzed by politics, stifling hierarchies, defensiveness, fear of failure/consequences, and other dysfunction. A collective sense of humor and the cohesive culture it engenders tends to minimize such toxicity.

Shining example: One of my all-time favorite sources of great humor, Despair makes posters and other tsotchkes that take stabs at ubiquitous, and usually ridiculous, motivational products. The company's original "demotivators" are, ironically, far more effective than the famous posters they parody; making someone laugh will have a more positive impact on her work day than telling her to be motivated. You might say that has survived and grown over more than a decade by having fun making fun of companies that don't have fun.

4. Humor and fun encourage better service: More times than not, behind every grumpy, customer-scorning employee is a grumpy, soulless company. But employees who aren't demoralized, uninspired or otherwise "oppressed" by a humorless corporate ecosystem are free to be happy, and are likely to make others happy in turn.

Shining example: Southwest Airlines. The airline that tops many customer satisfaction lists is approaching an extraordinary 40th consecutive year of profitability, despite being a low-cost player in perhaps the most financially challenging of enterprises. Southwest's fun, irreverent reputation and playful approach to an otherwise serious business makes customers smile, and smiling customers tend to go hand-in-hand with good results. This viral video of a Southwest flight attendant actually making passengers enjoy the pre-flight safety briefing says it all. Compare that to the typical air travel experience, and the value of the fun factor is clear.

Business isn't all fun and games, of course. There is serious work to be done, there are endless challenges to overcome, and we certainly don't always feel like smiling or laughing. That's why they call it work. But if you take every opportunity to lighten up -- to not take yourself or your business too seriously -- you might just find yourself laughing all the way to the bank.

Click here to read some more great thoughts on humor and fun. And please share your own in the comments below.