Monthly Archives: June 2013

Humor is a Science

University of Colorado’s Peter McGraw and his “Humor Research Lab” may have cracked the code to what makes us laugh


Humor is a science(Credit: iStockphoto/gregglmt)
This piece originally appeared on The Tyee.

The Tyee
A straight-faced academic with a crew cut and sweater vest is making the packed room laugh using a projector and the branch of mathematics known as set theory. Up goes another Venn diagram. The left circle says “grandpa”. The right, “erection”. The grey area where they intersect is labeled “funny”, and the crowd confirms that with guffaws and hurried tweets to their social circles.

This is the custom here at the gruelling conference triathlon that is the South By Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, a 10-day arts and technology affair that this year drew more than 30,000 people, many of them 20- and 30-somethings in the technology, film and music sectors.

“Pull my finger” reads the left set of the next diagram. “Leprosy” offers some overlap, and again grinning faces watch their thumbs smear touch screens. I am but a wallflower at this social media party, for my devices are out of juice and the closest wall outlets are already dangerous tangles of smartphones. Next year I vow to pack a power bar, like the guy at the next outlet over who’s getting swamped with kudos and high fives from new friends.

On stage, Peter McGraw, associate professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, throws up yet another Venn diagram: “unpoppable pimple” reads the left set. The right: “cancer”. Many fewer laughs this time, as expected. The latest diagram was designed after several drinks and was meant to prove that alcohol does make things funnier, albeit only to the joke teller.

Diagrams exhausted, the academic take on comedy continues. McGraw leans on historical references, formulas, peer-reviewed studies, curious findings from his “Humour Research Lab” and good old-fashioned jokes. Just as scientists before him sent a man to the moon, this one thinks he can break whatever code needs to be broken for us to understand what exactly makes people laugh. And to do that, McGraw has tiptoed away from a long-established study of judgment and emotion and cannonballed instead into the field of humour research.

Comedy tips from Plato, Aristotle, Freud

A few weeks after the festival, McGraw calls me via Skype from Australia. He’s on sabbatical in Melbourne, still spending every day trying to kill the world’s three established theories on where humour comes from — superiority, relief and incongruity — or better yet, annex them all under a common banner he calls the benign violation theory (BV), an idea he explored at length in a 2010 article in the Journal of Psychological Science.

McGraw’s central argument builds on the work of linguist Thomas Veatch, who felt humour originated from feeling normal and violated at the same time. McGraw, once the head coach of the men’s lacrosse team at Princeton and now a tenured professor in his early 40s, adapted Veatch’s ideas and began to share them through social media, speaking engagements, trips around the world and now, a book deal.

“Humour, unlike a lot of other positive emotional experiences, comes from a counterintuitive source. It actually has its roots in potentially negative experiences, in situations that are threatening, unsettling, wrong or, as we say, a violation,” he says. “But of course, most things that are wrong, unsettling or threatening create negative emotion, so there needs to be another judgment there, another appraisal of the situation as being safe, acceptable or in some way OK. Our overarching term for that is ‘benign.’”

Back in the early days of humour theory, Plato and Aristotle felt the feeling of superiority we feel over other’s shortcomings fuelled the best jokes. Hobbes later said humour arose from sudden glory over others. McGraw interprets those as examples of his benign violation theory. Basically, someone is feeling bad, but it’s not you, so it’s funny. The Germans might have called it Schadenfreude, but McGraw distills it into a formula: comedy = tragedy + distance.

McGraw reads Freud’s relief theory of humour the same way. What else is it if not a benign violation to make jokes as a release of taboo, sexual or aggressive tendencies pent up by repression? he says.

“We can’t laugh at aggressive things typically, but when they slip out in ways that are accidental or not harmful, then we delight in those kinds of things.”

Today’s leading paradigm of humour is the incongruity theory, which include the likes of Kant and Kierkegaard. Incongruists believe humour is a response to some ambiguous or inappropriate stimulus. McGraw argues the theory is imperfect when taken alone.

“The problem is many of the things we don’t find humorous have those very same episodes of incongruity,” says McGraw.

“In other words, I could say all kinds of random shit to you right now, but you might not laugh?” I venture.

“Exactly,” he replies. “I would experience shock, but it would be offense and I would very clearly not be laughing.”

Are we feeling benignly violated yet?

The benign violation theory proposes a very simple alternative recipe for humour: start with something perfectly normal, then taint it with little violating details, the way Jerry Seinfeld injects bits of horror into ordinary situations. Or start with something that’s obviously wrong and find a way to make it OK, the way Sarah Silverman does by turning possibly insulting rants into cutesy stories. Moving too far in either direction runs the risk of boring or offending, but aiming for that sweet spot in the middle has a number of practical applications, says McGraw.

For starters, he says it offers a chance to reform awful comedians. He often fights with comics who feel he’s wrong to think he can “solve” for the root of humour, but he maintains even unfunny people can be trained to get funnier, the same as you can train a couch potato to best an active person at tennis, or help your neighbour’s ambitious but annoying tuba habit by sending them to music theory lessons.

“Like a magician, the comedian wants to have some air of mystery. To reveal the trick may actually hurt the entertainment aspect of it all,” he says with some sympathy. “Another thing is, to crack the humour code in some way may take this thing that does seem so difficult, so special, and make it less special in their eyes.”

McGraw also has tips for comedy club owners: lower the lights, because anonymity is disinhibiting, lower the ceiling to help laughter bounce and echo, add red curtains or brick walls for drama, and top it all off with uncomfortable chairs packed tight (a little dose of violation).

“Comedy is doing just fine without the humour research lab, but I do think it’s worth investigating,” he says. “If you’re looking for an edge, or if you’re looking for some direction, then I think science can be useful.”

Humour as medicine

The bigger ambition, of course, is to understand where laughter comes from in order to create more of it. How to explain, for example, those instances where the source of humour seems totally senseless, like those “too soon” jokes that follow tragic events?

They’re merely a way to cope with the daily horrors of life, McGraw advises.

“If you were so affected by the stories of rape and destruction and tragedy that come with being a reporter, or the loss of life and pain associated with being an emergency room doctor, if you had to carry it with you every day, that will lead you to depression,” he tells me. “That will lead you to not enjoy your work, work that’s really valuable.”

Some discretion on the blackest of workplace humour advised, of course.

McGraw’s work is far from finished. While his Humour Research Lab continues to experiment and publish in academic journals, he recently took his studies into a more public realm, turning a digital writing collaboration with a Denver-based journalist into a global tour and scoring a 2014 book deal with Simon and Schuster.

As part of that project, he traveled to Palestine in search of humour in a place that’s seen a lot of pain, to Denmark to explore last decade’s Muhammad cartoon controversy and to the Amazon, 100 hospital clowns in tow, to see if laughter really was the best medicine.

He even performed at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival. It was a second chance to illustrate his benign violation theory in practice, following, in a wry turn of events, his desperately boring stand-up debut months earlier.

“Let’s just say I couldn’t have done much worse,” he says, laughing. “If science can map the human genome, why can’t it crack the humour code?”

This originally appeared here.

The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Fail–Frequently. Are You Making Enough Mistakes?

Failed Stamp Showing Reject Or Failure Stock Photo - Image: 25153420We have argued throughout  that the best way to deal with uncertainty is to act.

More specifically you should:

Take a small step toward your goal.

Learn from that action and

Build off that learning and act again.

You go through this Act. Learn. Build. Repeat model until you succeed; know you are you not going to; or decide there is a more appealing opportunity.

And often our advice triggers this reaction:

Who the heck can afford to take step down a road that may lead nowhere? I have a finite amount of time, resources, and energy, and I simply can’t waste them.

Agreed. But you really have only three options when faced with the unknown.

1) You can sit there forever thinking and conclude the situation is hopeless, or the problem is too big, so you do nothing.

2) You can do all that thinking we talked about in Option 1, and when you are absolutely, positively sure, you act . . . only to find out that a) you may not have been right, or b) while you were doing all that thinking, someone beat you to the solution. Or

3) You can do enough thinking to take a smart step toward a solution, one that won’t cost you a lot if you are wrong (leaving you enough resources to try again).

You can choose options one and two.  But we guarantee you your smart competitors are always going to choose #3. Sure, they are going to make more mistakes than you–but because they are taking all those small steps, they have a far greater chance at success.


Paul B. Brown is the co-author of Just Start: Take Action; Embrace Uncertainty and Create the Future published by Harvard Business Review Press.

This blog appears every Sunday and Wednesday, with the occassional extra post like today. Click on the “Following” button to receive the next one the moment it goes live.

This originally appeared here.

Top real estate agents rake in the cash

By Alanah Eriksen @AlanahEriksen

As house prices soar, top sellers are making more than the chiefs of many top companies.

Top agent Nadja Court sold this Mairangi Bay house for $5.5 million.

Top agent Nadja Court sold this Mairangi Bay house for $5.5 million.

Top real estate agents are making up to $1.5 million a year as they cash in on soaring property prices.

Their pay packets are bigger than those of chief executives of some New Zealand companies with thousands of staff at home and abroad.

Barfoot & Thompson says its top three salespeople had $200 million in sales between them over the past financial year.

They were Yvonne Wang and Nadja Court (both Mairangi Bay) and Jane Wang (Panmure).

The three women sold more than 300 homes, with an average asking price of $721,000, over the past year.

Property commentator Alistair Helm calculated that, based on the company’s commission rates, available on its website, and the agents’ recent sales, each would have been paid about $1.5 million, compared to what he said was the average agent income of $35,000 a year. This figure includes part-time agents.

The average house price in Auckland city is at a record $735,692, so sales commission is also up.

Mr Helm said about 20 agents throughout New Zealand were probably making similar amounts to the top Aucklanders.

Many top agents had one or two assistants, so if $150,000 was allowed to cover that cost, the agent could be making about $1.35 million a year.

Another $20,000 could be deducted for the yearly real estate licence, a car and marketing costs.

Nadja Court told the Herald her costs “were way more than that”, but would not comment further.

A Barfoot and Thompson spokeswoman said the company did not want to comment on what its agents were paid.

The Herald contacted several large real estate companies to ask what their top agents were paid.

Ray White chief executive Carey Smith said his top sellers, Ruth Hawes (Kingsland), Rohan Thompson (Royal Oak) and Marie Raos (Howick), each made “in the vicinity” of $1.5 million on $201 million in combined sales last year – not taking into account their costs. Each had at least one assistant.

Colliers and Professionals said their agents did not make as much.

Harcourts, Boulgaris Realty, L.J. Hooker and Bayleys refused to say, and Century 21 and First National did not respond to messages.

The $1.35 million figure puts agents well above many chief executives featured in the Herald’s CEO pay survey last year.

It is slightly more than the salary of Simon MacKenzie, chief executive of power company Vector, which has more than 500,000 customers and about $5.5 billion of assets.

And it is $380,000 more than Russel Creedy, chief executive of Restaurant Brands, which runs KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Carl’s Jr.

Mr Helm is critical of the amounts paid to real estate agents.

“Running a complex multi-million/multi-billion dollar business is a challenging and demanding role with the responsibility for thousands of employees, customers and suppliers,” he says in his blog.

“Top CEOs are paid for performance and the demands of the job. They are in demand and have global value. Selling houses is not … You have a handful of customers at any one time, you have virtually no suppliers or employees.

“You don’t have shareholders or a board of directors to report to. Bizarrely the people who monitor your performance share in your success, and yet they do not directly contribute to that success.

“Selling a house is not a unique skill, nor a highly demanding skill.”

But Real Estate Institute chief executive Helen O’Sullivan said agents worked extremely hard, late at night and during weekends.

As well, she said, “that’s not a lot for the revenue of a small business”.

By Alanah Eriksen @AlanahEriksen EmailAlanah

This originally appeared here.

Relytec All In One Keylogger Protects Children and Monitors Employee Activities

Are you a parent that wants to make sure your children aren’t exposed to inappropriate content online, or an employer that wants to better monitor how your employees are spending their time Online and on your company’s computers?  Now there’s a better way.  Relytec‘s all-in-one Keylogger captures keystrokes, records IM, monitors application usage, desktop activity, captures screenshots, and much more.  It also generates and sends reports via FTP, HTML and email so you can keep watch 24/7.

What’s your piece of mind and empolyee productivity worth?  Download a free trial today at and find out.


President Obama: The Best Chance We’ve Had in Years to Fix Our Broken Immigration System | The White House

President Barack Obama delivers remarks on immigration reformPresident Barack Obama delivers remarks on immigration reform in the East Room of the White House, June 11, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Today, President Obama spoke about the need for the Senate to pass bipartisan, commonsense immigration reform. A broad, bipartisan and diverse coalition of business, labor, religious and faith leaders as well as law enforcement and other community leaders from across the country joined the President in his call for action on this critical legislation.

Standing behind the President was a diverse, bipartisan group of leaders who don’t always see eye-to-eye on every issue, but nevertheless agree on the need for immigration reform. They see the harmful consequences of a broken immigration system for our businesses and communities and understand why Congress needs to act.

From Tom Donohue, the President and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce to Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, to San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, these participants demonstrated the wide-ranging support across the country and political spectrum for commonsense immigration reform.

Tolu Olubunmi, a DREAMer originally from Lagos, Nigeria who has lived in the United States since age 14, introduced the President at today’s event. Tolu exemplifies the very core of why commonsense immigration reform is so critical. Throughout her life, Tolu has shown exceptional promise, earning high school honors and graduating at the top of her class from a prestigious university with a chemistry and engineering degree.

Tolu Olubunmi introduces President Barack Obama before his remarks on immigration reformTolu Olubunmi introduces President Barack Obama before his remarks on immigration reform in the East Room of the White House, June 11, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

But because of our broken immigration system, she has spent years hiding in the shadows. It’s time to help DREAMers like Tolu find a permanent pathway to earned citizenship.

“This week, the Senate will consider a common-sense, bipartisan bill that is the best chance we’ve had in years to fix our broken immigration system,” President Obama explained today.

It will build on what we’ve done and continue to strengthen our borders. It will make sure that businesses and workers are all playing by the same set of rules, and it includes tough penalties for those who don’t. It’s fair for middle-class families, by making sure that those who are brought into the system pay their fair share in taxes and for services. And it’s fair for those who try to immigrate legally by stopping those who try to skip the line. It’s the right thing to do.

“That’s what immigration reform looks like,” the President said. “Smarter enforcement. A pathway to earned citizenship. Improvements to the legal system. They’re all commonsense steps. They’ve got bipartisan support.”

The President looks forward to a robust debate in the Senate and hopes Congress will finish work on bipartisan, commonsense immigration reform legislation as soon as possible. This is our moment to fix what’s broken and make sure we have an immigration policy worthy of our heritage as a nation of laws and as a nation of immigrants.

This originally appeared here.

Selling Social: How Companies Are Connecting with Social Media


– For companies, not all social media platforms are created equal
– Have you noticed more ads on the social media you frequent? There’s a good reason for that.
– Companies are trying to dip into the massive pool of social media users; what platforms are they using – and how is that likely to change? 79%
– Marketers who have integrated social media into their traditional marketing activities 86%
Selling Social: How Companies Are Connecting with Social Media
Image source:
– Marketers who say social media is important for their business

What They’re Using – And What’s Most Important

– Companies use a wide range of types of social media, from Facebook to Pinterest, but Facebook is still the king of social media. Social platforms used
– Facebook – 92%
– Twitter – 80%
LinkedIn – 70%
– Blogging – 58%
Google+ – 42%
– Pinterest – 41%
– Photo sharing (Instagram) – 18%
– Forums – 16%
– Geo-location (Foursquare) – 11%
– Social bookmarking (StumbleUpon) – 10%
– Podcasting – 5%
– Daily deals (Groupon) – 4%
– Q&A sites (Quora) – 4% Single most important platform
– Facebook – 49%
– LinkedIn – 16%
– Blogging – 14%
– Twitter – 12%
YouTube – 4%
– Google+ – 2%
– Forums – 1%
– Pinterest – 1%
– Other – 1%

Why Use Social Media?

– Increased exposure for their business is the top reason marketers use social media. Sales? Those are last.
– Increase exposure – 89%
– Increase traffic – 75%
– Provide market insight – 69%
– Develop loyal fans – 65%
– Generate leads – 61%
– Improve search rankings – 58%
– Develop business partnerships – 54%
– Reduce marketing costs – 47%
– Improve sales – 43% A closer look Sales
– 62% of companies that spend 40+ hours a week earn new business through their efforts Exposure
– Just six hours a week can make a difference: With as little as six hours per week, almost all marketers (92%+) indicated their social media efforts increased exposure for their businesses. Cutting costs
– At least 62% of businesses with 10 or fewer employees agreed social media reduced marketing expenses, while only 38% of businesses with 1,000 or more employees agreed.

They’re Using Social Media, But Do They Know It’s Working?

1 in 4
– Marketers who are able to measure the return on investment of their company’s social media activities

What the Future Holds

– Facebook and YouTube are likely to see increased use, while daily deal and geo-location sites are likely to see marketers reduce their efforts. 8 in 10
– Companies that won’t use daily deal sites or will reduce their use 65% of companies have no plans to use geo-location sites, like Foursquare. Increasing use
– YouTube – 69%
– Facebook – 66%
– Blogging – 66%
– LinkedIn – 65%
– Twitter – 64%
– Google+ – 53%
– Pinterest – 51%
– Photo sharing – 38%
– Forums – 29%
– Podcasting – 24%
– Social bookmarking – 17%
– Geo-location – 16%
– Q&A sites – 14%
– Daily deals – 7%


Social Media Examiner, “2013 Social Media Marketing Industry Report”

NetFinance 2013 – Improving Mobile Banking Panel Highlights

Ido Ophir, head of products at Personetics recently moderated a mobile banking panel at NetFinance with four participating banks – BBVA Compass, Regions Bank, CIBC and Charles Schwab. They discussed how banks can monetize the mobile channel, sharing a handful of top tips banking managers and IT professionals should consider when developing online and mobile customer channels.

About Personetics
Personetics offers a predictive virtual assistant solution designed specifically for banking. Personetics is dedicated to helping FIs deliver a more personalized banking experience across all service channels.

The solution is pre-loaded with a comprehensive library of banking-specific service topics and leverages our real-time analytics engine to accurately predict customer intent. For more information, go to

Treatings CEO Shares How a New Professional Network Helps People Connect over Coffee

eXprtViews had the chance to sit down with Treatings Co-Founder and CEO, Hayden Williams to talk about the need for a new professional networking site that connects young people with others outside their own circle of friends and industries.

If you are looking for more information on a particular industry or type of job, or looking for someone to collaborate with on a project, then there are lots of young people with the time an desire to network across industries, and to build up their own personal list of connections. This is an easy-to-use site to do so. Go to and register to connect with the right people in the right jobs, industry or company. You simply request to “treat” them to a coffee – turning an online introduction into real-life connection. It’s a tangible way to uncover new job opportunities, and it is amazing who you can meet and what you can learn and share with people across industries. Check it out.

Right now the site is focused on connecting people in the New York area, but has plans to expand in the near future.