I’m sure you’ve experienced it, you’re in a meeting of some kind and trying to tackle an important topic, and someone cracks a joke. Regardless of the quality or appropriateness of the joke, a threat to the effectiveness of the meeting has been introduced. I call it “Comedic Friction”.

It’s a great example of Cognitive Switching Penalty. That going from serious discussion to comedy “costs” everyone mental speed. It’s like a stop sign when you’re driving. It takes time to slow down, wait, look, and speed back up.

The more often someone cracks a joke, the more Comedic Friction is introduced and the more “friction” there is between the group and the goal that’s caused by the unexpected introduction of comedy.

There’s another factor that makes it particularly deadly to productivity, is that the Impulse Control levels of each individual person is multiplied by each other’s Impulse Control levels.

So if someone cracks a joke, and everyone laughs, but jumps right back on track. A group can correct for the low Impulse Control of a single member. But if one person slips up and makes a joke and someone else can’t help but chip in another joke related to the first one, now you’re starting to shift course, and not just slow down!

And because of the Cognitive Switching Penalty, if the group is large enough, and the Impulse Control of enough people is low enough, you start to create an essentially implosive situation on a hair trigger. All it takes is for one funny thing to happen, and it will spiral down from there. And depending on the recovery time, it could become an indefinite trend.

This is usually only experienced in K-12 environments with it ending with a teacher yelling “class!” or similar. But the effect and issue is plenty prevalent in corporate or business environments even if to a lesser degree.

The amount of time and work lost to constant and pervasive comedic friction is high, especially among long term working scenarios. And due to the social and viral nature of Comedic Friction, it’s always a temptation to join the behavior.

So the next time someone introduces Comedic Friction to a meeting, remember:
Only you can prevent cognitive wildfires!