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Funny business: how humour can boost team spirit and drive innovation

Written by Donna Kelly on Thursday, 05 June 2014. Posted in Start-up Diaries

Humour on the job can help team bonding – and can even provide fertile ground for ideas to flourish

Funny business: how humour can boost team spirit and drive innovation

Odd couples make the best teams. Perhaps it’s something to do with the ‘opposites attract’ principle, but in our experience if you really want to solve a knotty problem it’s a good idea to put two people with a contrasting view together. That’s exactly what we did when we were first creating Dressipi. We teamed each of our software developers with a stylist, with the idea that this was the quickest way for us to improve the way our service worked. The ‘Beauty and the Geek’ principle, as we called it, meant that whenever our algorithm made an unsuitable recommendation during testing, the stylist would be able to capture it, explain what didn’t work and work with the developer to suggest an alternative.

All this meant we could iterate on our launch product very quickly indeed, which is exactly what you need as a start-up. But what it also gave our team was a crash course in speaking another person’s professional language. Each profession has its own jargon, and nowhere is this more pronounced than in fashion and software development. Both are occasionally guilty of using words in a way that’s totally baffling to outsiders. But even though it was occasionally a challenge for our beauties and geeks to make themselves understood, the ironic crossovers and parallel inferred meanings of the fashion/tech jargon meant we can sometimes sound like a very entertaining comic sketch. And there’s no better way to bond in the office than over a good laugh.

Here are a few of our favourites from four years of bridging the gap between technology and fashion.

Animal magic

• It’s become an in-house joke now that when developers spoke about MongoDB they were not talking about a beloved dog but rather the open source database. 

• There was the time a member of the technology team genuinely thought ‘animal print’ meant lots of pictures of animals on an item of clothing.

Location-based services

• Our technology team once announced we were moving to Amazon web server technology EC2. But that was nothing to do with Shoreditch and fashionland, they assured the style team.

• Or the moment when our developers mentioned going to Ruby Manor, the tech conference for Ruby programmers, as opposed to a weekend spa break or anything to do with Dorothy’s glittery red shoes from the Wizard of Oz which were a much-copied shoe trend that season. 

Categorical errors

• What’s the difference between a jumpsuit and a playsuit? This was the topic of hot debate among our technology team one afternoon. Our stylists were delighted, until they realised they were talking about the kind of jumpsuits they’d seen in Top Gun.

• Tech term ‘elastic search’ has nothing to do with the waistbands of dresses.

• It’s hard enough for the fashion industry to differentiate between the ever-expanding string of main collections, pre-collections, you name it. So it’s not surprising that our developers asked: “Is it autumn/winter or autumn and winter or a/w and when does it become spring and summer or both?”

Brand recognition

• Then there was the day one of our stylists had to explain to our developers that it was Jimmy Choos not Jimmy’s Shoes.

• A developer question once overheard in the office: “Why is this Mulberry bag called a ‘Hobo’? I mean what exactly is a Hobo bag?” This actually resulted in a fashion blog post explaining the origins of the hobo bag.

And finally, there was the quip that changed our business. One of our stylists who came from a background in fashion journalism announced that her “fashion cupboard had become an algorithm”. The idea that a piece of software could replace a cupboard full of clothes got us thinking whether that was possible. Fast forward to last year and we launched our outfit builder, which automatically builds whole outfits around specific pieces of clothing on our site. Bingo. 

About the Author

Donna Kelly

Donna Kelly

Kelly is one half of the talented team behind Dressipi, the enterprise at the heart of our all new Start-up diaries. Kelly and co-founder Sarah McVittie evenly balance each other out, with McVittie bringing the start-up skills, with her sales and shareholding expertise, and product- and detail-focused Kelly packing the corporate capability.

And it’s not only their passions in the workplace that complement each other –  McVittie prefers to let off steam by hopping on her motorbike, whilst Kelly prefers to spend her free time brushing up on her piano playing.

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