The Laughing Clown Therapy Company (LCTC) was founded in 2008 by a group of unemployed clowns in Colorado Springs, Colorado. These eight friends had graduated from the American Academy of Performing Arts in Clowning (AAPAC). As former employees of Tickle-Your-Funny-Bone Entertainment, they had produced many smiles, giggles, and laughs throughout the 90’s. Unfortunately, the company went belly-up in 2003.
Jay Reynolds (known as “Jazzy Jay”) had a reputation for being the clown of the group, yet was very savvy in the field of business acumen. In 2006, Jay received the “Excellence in Clowning Entrepreneurialism” award for successfully launching the first online Clown College. He also founded the Pike’s Peak Association of Clown Professionals (PPACP). The group’s mission was to encourage networking, discuss best practices, and swap jokes amongst clown practitioners (most of whom were AAPAC Alumni).
The unemployed clowns were joking around at a PPACP meeting one day when Chuck Jordan (often referred to as “Chuckles”) shared a newspaper article indicating that the art of clowning was running out of gas. The economy had begun to sour, and birthday party gigs dropped significantly as demand for quality clown entertainment slowed. As a matter of fact, public approval for clowns had fallen to the lowest level recorded since 1960 (shortly after NBC cancelled “The Howdy Doody Show”). It was obvious that the squeaky horns and red rubber noses just weren’t as effective at creating laughter anymore. Almost immediately, parents started putting on clown makeup and wearing big wigs to cut costs. These friends with big bulging shoes knew that something had to change!
After locking themselves in a small car for three days, the friends eventually exited and called for a news conference. Led by Jazzy-Jay and Chuckles, the team announced the launch of a new company specializing in the funny business. At first, the reporters thought it was a big joke (they were, after all, a bunch of clowns). When the friends failed to crack a smile, it became obvious that these clowns were actually very serious.
The Laughing Clown Therapy Company created two core business units. The first was the service division, employing a staff of professional clowns who juggled and made balloon animals at birthday parties and weddings. More advanced “Therapy Clowns” provided therapeutic humor for CEOs and adults suffering from depression. The other division of LCTC was focused on manufacturing and distributing fun novelty items. Based on the original success of long-time favorites, such as whoopee cushions, hand buzzers, and fake toothpaste, LCTC quickly became the novelty item business leader.
The marketing concepts and innovation strategies of the Laughing Clown Therapy Company proved to be a huge success. Some of the unit’s best innovations were the pop-proof scented whoopee cushion, self-winding hand buzzer, and fake toothpaste with fluoride (which had received the ADA seal of approval). Incremental innovation was more challenging for the clown talent division, however. Even the elite Therapy Clowns, with advanced therapeutic training (most were chiropractic or massage school dropouts), said they enjoyed their jobs but weren’t properly trained on how to be more innovative.
An employee focus group was formed to study the situation. Six weeks later, the Senior Leadership Team held a special meeting to discuss the report and brainstorm potential solutions to advance innovation. “Examination of our current innovation strategy suggests empty rhetoric and shameless self-promotion,” Chuckles explained to the board members. The executive team decided, after some clowning around, that the best option would be to implement a new employee incentive plan to encourage innovation.
The new incentive plan was finalized just one week later. It outlined specific conditions, goals, and rewards that would encourage the clowns to be more innovative. The first reward would be an instant Funny Money bonus of $500. The next reward, for an employee’s second consecutive winning idea, was a company car upgrade (from the SMART car to a new Mini Cooper). The third innovation reward would be an all expense paid trip to Oz for the clown’s family (air travel provided via hot air balloon), with a private tour of the Emerald City.
The executives hosted a national teleconference to announce the new innovation incentive plan. Chuckles began the call by stating, “The stall in organizational innovation is no longer a laughing matter.” Jazzy Jay then reviewed details of the new incentive plan. He emphasized that every clown at the company was eligible if they had a signed employment contract and were not currently on a LHPIP (Laugh-Harder-Performance-Improvement-Plan).
It is important to note that the executive clowns did consider having each employee sign a “Declaration of Clown’s Honor” to guarantee compliance with the rules. Some feared that this contract could threaten trust while others thought it was as necessary as makeup. Ultimately, they decided not to implement this contract since most of the clowns would have just put an ‘X’ on the dotted line!
Shortly after implementing the new innovation incentive plan, the internal cultural environment of LCTC brightened. The manufacturing and distribution unit stayed busy, and revenues from the service division soared. Ultimately, the new incentive plan was credited for keeping innovation flowing during economic stress. Salaries were raised, benefits were added, and tuition reimbursement was approved for CCEs (Continuing Clowning Education). The friends eventually added a balloon animal division and profits soared. Next thing you know, each of the eight original clowns were spotted laughing all the way to the bank!
Just for fun,