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3 Things the 'Harlem Shake' Reveals About the Workplace

Sure, it's a ridiculous meme. But pay attention: Buried in those YouTube clips are some truths about why company culture is so important.

What would make grown adults wear absurd costumes, bump and grind on chair legs, and benchpress small co-workers in pulsating rhythm? On a random Thursday morning? In a lecture hall or office cafeteria?

The Harlem Shake is a dance fest that is sweeping the nation. Individuals, university students, and entire companies are shaking in unison and posting the silliness on YouTube.

YouTube reported on February 12 that 12,000 Harlem Shake videos have been uploaded since the first of February, and watched over 44 million times.

Read on to learn three universal truths this ridiculous dance reveals--and how they can impact your company culture for the better.

Truth #1: We want to feel.

The Harlem Shake is all about unabashed emotion. Moving freely with that unmistakable beat, people feel, if even for 30 seconds in front of a camera, that they are alive and not sleepwalking through their day.

So much of our waking life is spent at work. And let's face it, for many people, work sucks. And it sucks because most workplaces are mediocre, static, safe, and merely "functional."

But vibrant cultures make us feel. And they are fun. And I'm not talking about that b.s. office party kind of fun, but real, engaged, purposeful, hootenanny kind of fun. Culture is not something to define, but an energy to be felt.

Help people feel something, anything--excitement, contentment, joy, zeal, flow, effort, curiosity--and you will unleash ambassadors to carry your cause and your company's mission further than you ever could.

Truth #2: We want to connect.

If any one of us performed this dance flying solo we would look delusional. But in tandem with others, it somehow seems less insane, even acceptable, to look like a fool. This shared experience binds us with other crazy people.

The same thing is true for company culture. Connecting with other people through shared experiences and honest dialogue emboldens us to take risks, execute fearlessly, and collaborate intelligently. What we won't do alone, we're likely to do with fellow sojourners. Taken from an African proverb, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

My proverb: "If you want to feel sane, do crazy stuff with other crazy people."

Truth #3: We want to belong.

Maslow said it was third on the list of psychological needs--the need to belong.

The scads of people in those Harlem Shake uploads are not random strangers. These dances are planned and performed by a group of people that know each other well. They are a tribe of people--roommates, teammates, coworkers, families--that say to the video-viewing world "we're together." It's about trust and identity.

Humans have a psychological need to belong to a group. We need to feel loved and accepted. When we don't, social anxiety can run amuck, leaving us socially paralyzed and unable to be authentic.

Creating a sense of belonging in a company culture is not difficult. Smaller teams working toward the same goal can create it. Sharing values with your co-workers can create it. Rituals that build cohesion and pride can create it.

And even sharing an obnoxious dance that no one understands can create it.

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