First dates can be awkward.

That’s true whether you are meeting to see if you are romantically interested, interested as a friend or professionally interested. Sometimes first dates just don’t work out.

That’s why when it was time to facilitate the mentorship program for PromaxGAMES, the association brought in networking and leadership professional Paul Osincup.

Osincup had long worked as an academic, including as dean of the Culinary Institute of America, with a sideline as a stand-up comic and improv artist. His current work combines both expertises to help bring humor and fun into the workplace. He’s worked with school districts, police departments, NASDAQ, Kaiser Permanente and now PromaxGAMES. His TedX talk, “Leading with Laugher,” has been viewed more than 170,000 times.

Osincup first met the PromaxGAMES mentorship cohort in April, and had them play games, such as his version of the Newlywed Game, and have fun so they could loosen up and get to know each other before starting the work. Later, he set them to more serious tasks, such as filling out a so-called “Johari Window,” which helps people chart their strengths, weaknesses, what they know about themselves and what they do not know about themselves but should become aware of.

“This was their first time coming together and getting to know each other,” says Osincup. “We wanted them to have a half-day together where they could set some expectations for what this relationship would be like.”

Beyond helping groups of strangers become groups of paired-off professionals, Osincup says connection in the workplace is becoming more difficult than it once was.

“We self-isolate more than we used to. This idea of prioritizing human-to-human connection is more important than ever.”

That’s why the value of having a good mentor relationship can be measured in thousands of dollars.

“Executives pay fortunes for coaches. The coaching industry is booming if you want to have your own personal coach,” he says. “What’s cool about having a mentor is that it allows you to microwave your development.”

For example, mentorship allows up-and-comers to become aware of their strengths and weaknesses as well as how best to deploy — or avoid — both in the workplace.

“There are certain traits and skills that all of us have,” says Osincup. “Becoming aware of those puts you a step ahead of people who don’t invest in that. There are a lot of people going through life who are completely oblivious as to how they are impacting other people. But if I know I have a tendency to interrupt other people a lot, for example, I will learn to rein that in. Or maybe I’m really unorganized and that’s something my mentor and I have started talking about. I can choose to do everything the way I’ve always done it or I can start navigating more and more toward my strengths.”

Osincup also spends a lot of time addressing leadership when he works with groups.

“The number-one trait of a good leader is their ability to listen,” he says. “But what’s scary as a leader is to let go and give people a voice. Instead of me as the CEO telling everybody at this meeting what it is we need to be doing, I need to turn over the reins and ask them what we need to do better. That’s scary to do because you might hear that your idea that we tried last month isn’t working. It’s not just the act of sitting silent and listening but really giving your team a voice and engaging them in the process.”

But even that can be done within a culture of fun, and companies who successfully manage to create that culture tend to see more productivity and less turnover.

“With everything I do, I talk about creating a culture of fun and adding humor to the workplace. All of the research shows that it only works if leadership is also on board,” Osincup says. “I can go to your workplace and give you ideas about how to bring more fun and humor to work and it will have a huge impact on your culture, but if the people at the top are squashing that culture, it won’t work.”

PromaxGAMES is finishing up its first mentorship cohort on Tuesday, Oct. 23, and is nearly at the midpoint for its second cohort, which will meet in Los Angeles on Friday, Nov. 2.

If you are a marketer in the video game industry and are interested in either mentoring or being mentored, contact Rachel Wyatt at

Tags: mentorship paul osincup promaxgames

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