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November 08, 2012

Nicing: a story of language-building

November 08, 2012

Have you ever heard about the strange phenomenon known as Bros Icing Bros? It's a drinking game played with a strict code: if a bro surprises another bro with a Smirnoff Ice, he must drink it, no matter how inconvenient the timing. The only way to get out of this duty is if, by chance, the bro on the receiving end has an Ice of his own within reach, as he can block an Ice with an Ice. Sounds absurd, right?

Cut to SmallBox, in the autumn of 2011. We're an office that openly embraces the occasional prank, and Daniel Fahrner decided it was time to play a good one on Justin Shimp. Dan masterminded a devious plot, in which he got his brother Patrick, who lives in Chicago, to tell Justin about icing bros via Google Chat. Patrick convinced Justin that he should go to a nearby liquor store and buy some Smirnoff to ice Dan at work later that afternoon. Little did Justin know that Patrick was working on behalf of Dan to be sure Justin understood Bro code, so that when Dan iced him, he knew he had to drink it. Dan really got Shimp, who was a good sport and drank his mid-afternoon Ice at his desk.

I promise there's more to this story than a silly drinking game. At the time, Daniel had just sprinted through the serious undertaking of running Broad Ripple Music Fest on top of his normal duties at the 'Box. He had worked crazy long hours, booking talent, finding sponsors and coordinating with venues, sacrificing his home and family time along the way. While Daniel was scheming to ice Justin, Justin had been secretly coordinating with all of team SmallBox to surprise, or (n)ICE Dan for BRMF-ing so hard. What happened was caught on video, and as you can see, Dan really thought something else was going down:

And so, "nicing" entered the SmallBox lexicon.

1. surprised and delighted with a gesture of goodwill
2. having received an unexpected gift.

Language-building as an element of healthy team culture
We continue to use the phrase "getting niced" as we plan birthdays, send gifts to clients or otherwise engage in gestures of goodwill. Having our own label for these behaviors makes it feel even more, well, SmallBox-y. Jeb once wrote about successful organizations being purposeful about choosing words, in which people work to redefine words to have specific, contextual meanings.

I like the story of how icing begat nicing because it was purposefully adopted, but it required a spontaneous series of events to come into our collective language. Additions to your playbook might come from really unexpected places - absurd drinking games or otherwise. You just need to keep your ears open for it, and embrace the words that stick with your team.

The really cool thing is that sometimes language-building takes you into entirely new places. We're currently working on a secret, fun project connected to nicing. An announcement on that front will be coming soon! In the mean time, we want to hear your language-building stories. Do you have special words you've re-purposed with your own context?

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