Monday, March 28, 2011

Why you should listen to a fool. Especially your inner fool.

The Reluctant Fool by LeslieLeeArt
Scrollwork’s School for Fools, Part Two
See Part One, Scrollwork's School for Fools Now Open

Roger Van Oech has a favorite strategy for stimulating creative thinking: Think like a fool. Fools everywhere take this as a compliment.

Roger notes that besides being a truth-teller, a fool challenges assumptions, sees what others overlook, and takes the contrary position in ways that make us think twice. If nothing else, a fool, when heeded, may avert disaster that nobody sees coming.

Once, an institution atop a hill decided to mark a milestone. They would ask a local boy who had made good to return to his provincial hometown and speak at the event. Everyone praised the plan. They asked the new scribe to draft a letter of invitation. It was practically a done deal, as the local boy had already spoken at a previous milestone.

The scribe Googled the invitee’s accomplishments to flatter him with their mention. Six links down was a detailed account of a world-renowned institution’s grim displeasure at the invitee’s admitted plagiarism. Horrified, the scribe derailed the plan and appealed to the man in the corner office.

The experience was rather like pointing out the emperor’s butt nakedness as the fans praised his exquisite new duds. The scribe realized that in following her own code of ethics, she had taken on the role of the fool. Would anyone listen?

The chief pennyraiser’s concern was dealing delicately with the major moneygiver who had suggested inviting the plagiarist. After much hemming and hawing, the plan was scrapped. 

The institution then invited the Equivalent of the Queen, who accepted, to everyone’s shocked delight. The institution made history, as it was her first speech following the election coronation. The near-disaster with the disgraced local boy quickly faded from collective memory.

Nobody credited the fool, of course, but little did she care. Remember, a fool’s credo includes “A fool isn’t in it for the prestige.” (It would have been nice if the fool had been allowed to keep her job as scribe in acknowledgement of her one usefool moment, but why that wasn’t so is a convoluted story involving microbes as metaphor, told here.)

Third and last part: How to be a fool (and what's in it for you)


  1. Grrrrr, I hate when that happens. I had similar thoughts about the world of work. All there was to succeeding was to excel at my job (like a good little girl); doing it single handedly, working late and on weekends, taking work home to meet impossible deadlines. For years I did the job better than anyone else had ever done it. Did I get a promotion, a raise, an atta girl once in awhile? No, I just got MORE work; and a death wish, which led to a stress leave and lingering bitterness for being a fool.

  2. Still, pursuing what is right - even if no one else acknowledges it - has its own reward: you get to go to bed at night knowing you did a good thing. I wonder how well "local boy" sleeps.

  3. And thank goodness for a blog! Catharsis, and a good night's sleep night after night: the secrets to happiness. Oh, and I might add, in Connie's case, the other ingredients for happiness: grandchildren and retirement!