Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sometimes It's Good to Be a Fool

One of the best jobs I ever had was that of Creativity Coach. It was fun. I got to help people see new ways to solve problems and spend times coming up with great ideas. In fact, my dream job would be Idea Person. Just stick me in a room and I could come up with all the ideas necessary to solve all the world’s problems according to me. For some reason, no one ever wanted to pay me for that.

That’s the way the cookie crumbs for now. Someday, some keen individual will recognize my idea generative talent and give me a salary with benefits. In the meantime, one of my favorite things to remind people of is that everything has its place and all fools are not foolish.

·    There are benefits to conformity.

1. Living in society requires that we cooperate with other people.

2. In those situations where we don’t know our way around, what do we do? We look to others for the right way to act.

3. By conforming, we may feel a sense of rightness and security.

·    There are also setbacks to conformity.

It leads to Groupthink. This is the dreaded condition of everyone acting and thinking the same way, because no one wants to risk standing out. Remember the old commercial where the guy walks into a doctor’s office and everyone in the waiting room is in their underwear. What does the guy do? He leaves and comes back in his underwear.  Hardly a recommendation for conformity.

As writers, conformity can show us what sells, but it can also be dangerous. I don’t want to read the same story over and over and neither do most readers. Formula writing is only effective in so far as a writer learns to use it in an original way.

My favorite method for avoiding Groupthink is to act like a medieval queen or king and consult a fool. The court jester was not the “fool” typically portrayed in film (Though Danny Kaye will always be one of my favorite court jesters). He was generally a respected advisor whose ability to present alternative perspectives and options worked to the benefit of monarchs. He made them see things in new ways by employing several tactics:

·    Reverse standard assumptions If a man is sitting on a horse facing the rear, the fool would ask why do we assume it is the man and not the horse who is backward?

·    Irreverent/riddles A fool may ask what is it that a rich man puts in his pocket that a poor man throws away? Snot. Makes you reexamine your daily rituals, doesn’t it?

·    Deny a problem and reframe the situation A fool will tell you recessions are good. They make people work more efficiently. People work harder when they are insecure about the future of their jobs. Companies have a fair amount of fat in them, so a recession makes them trim back to their fighting weight and be more aggressive.

·    Absurdity Having lost his donkey, the fool drops down to his knees and thanks God he wasn’t riding the beast or he would be missing too.

·    Notice things other people overlook A fool will ask why do people who pour cream into their coffee do so after the coffee is already in the cup, rather than pouring the cream in first and saving themselves the trouble of stirring?

·    Metaphorical A fool will ask which is true: Birds eat seeds or seeds eat birds? Both. Dead birds on the ground decompose into the soil to fertilize freshly sown seeds.

·    Apply rules from one arena to another

·    Can be cryptic A fool will tell you the best way to see is with your ears. Listening to a poem or short story conjures up more images in your mind than watching TV.

For the court jester, it isn’t a matter of whether or not your idea is crazy. The question is: is it crazy enough?

The next time you feel “stuck,” reverse your viewpoint, play with an idea, and let yourself go. See if you can become your own fool. Above all else, have fun!

Once upon a time in a remote Romanian village, a sleeping sickness that mimicked a plague swept through the region. An emergency meeting of the village was called after learning several people had been buried alive (How they discovered this, I’m not quite sure, but the story has a point). During the meeting, the inhabitants divided into two groups to put their heads together to come up with a way to prevent this terrible torture from happening to another hapless victim. The first group’s solution was to put a rope attached to an above ground bell in the hand of all who were buried. Then if the corpse wasn’t really a corpse, the person could ring the bell and be promptly released from his underground prison. The second group had a totally different solution. They proposed that a stake be placed on the lid of all coffins so that when closed, the stake would pierce the heart.

Both of these groups presented solutions. The difference was in the questions they started out with. The first group asked, “How can we make sure no one we bury is alive?” The second group asked, “How can we make sure everyone we bury is dead?”

Both groups had a solution. It’s all a matter of perspective.

If you hear of anyone looking for an idea person, send them my way. Until next time, happy reading and writing!


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I love the way you think and re-think. Brainstorming oneself is a great way to solve problems. If I had taken my own advice, I'd be better off today...naming colors for lipsticks and paint chips-- maybe not.

Annabel Aidan said...

I really like that perspective and viewpoint. Thanks for sharing it. It's so important to view things from multiple angles and make informed choices.

Big Mike said...

I have watched group think in action so many times in my job as an Operations Researcher in DOD and the intel sector, so many it's scary, and I was always the odd duck screaming, "Hey, wake up. You're heading over a cliff." Sadly, most followed the pite piper to their doom.

Michael Davis (Davisstories.com)
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)