Court the Fool

posted in: Process Triage | 0

In 1983, the Associated Press ran a story regarding the origin of April Fools’ Day. In the story, Joseph Boskin, a professor of history at Boston University, explained how April Fools’ Day began during the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine.

Court fools or jesters at that time were thought to be wise men whose roles were to put things into perspective with humor. As the story goes, Constantine allowed a court jester named Kugel to be king for a day. Kugel, as temporary king, passed an edict calling for a day of absurdity. Over the years, that custom of absurdity became an annual event on what came to be known as April Fools’ Day.

There was only one catch with this story; Professor Boskin later admitted he made it up. Allegedly, it took a couple of weeks for the Associated Press to realize that they’d been victims of an April Fools’ joke themselves. 

So why bring this story up again? In today’s fast-changing economy, it seems every business could use a court jester or fool. Someone that doesn’t accept the status quo and helps us question “sacred cows” that get in the way of exploring new directions.

Too often when seeking improvements, we surround ourselves with those that are just like us. We get caught up in perspectives that see things the same way that we do. It’s no surprise then when our improvement strategies don’t result in the big results we want.  

The next time you’re looking for fresh ideas in your business, try bringing in someone who has not been involved before; such as, a front-line worker or someone totally outside your company. It may make things a little uncomfortable, but growth is about getting out of your comfort zone.

Another approach is to create situations where you “think like the fool”.  Here are just a few ideas for doing that:

  • question the sanctity of everyday routines by thinking about situations from the customer’s perspective, the supplier’s perspective, your competitor’s perspective or even another industry’s perspective,
  • use lateral thinking by ignoring the obvious solution and assuming that there are many other answers,
  • imagine the situation in a different time period in the future or past,
  • or, start with the ideal solution that seems too absurd, then work backwards to determine how to get there by overcoming each obstacle in the way.

Any one of these methods could be the start of your next big idea.