It's time for one of my very favorite creative thinking strategies:
Image from the Wise Fool
Carrying the strategy of "looking at things differently" to extremes brings us to the realm of the wise fool, the being for whom everyday ways of understanding have little meaning.
It's the wise fool's job to extol the trivial, trifle with the exalted, and parody the common perception of a situation. In doing so, the wise fool makes us conscious of the habits we take for granted and rarely question. A good fool needs to be part actor and part poet, part philosopher and part psychologist.
And throughout history, the wise fool has been consulted by Egyptian pharaohs and Babylonian kings, Chinese emperors, Greeks tyrants, and Hopi Indian chiefs.
The wise fool will reverse our standard assumptions. He'll say, "If a man is sitting on a horse facing the rear, why do we assume that it is the man who is backwards, and not the horse?"
The wise fool notices things that other people overlook. He might 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?"
The wise fool can also be irreverent. He'll pose riddles such as,
"What does a rich man put in his pocket that the poor man throws away?" When he answers, "Snot," he forces us to re-examine the sanctity of our everyday rituals.
The wise fool can be cryptic. He'll say the best way to see something is with your ears. Initially, this may seem weird, but after you've thought about it, you might agree that listening to a story conjures up more images than watching television.
The wise fool can be absurd. Having lost his donkey, a fool got down on his knees and began thanking God. A passerby saw him and asked, "Your donkey is missing; why are you thanking God?" The fool replied, "I'm thanking Him for seeing to it that I wasn't riding him at the time. Otherwise, I would be missing as well."
The wise fool will take the contrary position in most conversations. Whereas many people would agree that, "If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing well," The fool might say,
"You don't have to do things well! Indeed, it's okay to do them poorly; otherwise you'll never let yourself be a beginner at a new activity."
The great benefit of the fool's antics and observations is that they stimulate our thinking. They jolt us in the same way that a splash of cold water awakens us when we are drowsy.
Exercise: Where has "thinking like a wise fool" helped you look at a problem in a helpful way?
©Roger von Oech