When Curt emailed me about contributing to July's Collective Genius, I jumped at the chance to weigh in on this month's topic. Teaching an MBA class on Creativity in Business, I've witnessed plenty of students who fall into the category of fearing failure and looking like a fool. We've been conditioned to pass, to succeed, to compete, and to excel. Failure is not an option, so we stifle our creativity and go with the flow.
After recently visiting England and getting a crash course on the history of the monarchy there, I've come to a very simple conclusion on the topic of fearing failure: We need more Court Jesters. For those not familiar with the role of a Court Jester, they were more than simply a clown employed to entertain the King. They served a much more critical role than providing music and laughter. They were generally the only ones in the court who could ridicule virtually everything. (Sure, there may have been a fear of beheading if they went too far, but that threat applied universally in Medieval times.)
The Court Jester was the one who could challenge traditional, conventional wisdom by doing one thing: making fun of it. He might highlight the seemingly trivial elements of an idea, or he might downplay what everyone else was ooo-ing and ah-ing over. He might parody the players connected with an idea so the king could see the idea in a new light. He might reverse everything - logistically, chronologically, philosophically - allowing those in his audience to see it from different angles. Regardless of how he accomplished it, the Court Jester was the one person whose perspective could rise above the knowledge of the King's advisors (translated: yes men).
You see, there is only one sure way to fail: to sell out your soul and your common sense and your intuition and your values to blindly go along with the crowd. Even if the crowd turns out to be right on the one particular issue, you've ended up losing a small piece of yourself that will be difficult to regain. The best ideas in history were not accomplished by being agreeable. They were conceived in conflict, incubated in contention, birthed in debate, and developed in discourse. The contrarian's mindset can take a good idea and make it better. It can take a bad idea and turn it into something useful. Regardless, the possibility of failure always looms on the horizon.
Do you want to overcome a fear of failure? Become a Court Jester. Are you afraid of looking like a fool? Then look like a fool with purpose and panache. Be contrary! Make fun of all sides of an idea! Buck the status quo! And whether you stand on the podium with a trophy or on the sidelines with egg on your face, you will have fed your soul and had fun in the process. Now get out there and CARPE FACTUM!
Submitted by Timothy Johnson of Carpe Factum (Seize the Accomplishment!)