curiosity across disciplines

Foolish enough

Foolishness is typically derided as some sort of character flaw.

However, if we consider it outside the incessant human drive to label everything, and merely consider the mundane process of mastering a skill or improving in some way, foolishness is unavoidable.

Want to grow a business? You're going to falter and make ridiculous mistakes.

Want to get good at art? Good luck with toeing the foolishness-as-part-of-mastery line AND the genius-but-also-well-understood-and-perfectly-accepted-by-everyone line.

Want to find love? ...Ha![1]

Story of a lonely goat. Photo by Torsten Dederichs / Unsplash

Foolishness, when embracing the process instead of the result, is a virtue.

Abrahamson and Freedman, in A Perfect Mess, an excellent book about how disorder within systems can be helpful, makes this case well.

One example they cite (to make their case of disorder, not necessarily embracing foolishness) is the aerospace company Scaled Composites. Part of their company's culture of questioning everything, including one's own work, combined with rewarding employees that point out their own mistakes created a successful recipe. To wit:

"The one-hundred employee Scaled Composites managed eighty-eight consecutive profitable quarters in an industry that is perennially profit challenged.”[2]

In addition, at the time of writing in 2006, the company had released 26 new aircraft designs in 30 years, a record unheard of in the industry.

Now, while I'm guessing the Scaled Composites' leadership wouldn't cop to "foolishness" as a factor in their success (...at least not within litigious earshot), embracing such a mindset, one transparent and honest about mistakes, that when addressed creates growth and understanding, clearly works for even high-stakes skillsets.

Okay, so "foolishness" is super duper, and we can all don a jester's cap and party poppers at the next corporate all-hands meeting. Whoopty do.

What's really the point here?

It's not exclusively that foolishness and reframing our thinking about how we improve are helpful.

That is a point, and you are a fool (no jester's cap required). And if there was any doubt about me, you've been reading the wrong publication.

No, it's also that the stories we choose to tell are crucial in both self-improvement and in crafting a better world.

I'd go so far as to say the nebulous project of "thinking better" is almost entirely about finding and choosing more useful stories to tell.

To punchline this folly: whether inherited, borrowed, or cobbled together as some form of personally-crafted amalgamation, don't settle for sub-par stories.

Seek out stories that, to wax nauseatingly poetic, light you up and make you want to tell others, regardless of the foolishness-quotient.

Incidentally, this whole post is a case study in the topic. A central theme of this blog even has one of those cobbled stories lurking afoot.

It's the kind of story that will emerge over time, and one that I find both beautiful and hopeful.

But with that said, none of this is easy. The world is riddled with easily-acquired, ego-flattering stories; stories that create zero-sum outcomes and draw attention away from our own flaws and struggles.

But the way I see it: on the path to a better world, being foolish enough to invest in more useful stories is the only game in town.

  1. Good luck finding love without being a fool! ↩︎

  2. Abrahamson, E. E., & Freedman, D. A. (2006). A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder--How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place. ↩︎