The Fool On The Hill

‘Day after day, alone on the hill The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still But nobody wants to know him They can see that he’s just a fool And he never gives an answer But the fool on the hill Sees the sun going down And the eyes in his head See the world spinning around’

The man on top of the most important hill in the world won his crown by the playing the fool…where will the world spin with a fool in charge?

What can we learn about the power of foolishness as a path to success?

The ‘lucid fool’ – who seems detached from reality but surprises with with bursts of penetrating insight – is a recurring character in drama through the ages. Be it Shakespeare’s Feste in ‘Twelfth Night’, Forrest Gump or Charlie Brooker’s Philomena Cunk and Barry Shitpeas writers have long used fools to reveal deeper truths about life and the absurd reality of complex situations

gump_reddit Philomena

The ability of fools to deliver wisdom flows from their otherness. Foolish characters sit outside established power structures. They live beyond the machinations of the worlds they inhabit. Their foolish otherness enables them to highlight incongruity in the obvious. They pierce bubbles of others’ pretension.

Foolishness is not a uniquely dramatic device. There has been much of the fool in Donald Trump’s performances over the last twelve months. His use of spoken and body language has frequently bordered on the ridiculous.

The way Trump stalked Clinton in the final presidential debate gave it a grim, comedic edge. Trump’s was echoing body positions more usually associated with pantomime baddies not serious presidential candidates. He loomed over Clinton like a bad dance partner at a disco. With his performance as fool to the serious, policy-focused Clinton Trump highlighted the underlying negative perceptions of Hilary as regal and remote. A while ago the idea that someone could fool their way to the White House would have seemed absurd.

The people judged Presidential candidates on their capacity to appear presidential. The genius of Trump’s campaigning performance has been in positioning himself outside of the established political order. He did this not just with his rhetoric, but with his actions and his physicality. He has walked and talked in a foolish, un-presidential way.

Trump embodied the opposite of stately through his fooling around and his gesticulations. In doing so he has successfully cast himself as more in touch with reality. He managed to appear more lucid than the political grandees around him.

Should we embrace our inner fool?

If playing the fool is an unusual and high-risk approach in politics, foolishness is rarely associated with success in business.

Business invariably celebrates intellectual acumen and the power of shrewd, strategic thinking over foolishness. So what was Steve Jobs suggesting when he ended his Stanford Commencement address in 2005 by exhorting his student audience to “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”?

I think Jobs’ foolishness is about having the courage to reject established wisdom and go after your hunches and crazy ideas. The idea of the iPod or the iPhone might well have looked foolish to many before they launched. But Jobs went for it. Successful innovation requires a level of lucid foolishness to make it happen.

You’ve got to be a bit foolish to even imagine you can do things that will put a dent in the universe. Apple has clearly continued to power ahead over the years since Jobs departure. But when it comes to the innovation crunch it may soon miss Jobs’s foolish genius even more than many imagine.

Jobs_foolish_hungry trump_accordion

Comparing Jobs and Trump they do share interesting traits. They are two highly successful people who have dared to embrace the foolish side. They both took foolish approaches to their dealings with establishment structures. In their respective spheres they both dared to stay foolish. They both cut through the clutter to connect with massive audiences by daring to think and act in ways that orthodoxy saw as foolish.

Being more foolish may not be many people’s New Year’s resolution. For most of us being truly foolish requires some effort. Schools, businesses and society all teach us to be sensible and smart. True foolishness and the divergence from the sensible and safe path it demands is hard.

If embracing your inner fool feels like a silly idea then remember this: there is now a man sitting on top of the most important hill in the world who testifies to the power of foolishness as a path to success. Who knows where the world will spin with a fool in charge and where the next world-changing fool will pop up?

// Tom Rowley