…which ones do you play?


The corporate fool book cover

Organisations are intellectual products. They are complex webs of beliefs and knowledge, the result of how people agree to think about such things as customers, the future, business processes, buildings, competition. Organisations are also social creations – they are webs of convention, rules and behaviour, the result of how people agree to relate to each other. To change an organisation you need to challenge both the intellectual and social assumptions that underpin it.

We need as a role model someone who already has lots of experience of thinking and acting in an unconventional way and, just as crucially, someone who is not afraid to speak up about it. Here is such a model: The Corporate Fool.

Fools have existed in all world cultures throughout history. Fools speak out against those who have power, question accepted wisdom, embody controversy and taboo, cast doubt in the face of certainty, bring chaos to order, point out the obvious when everybody else is apparently too scared to, throw a spanner in the proverbial works, turn the world upside down. It’s the best job spec you’ll ever read – unless you happen to be a Bad King.

But what would a Fool (as opposed to a fool – the distinction is important!) do all day in a modern organisation? Well, here are ten roles that we badly need in times of change and which we always seem to leave to somebody else (with the result that nobody ends up doing them). They are ten challenges to the intellectual and social traditions which obstruct change:

1. ALIENATOR, representative of otherness
2. CONFIDANTE, of the king
3. CONTRARIAN, challenger of the norms
4. MIDWIFE, generator of creativity and problem-solving
5. JESTER, entertainer and ‘humorist‘
6. MAPPER of knowledge
7. MEDIATOR of meaning
8. SATIRIST, deflator, pricker of pomposity
9. TRUTHSEEKER, teller of the truth
10. MYTHOLOGIST, maker and breaker of myths

Which do you play?