by Henry Liu
Every morning prior to work, we’re faced with a flurry of decisions pertaining our office wardrobe. What shirt am I going to wear? Do these pants go with those shoes? Are these socks even matching? Face it, these fashion decisions reflect who we are in the office, they’re what make us unique. Appearing proper to our superiors and peers may provide us a sense of security, but there are times where stepping forward to offer the contrary opinion delivers something more valuable than adhering to the norm.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably sat in countless meetings listening to your boss make statement after statement while you offer continuous affirmation to every request and whim. As you glance around the room, you may even notice your peers doing the exact same thing. What the meeting really needs is the presence of a corporate jester to challenge the leader’s unilaterally accepted dispositions.
Bring in the Clown
According to David Riveness, author of an enlightening article in Associations Now and The Secret Life of the Corporate Jester: A Fresh Perspective on Organizational Leadership, Culture and Behavior, jesters are fearless individuals that express “thoughts no others would voice, thereby opening up new perspectives, insights, ideas, and options.” Riveness gives a great example from Imperial China where court jesters would speak truths that the Emperor’s advisors would never dare address, simple truths that were of incredibly high value in influencing the Emperor’s decisions. The jester played a crucial part in helping the leader cover blind spots, offering alternative options and insights that differed from the “yes men/women” of the court and spawning innovation in the process. They are an agent of change, and most importantly, they communicate their ideas through humor and wit, which only increased their effectiveness.
Putting On the Silly Hat
So are you ready to play the fool? Here are few tips that will help you get started:
Sharpen your ability to perceive blind spots in thinking and action. Look beyond the obvious perspectives and stay curious about all judgements and decisions.
Develop your skills in communicating effectively without being condescending. You want to deliver the insight in such a way that doesn’t feel challenging, humiliating, or unsupportive. This is what makes a jester different from a devil’s advocate.
Be humorous, but honest in your delivery, all while showing sensitivity to your audience.
Practice and share jestership amongst your peers in meetings and collaborations.
If you’re a leader, promote jestership and embrace what it has to offer to your organization.
The Path Less Taken
In the midst of the recent concerns over the economy, politics, and the environment, facing the truth and acknowledging blind spots are more valuable than ever. Jestership is a segue to a more open and collaborative tomorrow in the workplace that can only be realized if leaders recognize its necessity today. As a pioneering cohort in the Design MBA program at California College of the Arts, I am elated to be given the opportunity to venture into such a refreshingly different take on business, design and sustainability. In fact, the metaphor of the court jester was actually brought up to me by my Live Exchange instructor, Linda Yaven, who has helped us discover so much about ourselves as communicators and as human beings.
In a way, our program itself represents the jester while the business world represents the emperor. I propose that we should trade our caps and tassels for jester hats on graduation day. But then again, that would just be absurd.