Friday, December 11, 2009

Foolish Me

Am I clumsy because I'm a fool, or a fool because I'm clumsy?

Or am I just human?

An example of my own real life foolery, or where I get material:

I tried to pull out a cork from a bottle of wine I had opened the night before. As I pulled, I could feel the cork breaking, so I slowed down and got very careful and methodical. The cork broke anyway, leaving about a quarter still stuck in the neck of the bottle.

I contemplated pushing the rest of the cork in the bottle. But I hate doing that! So I decided to remove it using the corkscrew. The cork was pretty damaged, but I was able to secure it, and I pulled—too hard.

The cork came out, as did the wine in a fountain as if I had put a Mentos in a bottle of Diet Coke. Red red wine, all over the floor, all over the counter, all over me.

Ta Da!


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool Movie #2


Here is the second "How to Think Like a Fool" moving picture, Make Things More Difficult (click the link to go to YouTube and see it bigger or in high-def).

I shot this one night last week very quickly. In general, I want to make these movies simply and easily, but that's not in the spirit of this specific fool tool, so I made things more difficult by reworking and reshooting two nights later.

Sometimes I find that the first take is the best and most spontaneous, but this time I preferred the final take. I'm glad I followed my own advice.

Only 58 more to go (difficult) (foolish).


Saturday, December 5, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool Demo Movie #1


I've started to make short silent movies demoing each of the "How to Think Like a Fool in 60 Ways" concepts with the help of a fool I know.

Here is the first, Look for Trouble (the bigger you watch it, the better).

I shot the footage last spring, but didn't edit, add the titles, and frame with curtains until this fall.

The movie started as an exercise to find as many problems as I could with the props I had chosen. Only some of the troubles made the final cut. I picked props like the chair and table for their inherent problem potential.

In other words, I looked for trouble.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool in 60 Ways


Here's the complete list of blog posts with links:

How to Think Like a Fool: RIPPO the Fool—5 Types of Fool Think
RISK
#1: Look for Trouble
#2: Make Things More Difficult
#3: Don't Solve the Problem
#4: Set Yourself Up for Failure
#5: Try a Really Bad Idea
#6: Scare Yourself
#7: Make a Fool Out of Yourself
#8: Seek Rejection
#9: Trust in Dumb Luck
#10: Use Weaknesses as Strengths
#11: Fix What Ain't Broken
#12: Never Give Up
#13: Give Up
#14: Repeat Repeat Repeat
#15: Play It Safe
IMAGINE
#16: Imagine the Impossibilities
#17: Connect the Unrelated
#18: Transform Objects
#19: Borrow Ideas
#20: Exaggerate the Details
#21: Fantasize the Future
#22: Picture an Audience
#23: Misremember the Past
#24: Worry about Everything
#25: Destroy
PLAY
#26: Make Fun
#27: Do the Opposite
#28: Manipulate Time and Space
#29: Act without Reason
#30: Make and Break the Rules
#31: Compete with Yourself
#33: Use More Effort Than Necessary
#34: Use What's Handy
#35: Secretly Cooperate
#36: Fool Around
#37: Make Music
#38: Be Serious
PRETEND
#39: Change Identity
#40: Do the Wrong Thing
#41: Act Crazily
#42: Fool Others
#43: Fool Yourself
#44: Get Caught Up in the Moment
#45: Overreact
#46: Go Through the Motions
#47: Know Everything
#48: Enjoy Failure
#49: Play Yourself
OBSERVE
#50: Spy on the World
#51: Misunderstand
#52: Look for Laughs
#53: Change Your Perspective
#54: Pay Attention to the Unnoticed
#55: Follow and Trip Assumptions
#56: Listen to your Unconscious
#57: Ride the Opportunities
#58: Find the Best in the Worst
#59: Don't Think
#60: Think Like You


Sunday, August 30, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #60: Think Like You

OBSERVE: Think Like You
"If every fool wore a crown, we would all be kings."
—Welsh proverb

There are as many kinds of fools as there are people on this planet (just some of us are lucky enough to get paid for it). The last method to think like a fool that I'm proposing, but one that will generate many more, is to observe how you think foolishly, and then to do it on purpose instead of accidentally. You have your personal ways of playing the fool, some that may be close to the ones I've listed, and some that are distinctly your own.

You may be a fool for love, rush in where angels fear to tread, or you and your money are soon and often parted. The trick, as I've been doing for each entry in this series—and fools have done forever—is to see the best in the worst and turn your weaknesses into strengths. Figure out how your foolishness can help you solve problems creatively or at least to generate problems that challenge you in a worthwhile way.

This video has nothing to do with the topic today (or does it?), but I love it anyway (yup, fool for love of art and life). So I'll end with this, an Ode to Joy:

Think: How am I foolish? When am I foolish? Where? Why? How can this way of thinking help me solve this problem?

Previous "How to Think Like a Fool" Posts

FOOL's NOTE: Thanks for reading my musings these past few months. This blog will continue soon with more examples, observations, and ideas. I'll also make better links of the entries and create a master page where you can access them all in one place. I may even turn this series into an ebook if people are interested. Please leave comments or email me personally. I would love to hear what you think. And tell your friends and colleagues. Stay Foolish!—Drew


Saturday, August 29, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #59: Don't Think

OBSERVE: Don't Think
"Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain."
—Carl Jung
"Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?"
—Winnie the Pooh
"Sometimes I think, and sometimes I am."
—Paul Valéry

My 3 1/2 year old neighbor Milo, sees me out on the porch quite often. He asked his mom, Francine, "Why isn't Drew silly all the time?"
Francine: Because sometimes he's thinking about how to be silly.
Milo: I don't have to think about being silly. I can do it anytime! Look—lao blao lao blao lao blao lao blao lao blao lao blao lao blao lao [accompanied by silly faces and movements].

If you've been following and practicing this series on how to think like a fool, you now have a lot of fool tools in your arsenal. Forget them all. Now is the time to trust, quiet or distract your chattering mind, and simply act like a fool. Be a fool.

You've always known how.


Think:

Next: How to Think Like a Fool #60 Think Like You

Previous "How to Think Like a Fool" Posts


Friday, August 28, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #58: Find the Best in the Worst

OBSERVE: Find the Best in the Worst
"Optimism - the doctrine or belief that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly."
—Ambrose Bierce
"Comedy is acting out optimism."
—Robin Williams
"Between the optimist and the pessimist, the difference is droll. The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist sees the hole."
—Oscar Wilde
"Donuts. Is there anything they can't do?"
—Homer Simpson

In today's world (and yesterday's and tomorrow's), things can be so horrible and depressing, that it seems foolish (ding!) to be an optimist. Yet optimists live longer, are more successful, and happier than pessimists. They also get more done, because they aren't stuck wallowing in despair.

Pessimists may see the world more realistically, but fools think realism's overrated (and just as selective as optimism). Fools don't just look for the pony in the proverbial pile of poop, they wrap the manure and sell it as extra dark chocolate. And make a bundle of money.

Fools make Pollyanna look like Eeyore.

The personification of the oblivious optimist is Harry Langdon. He's usually just too innocent to see anything else.

There's a moment in my piece "The Juggler," in which I keep trying to juggle, keep dropping, ignore each drop, and simply get a new ball from my case. (Step one: Ignore the worst. Move on.) And then, with a flash of insight, I change the game. I'm not trying to juggle, I'm trying to drop! (Step two: Transform the bad into something glorious.) I proudly throw three balls on the ground and bask in the applause.

You practice seeing the best in the worst as a temporary trick on your mind, a tool you can use to move ahead and make luck happen.

But occasionally, to flip this fool tool, fools look for the worst in the best. Seeing the worst may be the critical eye you need to break the spell of an idea that's only good enough.

Think: Is the glass half empty or half fool? What's the best that I can see here? What's the worst?

Next: How to Think Like a Fool #59: Don't Think

Previous "How to Think Like a Fool" Posts


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #57: Ride the Opportunities

OBSERVE: Ride the Opportunities
"I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one."
—Mark Twain

My theatre show “Help! Help! I Know This Title is Long, But Somebody's Trying to Kill Me!” begins with a fool (me, of course) discovering that all the other performers in the variety show have been murdered. A dark start for a comedy, and it gets worse as the fool is threatened with his own demise if he doesn't do all the acts by himself. But the way this fool sees it, despite the danger and impossibility of the task, it's the opportunity he's always dreamed of, to fill the shoes of the world's greatest juggler, magician, ukulele player, etc. Of course he accepts.

(For those of you who haven't seen this already: my promo video for the show)

Fools look for an opportunity that they can grab—like when Buster Keaton grabs a passing car and gets whisked away in the movie Cops, temporarily saving himself—and then fools ride this moment to wherever it takes them, usually to another opportunity, and then another, and another. The occasion becomes a dream vacation for creative problem solvers where the final destination is a reimagined solution.

Psychologist Richard Wiseman has done a variety of studies on lucky and unlucky people, and has found that it's not just chance involved that makes the difference, but how you see the world and how you act on it. Luck doesn't just happen, but is made. Here's an excerpt from an interview with him in Fast Company magazine:

"What are some of the ways that lucky people think differently from unlucky people?
One way is to be open to new experiences. Unlucky people are stuck in routines. When they see something new, they want no part of it. Lucky people always want something new. They're prepared to take risks and relaxed enough to see the opportunities in the first place." How To Make Your Own Luck | Fast Company

To ride opportunities, you reframe chance encounters with people and events as lucky gifts to build upon, to take you to unforeseeable places, and to connect with the problem you are trying to solve. By embracing what may just be coincidences, you loosen an unnecessarily rigid control over your life, because you're not always that good at predicting the future anyway.

Think: Is this an opportunity? Is this? Why don't I jump on to see where it goes?

Next: How to Think Like a Fool #58: Find the Best in the Worst

Previous "How to Think Like a Fool" Posts


Monday, August 24, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #56: Listen to your Unconscious

OBSERVE: Listen to Your Unconscious
“Art is a marriage of the conscious and the unconscious.”
—Jean Cocteau

"The bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious."
—T.S. Eliot

Sometimes, when I'm looking for something I've lost (usually my keys) and I'm tearing the house apart, I'll get a sudden flash—a visual image of exactly where that object is, and most of the time it's correct. I'm no psychologist, but I am a professional fool, and with that knowledge I'd say that image was my unconscious mind doing work behind the scenes.

Fools' minds work like dreams, a surreal stumbling from ideas to images to words to songs to memories to impulses, with the flimsiest of connections. Just like dreams at night, this may just be random stimulation from the unconscious, or guided signs pointing towards possible solutions. Either way, fools dance with whatever comes up, allowing them to help break out of mindsets that are too logical and linear.

The surrealists championed the Marx Brothers, with Salvador Dali befriending Harpo and even writing a script for the Brothers. The Marx Brothers embodied surrealist theories without the intellectual baggage.

Definition of surrealism from the Surrealist Manifesto:

"Surrealism, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation."—André Breton

This scene from Animal Crackers has an anarchic dream-like feeling, where Chico and Harpo act impulsively, moment to moment.

To apply this fool tool, you listen to your dreams for random clues (remembering to write them down first thing in the morning), pay attention to thoughts and images that pop up unannounced throughout the day, and that you'd usually dismiss, and push things along by making a series of associations, whether with words, sounds, movements, or images. Just let one thing lead to another without censoring, and capture the first thing that comes to mind every time.

You might not have to work that hard, by allowing yourself to be occupied with anything but your problem—or just get a good night's sleep:

"The researchers believe REM sleep allows the brain to form new nerve connections without the interference of other thought pathways that occur when we are awake or in non-dream-state sleep." BBC: Problems are solved by sleeping

Think: How can I tap into this part of my mind? What is my unconscious telling me? How does this information relate to my problem?

Next: How to Think Like a Fool #57: Ride the Opportunities

Previous "How to Think Like a Fool" Posts


Saturday, August 22, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #55: Follow and Trip Assumptions

OBSERVE: Follow and Trip Assumptions
Elmer Fudd shoots into a rabbit hole and assumes that he's rabbit hunting. Bugs nonchalantly walks up to him and asks, "What's Up Doc?" putting Elmer's assumption into complete doubt. In one sentence, Bugs makes Elmer aware of his assumption and challenges it at the same time, which sets the stage for proving him wrong.

Assumptions do a lot to frame reality. They are the rules of the games, and usually the ones least likely to be questioned. An assumption can be as entrenched as a long held belief, or as fleeting as a wild guess—but because you're the one who made the guess, you give it extra weight. The most difficult assumptions to get rid of are the ones that are true, and those very likely block an imaginative answer to a problem (I assume).

Like kids, fools ask, "Why? Why? Why?" and the assumptions reply, "Because! Because! Because!" until they are finally worn down by the fools.

Because fools love obstacles, and assumptions are the biggest ones there can be, they'll live with their assumptions longer than necessary. They'll make them visible, follow them around in spy mode, even after the assumptions outlive their relevance, and if the self-consciousness doesn't eventually trip them up, then fools confront the assumptions, interview them, deny them, play with them, and then knock them over.

Ironically, it was assumptions that kept me from finishing this entry. I assumed that it had to be different from all the other creativity advice that encourages people to challenge assumptions. I assumed that this would be easy to write, because I trip up my assumptions all the time. I assumed that I'd finish it in a short amount of time. It wasn't until I asked what my assumptions were about writing this, that I was able to set them aside and just finish this.

List all the assumptions you have about a problem or project. Watch how they affect your approach to that problem or project. Tap into your inner Bugs Bunny, and question them. Keep the ones that help, get rid of the ones that don't, and use any ideas you got from temporarily or permanently abandoning them.

Think: What do I assume? Why do I assume this? What if my assumption is wrong? How can I change my assumption?

Next: How to Think Like a Fool #56: Listen to your Unconscious

Previous "How to Think Like a Fool" Posts


Monday, August 17, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #54: Pay Attention to the Unnoticed

OBSERVE: Pay Attention to the Unnoticed “You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.” —Neil Gaiman

The fool is in the details. Fools imagine that the world is a series of magic tricks to be figured out, if only they look where no one else is looking.

You spy, misunderstand, look for laughs, and change your perspective. Now it's time to go farther and/or deeper. You pay attention, not just to the obvious things that first capture your fancy, but to the things you missed, overlooked, ignored. Those are the missing pieces that will complete the puzzle.

Whenever you wonder, why didn't I think of that, then somebody else paid attention to the unnoticed before you, and it only seems obvious in retrospect.

In rehearsal and performance, an actor gets the chance to revisit scenes over and over, and see beyond the superficial. Today I ran through one of my pieces, made notes, and then ran through it again to focus on other things. I'd look in a different direction, or spend more time with a prop than I usually would. From there I found comic possibilities I would have skipped past otherwise.

The reason Chaplin's character is able to stay one step ahead of the criminal and the cops in this clip from The Circus is that he is aware of what they initially ignore. And the director/writer/performer Chaplin would not have been able to create this piece if he hadn't spent time exploring the all possibilities of a funhouse hall of mirrors.

Think: What did I notice? What did I miss? What did others notice and miss?

Next: How to Think Like a Fool #55: Follow and Trip Assumptions

Previous "How to Think Like a Fool" Posts


Friday, August 14, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #53: Change Your Perspective

OBSERVE: Change Your Perspective
"When the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail."—Abraham Maslow
"People who look through keyholes are apt to get the idea that most things are keyhole shaped."—Author unknown

Why do fools learn to walk on their hands? One reason is to change how they see the world.

Head and heels
"When you die Mulla," asked a friend, "how would you like to be buried?"
"Head downwards. If, as people believe, we are right way up in this world, I want to try being upside-down in the next."
—From The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin by Idries Shah

Fools look at the world sideways, upside-down, close-up, and faraway. They might pretend to be shorter or taller than they really are. They'll put on rose-colored glasses and then go look at roses. One will even drop his pants, put his foot in a bucket, and walk on a big ball. All these help them to break out of the habitual ways of perception.

In Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Betty Edwards has her students draw pictures that have been turned upside-down, so that the students are less conscious of the meaning and more aware of shapes and shading, causing a shift of consciousness. The psychologist Robert Ornstein has said that he reads drafts of his writings in reverse, so that he can catch things he would have missed otherwise. I just sang this blog entry to myself and made some changes.

You observe the world from a different perspective or point of view. You do this physically or imaginatively. And suddenly the information you take in becomes much more present and useful. But it can be exhausting:

Think: What can I do to change my perspective? What would happen if I looked at a hammer through a keyhole?

Next: How to Think Like a Fool #54: Pay Attention to the Unnoticed

Previous "How to Think Like a Fool" Posts


Thursday, August 13, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #52: Look for Laughs

OBSERVE: Look for Laughs
“The biggest laughs are based on the biggest disappointments and the biggest fears.”
—Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

"Man alone suffers so excruciatingly in the world that he was compelled to invent laughter."
—Friedrich Nietzsche

"Dad always thought laughter was the best medicine, which I guess is why several of us died of tuberculosis."
—Jack Handey

"Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward."
—Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Today, I installed a bike computer (a fancy name for a speedometer) on my bicycle. As with any task that involves following obscure instructions, I used many swear words (as taught to me by my father when he would assemble anything). And then I made a seemingly irreversible action, attaching the sensor in the wrong direction with plastic zip ties. Instead of giving up, I started to laugh. That was just enough to keep me going. I tried different ways to loosen the zip tie, but it was not designed to be loosened, and I kept laughing, because I knew I would not find a solution if I wallowed in despair. I finally tried inserting a thin sewing needle into the zip tie—and it worked! I can''t explain why I found this situation funny, but I would have given up if I hadn't.

Fools deal in humor. They smuggle it in by looking for laughs. The world is the set-up and they provide the punchline. It's all a big joke to them. Even if you don't see them laughing out loud, you can bet that they are laughing inside, where it counts.

Looking for the funny in anything and everything will, if nothing else, make you feel better, but it can also stimulate creative thinking. Psychologist Alice M. Isen did a study where 20% of participants were able to solve an assigned problem after watching a serious math film, but 75% were able to solve it after watching a comedy film.

Here's a series of steps you can try:

  1. Pick something and decide, that's funny.
  2. Act like you are stifling a laugh, trying not to crack up, with appropriate mouth and facial expressions. Hold your breath.
  3. Snicker. Chuckle. Laugh.
  4. Now, retroactively figure out what was funny about it...
  5. Or how that could be funny or funnier.
  6. Laugh again.

Cultivate your personal sense of humor. Observe what you makes you laugh, and the things that you do that make others laugh. Take time to remember things that have made you laugh in the past.

Think: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha?

Next: How to Think Like a Fool #53: Change Your Perspective

Previous "How to Think Like a Fool" Posts


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #51: Misunderstand

OBSERVE: Misunderstand
By misunderstanding, I specifically mean the act of forgetting to stand underneath someone when they were supposed to be standing on your shoulders. What did you think I meant??

"It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. For if, by ill luck, people understood each other, they would never agree."
"The world only goes round by misunderstanding."
—Charles Baudelaire

You've been spying on the world, collecting data. Now what do you do with that information? How do you use it to solve a problem foolishly, creatively, joyfully?

You misunderstand.

Farces and other comedies begin with misunderstandings. (So do some tragedies—Oedipus marries a woman who is his mother—comic gold). One misunderstanding upsets the balance, leading to more misunderstandings and conflicts that tumble into controlled chaos. Which is often what happens in the mind of an innovator, until balance is reached again with a realized idea.

Fools misunderstand on purpose. They transform meaning, similar to when they transform objects or change identity. By doing so, they manipulate their perceptions of the world, and formerly impenetrable insights become available. It's a bumpy ride, but it's the only way to get there.


One of the easiest ways to misunderstand is to take something literally. When Harpo hears a gambler say cut the cards, Harpo pulls out a hatchet and cuts the deck in two.

Think: What does this mean? How can I misunderstand this? What else could it mean? How can I take it literally?

Next: How to Think Like a Fool #52: Look for Laughs

Previous "How to Think Like a Fool" Posts


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #50: Spy on the World

OBSERVE: Spy on the World
"'What kind of man are you?' he asked. 'I am a clown,' I said, 'and I collect moments'"—from The Clown by Heinrich Böll

I sit out on the front porch, apparently working on the computer, but really, I'm a spy. Most people don't even notice me as they pass by, but I watch them and overhear their conversations. They have such interesting, individual ways of walking. With a little exaggeration, they could be like living Commedia or cartoon characters. I imagine myself walking like them and what ways that would change how I feel and how I see the world. I am collecting moments, filing away details that I may never use, until the right problem comes along to apply my findings.

To think like a fool, fools need foolish things to think about. Fools take time to observe the world, and because they risk, imagine, play, and pretend, fools become spies, with the world as their focus. Instead of spying on the enemy, they spy on everything.

Playing at spy or private detective has also been the subject of many a comic film performance, including Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr., Chico and Harpo in Duck Soup, and Laurel and Hardy in Do Detectives Think? (among others).

Whether you use the image of a spy, or a fly on the wall, or a detective looking for stray clues, or an alien from another planet gathering information, the idea is to stand back unobtrusively, take your time, and pull in as much as you can with heightened awareness.

Use multiple senses, combining them without judgement. You can analyze later. Engage your senses in unorthodox ways—touch with your elbow, for example—just don't get caught. Experience things as if for the first time. Learn to be a wallflower. Blend in, become invisible. If you are really brave, follow people and subtly mimic them without being noticed. Just don't blame me if you get beat up.

Think: How will I spy on the world? What do I see, hear, feel, taste, smell? What's noticeable? Remarkable?

Next: How to Think Like a Fool #51: Misunderstand

Previous "How to Think Like a Fool" Posts


Saturday, August 1, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #49: Play Yourself

PRETEND: Play Yourself
"Clown characters are not created, they are uncovered."—??
The foolish take on the concept of pretending (and the last entry in this category), is that fools pretend to be themselves. By doing so, fools take on the most difficult of roles, because there's no bigger fool than oneself.

The great clowns of silent cinema, like Chaplin or Keaton, go beyond the idea of an actor playing a character, as if they have tapped into the essence of their personalities to project a partially transparent persona—what the movement and theatre teacher Jacques Lecoq called one's personal clown: our ridiculous side that we so often try to hide.

Which of your selves do you choose? Observe yourself in all your imperfections—it may be part how others see you or just how you see yourself. Pick a mannerism, habit, idiosyncratic thought, or personality trait. Exaggerate it. Make a caricature of yourself in action. Become the cartoon version of you.

Self mockery leads to self discovery. This heightened awareness gives you the ability to step away from those parts of you that are unessential and accept what doesn't need to be changed. By embracing the parts you may normally hide, you often find they are just what was needed to solve a problem. You are already creative. It was you all along.

Think: Who am I? If I were to play myself in my life story, how would I act? If someone just like me were to solve this problem, how would I do it?

Next: How to Think Like a Fool #50: OBSERVE: Spy on the World

Previous "How to Think Like a Fool" Posts


Friday, July 31, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #48: Enjoy Failure

PRETEND: Enjoy Failure
"If you can't succeed every time, learn to fail magnificently!"—Avner the Eccentric

I planned to write this post this morning and am now writing it this evening. Fail! Yay!

Don't just set yourself up for failure, celebrate failure! Relish it and revel in it! Every time you make a mistake, clap, cheer, have a little failure parade around the room.

Fools enjoy failure when the alternative is to wallow in despair. They laugh back at a culture that mocks those who flop or are perceived as imperfect. Bullies lose their power when they are preempted by the fool who loves to crash and burn. Even if that bully is just actually another voice in the head of the fool.

Like seeking rejection, enjoying failure does not come naturally to most people. Certainly not for me. It is a habit to be practiced and developed. Instead of moping, crying, apologizing, giving up, you train yourself to smile, hold your head up, and laugh. You delight in this opportunity to learn and keep going without losing any momentum.

Think: How can I fight my dislike for failure? How can I enjoy failure?

Next: How to Think Like a Fool #49: Play Yourself

Previous "How to Think Like a Fool" Posts


Thursday, July 30, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #47: Know Everything

PRETEND: Know Everything
“All men are frauds. The only difference between them is that some admit it. I myself deny it.”
—Henry Louis Mencken
"If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn't. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism."
—Oscar Wilde

In the Commedia tradition, as well as many other comic traditions, there is the character type known as Il Dottore, The Doctor. He is a scholar who claims to know something about everything, and everything about something. Without hesitation, he can expound on any topic while simultaneously being completely full of it.

Fools pretend to know everything. It's a survival tactic. They appear to be frauds and impostors when they take on a job they are not qualified for. But how else would they get the job? And where else would they get the confidence to try anything new?

In this clip, starting about 2 minutes and 30 seconds into it, Lucille Ball auditions to be in Desi's band:

I often feel like I am one or two (or many) steps behind my next performing, teaching, or directing challenge. The Catch-22 is that I can't learn and improve without reaching beyond my current capabilities. I'm guessing it's that way for many people, no matter their level of success.

When you are full of self-doubt, it's time to take on the part of a know-it-all. You risk falling flat on your face, but you find that you know more than you think you do, and what you don't know, you can learn.

Think: What if I knew everything about a topic or problem? How would I move, talk, and act? What if I became who I pretended to be?

Next: How to Think Like a Fool #48: Enjoy Failure

Previous "How to Think Like a Fool" Posts


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #46: Go Through the Motions

PRETEND: Go Through the Motions
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, taking Yoda's advice that, "Do, or do not. There is no try."

Or else they just go through the motions.

Harold Lloyd in Never Weaken goes through the motions of committing suicide (a classic comic situation—do not try this at home) and succeeds at not dying. By taking a sincerely half-hearted approach, he discovers that he doesn't want tot die after all. It starts at about one minute, 54 seconds into the first clip below.


Going through the motions is a way to step outside the problem, detach emotionally, and see it as a whole. You think and act simultaneously, working things out on your feet and in your head. It's also a way to do a preliminary test of multiple solutions without investing too much time or energy too soon. And you might even discover that by beginning this way with a project you've been avoiding, you'll find yourself immersed and involved in no time.

In rehearsal, I'll often do a slow walk-through of my show, marking through the actions so that I can see it from the outside, find things I need to practice and remember, try new ideas, and solve recurring problems. For another level of detachment, I'll pantomime using my props to give more attention to my movements and to get an awareness of how I treat the objects in my show.

Think: What if I just went through the motions of my problem or solution? How can I do something and stay detached?

Next: How to Think Like a Fool #47: Know Everything

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Monday, July 27, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #45: Overreact

PRETEND: Overreact
In the Land of Fools, for every action, there is an opposite and unequal reaction. In other words, an acorn hits a foolish chicken's head and it screams, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"

Fools drop into a deep despair over stubbing a toe, burst into a rage after losing at solitaire, or have an orgasm of joy while eating a grilled cheese sandwich. They play with their own emotions to reach a state where the intellect hides. Fools need excess emotional energy to make creative leaps. Overreacting provides that fuel, even if it may be overkill. Better to go past the edge of the chasm than to fall short.

You calculate a possible overreaction, manufacture the emotion, get caught up in the moment, get what you need, and then let it go. Watch Harpo Marx here at about 2 minutes and 25 seconds into this clip as he reacts to Chico's provocations, with the reaction building until it finally goes into his hat, the emotion vanishes as he smiles, and then immediately returns.

Many of the Looney Tunes characters, like Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, and the Tasmanian Devil, had what could be perceived as enormous overreactions, except, when you look at the extreme situations they were in, you could argue that they are perfectly justified. Many people usually suppress reasonable but outlandish responses to an insane world.

Sometimes the unequal reaction is to under-react. Laurel and Hardy were masters of both under-reacting and overreacting to calamities they inflicted on each other and others inflicted on them.

Think: How could I overreact in this situation? What if I under-reacted? What did I discover by traveling outside my comfort zone?

Next: How to Think Like a Fool #46: Go Through the Motions

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #44: Get Caught Up in the Moment

PRETEND: Get Caught Up in the Moment
People much more foolish than I am have proposed that there is only now; the past is gone, and the future hasn't happened yet. Or, as Buckaroo Bonzai (or Buddha) once said, "No matter where you go, there you are."

Here's the great physical comedian George Carl, literally getting caught up in moments:

Fools don't just live in the moment, they immerse themselves in the present until they are, as Eric Maisel calls it, productively obsessed (or unproductively obsessed, depending on the circumstances). They limit their concept of "now" to a small world that contains everything they need, until they solve their problem, or the problem solves itself or new problems are created..

In The General, Buster Keaton's train is spinning wheels on the slippery tracks. He gets so involved in throwing dirt onto the tracks for traction, that he doesn't notice the train has left without him. At least he got it to move.

You decide what small part of the moment to focus on. You engage your senses and expand time with repetition of your actions. Find a rhythm, because rhythms mesmerize. Persist up to the point when distractions fade and you forget that you were just pretending to be consumed.

Think: What aspect of a part of the present moment can I get caught up in?

Next: How to Think Like a Fool #45: Overreact

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Monday, July 6, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #43: Fool Yourself

PRETEND: Fool Yourself
I may be fooling myself, but I truly believe that we all have our own inner idiot. I'll even go so far to say that we have many idiots working behind the scenes. And those idiots are not usually aware they are idiots because they bear such a striking resemblance to ourselves, as if we had been replaced by an alien duplicate while we were sleeping.

But occasionally, usually before or after doing the same idiotic things day after day, you have lucid moments. You know, for example, that if you pick up your iPhone to check email and read Facebook friend status updates, you will get off-track and have a difficult time getting back to tackling the projects that mean the most to you (and by you, I mean me).

And at that moment, before you take the idiotic act, you have the opportunity to speak the language of the idiot (idiom?). You get some masking tape, and tape the iPhone face down on the table. You write on the tape, "Don't be an idiot!" and then quickly gather all the pieces of your project in the hallway, where you can't help but trip over them throughout the day.

Take advantage of those lucid moments, because they don't last long. Plot how to trick yourself in simple but exaggerated ways that your inner idiots will understand. Set treats and traps (rewards and punishments). Tell yourself a good story that you can believe just enough to take action. Learn the tools of a good magician, such as misdirection.

Fooling myself is something I use often onstage, to give the audience the impression that a calamity is happening for the first time. Even though I know a mistake is about to happen, I don't want to text the audience before it occurs and ruin the surprise (the metaphor used to be "to telegraph the audience", but that seems a little dated). By picturing myself accomplishing the character's intended goal flawlessly, placing at least part of my attention somewhere else than the mishap, and having practiced the bumble enough to do it semi-unconsciously, I catch myself off guard every time.

One of the things I love about doing my show is that when things do actually go wrong, the audience thinks it's all part of the act.

Think: How can I fool myself? What would I like my inner idiots to do for me and how can I best speak to them?

Next: How to Think Like a Fool #44: Get Caught Up in the Moment.

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Friday, July 3, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #42: Fool Others

PRETEND: Fool Others
For the occasion of my leaving Athens, Ohio and going to New York City for an internship, my college housemate Michael and I decided to throw me a surprise party. The surprise would be for the guests, not me.

Michael sent out invitations and planned the event with friends who had no idea of the deception. One person was even afraid that he had accidentally let the secret slip in my presence.

Some friends showed up earlier than expected to help decorate, which meant I quickly had to hide in the kitchen closet for a long time, trying not to laugh out loud. Then, when everyone had assembled, another friend, Doug, came driving up to the house in my car, wearing a hat I occasionally wore. Sporting clown noses made from egg cartons, the guests hid and when Doug opened the door, they jumped up, yelled, "surprise!" and pelted him with sponges. Then I jumped out of the closet, also wearing an egg carton clown nose, and yelled, "surprise!" numerous times, until they slowly began to realize that Doug was not me, that I was me. They quickly retrieved the sponges and aggressively pelted me. A good time was had by all.

Most of my friendships have since been mended, and people still talk about the infamous surprise party 24 years later.

Fools are sometimes called tricksters. They make fools out of others. But if you've been following this series, thinking foolishly is not such a bad thing (not always). In their minds, fools are doing a service for others, helping others see the world in new ways.

In his book All Marketers are Liars, Seth Godin gives the example of the Riedel wine glass that makes wine taste better, an untrue story, but a good one: "...the very act of believing it makes the statement true. Because drinkers believe the wine tastes better, it does taste better. [Godin, 2005}" As Godin points out, liar is just a more dramatic word for storyteller, and that's how authentic stories effectively spread.

You have a desired solution, and by corralling co-conspirators in your folly, you realize your common dreams. Like a magician, you turn your audience into creative collaborators who suspend disbelief in your vision for the enjoyment of all.

"You can fool too many of the people too much of the time."
—James Thurber

Think: Who can I fool? How can I fool them? How will they benefit from being fooled?

Tomorrow: How to Think Like a Fool #43: Fool Yourself

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #41: Act Crazily

PRETEND: Act Crazily
Mental illness is a serious health issue that should be taken extremely seriously.

Now that that's out of the way, fools act crazy, not to mock, stereotype, or romanticize mental illness, but to get away with outrageous foolishness. Based on their behavior, fools are often labeled as insane, even when they have perfectly sane reasons for what they do. Once labeled, they don't need to justify their actions—it's very simple to an outsider, they do what they do because they're nuts. Then fools are free to act accordingly.

Some people fear that if they pretend to be looney, their tenuous grip on reality may be relaxed, and they'll go over to a world of lunacy. Even though they most likely have nothing to fear, these people might feel safer by simply acting eccentric, or having an object or piece of clothing to ground them when they imagine themselves slipping away. They might want to move crazily instead of thinking crazy thoughts.

You act crazily to escape self-consciousness, to go outside your comfort-zone, and to come up with ludicrous solutions that work nonetheless. You learn quick ways to bring playful energy into a mad, mad, mad, mad world that claims to be sane.


Think: How will I act crazily today? What can I do in the privacy of my own home that would get me called insane?

Tomorrow: How to Think Like a Fool #42: Fool Others

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #40: Do the Wrong Thing

PRETEND: Do the Wrong Thing
While sharing similarities with doing the opposite, trying a bad idea, and breaking the rules, doing the wrong thing lets fools break free from the constraints of culturally dictated proper behavior by pretending to be ignorant of etiquette. They act improperly to thwart authority and maybe even authoritarianism.

In his book Clowns, John Towsen describes the medieval practice of "...the Feast of Fools, a New Year's celebration where the minor clergy were allowed to usurp the functions of their superiors and engage in a wide range of blasphemous yet officially approved clowning." Everything gets turned upside down with reverent mockery.

You can get so caught up in being perfect, succeeding at all costs, and knowing you are right, that you effecively block yourself from creative solutions. Imagining and listing the wrong things to do in a situation frees you up to question whether they are truly incorrect or just what the daffy doctor ordered.

You are expected to eat with knife and fork at a steakhouse, but at an Ethopian restaurant, you eat with your hands.

Think: What's the right thing to do? What's the wrong thing to do? How many ways can I act improperly here?

Tomorrow: How to Think Like a Fool #41: Act Crazily

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Monday, June 29, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #39: Change Identity

PRETEND: Change Identity
"The mask which an actor wears is apt to become his face."—Plato

“Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.”

—Jack Handey


Pretending, for the fool, is where imagination and play meet. Using tools common to actors and children, fools change their approach to a problem by make-believing they are someone else. By doing so, they tap into and practice characteristics they didn't think they had, bringing to life one of their many selves. When Harry Langdon, playing the roles of sheriff and photographer, needs to put out a fire in the short film "Smile Please", he puts on a firefighter's hat.

When I'm working on a routine, I often take some time to imagine how Buster Keaton or Harpo Marx or some other physical comic would act in that situation, and then I improvise as if I were one of them performing. I wouldn't win any look-alike contests, but I always come up with ideas I never would have conceived of without changing character. Then I adapt the ideas, if appropriate, to my own persona.

You put on a disguise, a mask, or a costume, and let them affect how you act and feel. Change how you move. Observe how others move and imitate them. Imagine a genius or a fool working on the problem and then act like that person. Think of a personality trait you think would come in handy, but which you don't think you possess, then play at having that trait, until you own it.

Of course, always choose wisely who you become:

Think: Who would I like to be? What part of my personality would I like to change? Who could best solve this problem? How will I change my identity?

Tomorrow: How to Think Like a Fool #40: Do the Wrong Thing

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #38: Be Serious

PLAY: Be Serious
"Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh."
—George Bernard Shaw

"Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious."—Peter Ustinov

"My work is a game, a very serious game."—M.C. Escher

This is the last fool tool under the category of Play and it's about being absolutely, deadly serious. Stand up straight! Wipe that smile off your face! Have fun!

In the past, I've spent all morning in my rehearsal studio figuring out ways to "accidentally" make a wooden easel fall apart, exploring intensely the variations and subtleties of unexpected destruction. Then I take a break and think how absurd this would look to someone peeking in my window from outside, especially because of how serious I look. How serious am I? As serious as a scientist. A funny looking scientist.

And then I remember something Steve Martin once sang: "I get paid for doing this."

Fools play, and when they play deeply, they temporarily forget they are playing. Their objectives become as important as the Holy Grail, no matter how mundane. The game becomes their whole world.

No matter what you are working on, as an experiment, treat it as if humanity's survival depended on your actions. Give little things the significance of a funeral. Inflate the worthiness and urgency of your goals as if you were on an ancient quest. See if this gives your efforts more focus and concentration.

Then step back and laugh.

Think: How can I play more seriously? How important can I make this? What if this were a life or death situation?

Tomorrow: How to Think Like a Fool #39: PRETEND:Change Identity

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #37: Make Music

PLAY: Make Music
George Carlin did a short routine where he vocalized film soundtrack music to accompany his life, "otherwise, it's all wasted time." (click link to listen to mp3 excerpt)

Add a soundtrack to your life, find the rhythms in your actions, play your problems like an instrument, sing away your troubles, dance to your inner drummer. You get the joy of making music combined with the quieting of brain chatter, so that playful solutions float to the top.

Be like Stomp or Ernie Kovacs and transform your world:


Making music is a simple way to turn everyday activities into a game, while tapping into your musical intelligence for new perspectives and insights. If you are too embarrassed to make music, listen to a film soundtrack on your personal musical listening device and act along with it as you go through your day. I personally recommend Ben Model's alternate silent film soundtracks.

Think: What's a way to make music with what I'm doing right now? Inner or outer soundtrack? Percussion? Make up a song about what I'm doing? Listen to the world as if it were a symphony?

Tomorrow: How to Think Like a Fool #38: Be Serious

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #36: Fool Around

PLAY: Fool Around

First some "unconstructive silliness" from Monty Python:

By acting without reason, but with maybe one foot still grounded in reality, fools fool around, mess around, play around in casual frivolity. It's pure play and unstructured improvisation, without apparent goals, and the only rule is there are no rules. One dictionary even uses the word irresponsible in the definition.

It's that state of mind where you are not too serious, lightly detached, a little lazy, willing to be messy and make mistakes. You doodle around with your problem or an idea until something gells and more ideas take you by surprise--or you take them by surprise. You work from your instincts and impulses without censoring, seeing what comes to mind and body. By not focusing on finding a solution, accidents will happen that solve the problem anyway.

I'm not sure where this originates (I first heard it in a creative writing class taught by Daniel Keyes), but it's been taught as an approach to creative writing that writers should figuratively vomit on the page and clean it up later. The first part (vomiting) has been called Free Writing, and its principles can be adapted to any creative endeavor. I've found Gabriele Rico's clustering technique as a quick way into the fooling around state.

Think: Why not fool around for awhile and see what happens?

Tomorrow: How to Think Like a Fool #37: Make Music

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Monday, June 15, 2009

How to Think Like a Fool #35: Secretly Cooperate

PLAY: Secretly Cooperate
[I apologize once again for the delay in postings. A family emergency took precedence, and may do so again. Thanks for the patience.—Drew]

Yesterday, I was out riding my bicycle, when a traffic light turned red. I stopped, grumbling about the law, but obeying it, even though no cars were coming. Really, though, I was catching my breath and appreciating a break from pedaling.

Your problem is your adversary, in a game that threatens its very existence. You draw energy from this competition, while secretly you cooperate with the problem by working with it instead of against it. Resistance is futile!

In stage combat, actors appear to be fighting, while in reality they are working together to provide a convincing illusion of dramatic conflict. In this way, no one gets hurt while the visual language of the choreography speaks with poetic metaphor.

A game of tag is less fun if we stand there and I tag you, then you immediately tag me, then I tag you again, and so on. Or else I'm it, and I never tag you because you're too fast and too far away. We play together to keep the game going.

A child may tease the person they have a crush on. Someone, when not just being a jerk, may play devil's advocate to strengthen someone else's position. A sailor takes his sailboat on a zig-zag course to go against the wind, using the power of the wind. It looks like they seek a win-lose situation, when it's actually win-win.

A tai-chi master absorbs the impact of his or her opponent to softly neutralize the energy of the attack, redirect it, and exhaust it. Injury only comes from tense resisting.

In the same way, you incorporate the given circumstances of a problem into the solution, instead of trying to eliminate them. For example, you may have the problem of always losing your keys. Next time you come home, you consciously lose them under a pile of dirty laundry, and with that absurd act, you are more likely to remember where you put them the next day.

Think: How can I secretly cooperate with my problem? What if I appeared to be fighting it while actually playing with it to win-win?

Tomorrow: How to Think Like a Fool #36: Fool Around

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Win a Free Copy of "Ignore Everybody" by Hugh Macleod

I have an extra copy of Hugh Macleod's fantastic new book, Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity. I'll send it to the person who leaves my favorite comment below on how they have used one of my How to Think Like a Fool concepts to creatively solve a problem.


How to Think Like a Fool #34: Use What's Handy

PLAY: Use What's Handy
"And if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with."
—Stephen Stills

When life gives you lemons, make incredibly sour lemonade—unless life gives you water and sugar, too.

Fools don't want to drive all the way to Home Depot to pick up the perfect tool or part. They enlist what's available, wherever they are, whatever they have. They think like MacGuyver and invent like Rube Goldberg.

In Buster Keaton's The Boat, his wife's pancakes prove to be inedible, but later provide a plug for a hole in the boat with the help of hammer and nails (which caused the hole in the first place). Later, he uses the hammer to nail himself to the floor while the boat is flipping over.

We often live with the myth that if we just had [fill in the blank], all our problems would be solved. Only being able to use what's handy forces you to be creative. You have to connect the unrelated, make and break rules, and transform functions of objects. The limitations take away the infinite options that take too long to consider. You begin to see the project as a whole, instead of its separate parts, as demonstrated here by the fool Nasrudin:

Why Don't You
Mullah Nasrudin went to the shop of a man who stocked all kinds of bits and pieces.
"Have you got nails?," he asked.
"Yes."
"And leather, good leather?"
"Yes."
"And twine?"
"Yes."
"And dye?"
"Yes."
"Then why, for Heaven's sake, don't you make a pair of boots?"
—from The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin by Idries Shah

But to always have handy what you might need, you could carry around a Fool's Aid Kit.

Think: What do I have handy right here, right now? How can I use these to solve the problem?

Tomorrow: How to Think Like a Fool #35: Secretly Cooperate

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