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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 Trou...

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

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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

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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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