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

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