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

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