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Technologies of Foolishness

Guest blog!

Teo Greenstreet shared his essay on how he feels that observing training for clown performance gives us valuable insights into our responses to challenges of the future.  Below is a brief synopsis. You can read the whole thing here – Technologies of Foolishness.

The Technologies of Foolishness: Creativity and Sustainability

The fool thinks himself to be wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.    Measure For Measure, William Shakespeare.


Climate change, peak oil, over-population and ecosystem depletion are mighty challenges for humanity, permeating every aspect of our lives and dictating our future as a species. But perhaps our biggest test is finding the courage to face this challenge front on and with compassion As Joanna Macy (1998) puts it, “of all the dangers we face none is as dangerous as the deadening of our response”.

The world of the creative and cultural sector is missing a big trick in not letting loose its know-how in creativity and innovation, and so not taking a lead role in improvising the greatest show on earth – the post-carbon resilient society. We can help make meaning out of these challenges, re-connect with our natural world and imagine futures that are so rich and vivid they inform our current.

How can this process be iniated? What are the frames of mind needed for artists and cultural leaders to see and act to foster a sustainable world? If we are a key player in this new spectacle coming to town, we had better get our hands on a script and get under the skin of a lead character. For that we can turn to the source of creativity – play – and the archetypal player, the Fool.

For a moment imagine its not our lack of intelligence (stupidity) that’s the block to stimulating sustainability, its our lack of wisdom – our common foolishness. The sooner we accept our foolishness the sooner we can consider what wisdom it has to offer – it’s 5 technologies:

  • Fools are less distracted by the noise of the over-communicating world, but more by whats in the here and now.
  • A fool is engaged with the world with a spirit of enquiry and animism, what if?
  • Fools are happy with contradictions and paradox and complexity, they are in a liminal space accepting multiple realities as material to play with.
  • Fools are connected to an audience, “complicite” and in tune with them
  • The fool plays – continually experimenting and prototyping.

So foolishness invites a “deep appreciation for what is around us…trains us to experience the world differently, with utter engagement and lightness” (Chris Seeley). Play is how we explore and innovate. Educational psychologist Brian Sutton-Smith (1999) sums this up by calling play ‘adaptive potentiation’. “We try out techniques, strategies, scenarios, personas, in delimited zones, where the usual urgent determinations of life don’t automatically apply”. Adaptive Potentiation – is this not then a critical resilience skill? a means to adapting and thriving in changing circumstances?

The Fool is an archetype in us all providing a way, a frame, a perspective we can all step into, giving us permission to play and imagine.

In accepting that were all fools and unearthing our foolish technologies we can stand in that new frame where its possible to understand the importance and potency of artists and creative leaders amidst the scale of the challenges we face, and have the means to initiate the next move, to go out and fail, fail really well.

Teo Greenstreet, March 2010

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