Originally, court jesters were not entertainers or comedians, but rather a social institution of permissible criticism. Due to their “fool’s freedom”, they were outside the hierarchy and were exempt from the strict social norms at court. They were therefore able and allowed to criticize those in power in a subtle and witty manner and to encourage reflection and rethinking. They were the personified memento mori and supposed to protect against exuberance and complacency.
What we need are a few crazy people, look at what we have reached with the normal ones.George Bernard Shaw
Exactly that still has a value in modern times that goes far beyond good entertainment. Especially in times of change organizations need this intelligent provocation and irritation. Court jesters or corporate rebels invite to reflect, rethink and think differently and protect the organization from hubris and inertia.
Unfortunately, when things get tight, one or the other manager quickly finds himself confronted with the question “Is this art or can it go away?” After all, in times of crisis the ranks have to be closed and everyone has to pull together to use just two popular narratives of this difficult time.
As understandable as the desire for unity, efficiency and ultimately obedience in times of crisis is, it is nevertheless damaging in the long term. The same argument could be used in difficult times to override the separation of powers in the state and massively restrict essential freedom rights of citizens and the press. Many people, and sometimes even courts, rightly react very sensitively to this. (That this in turn is exploited by all kinds of obscure and sometimes dangerous groups is just as problematic, but a different story.)
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.Evelyn Beatrice Hall
Of course, freedom of expression is annoying. Of course, organizational rebels and court jesters are irritating. That is exactly their job. And of course it disturbs the unity. And that is a good thing. In the state as well as in the corporate world. The intellectual monoculture of conformity and consensus may be pleasant for the captain on the bridge in the short term, but in the long run it is more likely to be part of the problem than part of the solution. Right now, more than ever, diversity and dissent are urgently needed if we are not only to survive the crisis but also to enjoy the day after tomorrow in the organization.
Only after the last jester has been dismissed, the last grassroots movement has been dissolved, the last free space has been eliminated, will you realize that with obedience one cannot shape the day after tomorrow.
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Court jester is not an organizational category. True court jesters are not members of organizations because organizations primarily demand work performance. Suggestions for operational improvements are accessories for which one receives a “warm handshake”. The true and only court jesters have joined the colorful guild of organizational consultants and propagandists for a better, happier, peaceful and successful life. They alone have the freedom to be credible and to succeed, to live — or to fail. Only they are allowed to say ‘outrageous things’ and not to question the organization.
See: Fuchs, Peter (2005): Hofnarren und Organisationsberater — Zur Funktion der Narretei, Hofnarrentum und Organisationsberatung [b]. In: Peter Fuchs: Contours of Modernity. Essays on Systems Theory II. ed. by Marie-Christin Fuchs. Bielefeld: transcript publishing house, S. 17 – 36
Thanks a lot for this quote, dear Frank. Maybe it’s really like this and I put my efforts in the wrong place …