A friend recently tried to persuade me of a more sinister purpose than cost saving behind one of Mrs Thatcher’s early 80s public sector cuts. Although she expressed her regret, in writing, to schoolchildren at the time, he was convinced she specifically targeted a clown school for closure because it was a potential catalyst for anarchy.

I must have looked confused.

Like all good conspiracy theorists, my interlocutor took my total lack of comprehension as proof of the diabolical truth of the plot he revealed.  He warmed to his task by explaining the incendiary power of the clown. He urged me to consider the Theatre Buffon. The word ‘buffoon’ has as its root a particular French version of a Jester. Jesters were employed by people in power to speak the truth that no one else dared by cloaking it in humour and faux ignorance.

There’s many a true word spoken in jest.

The Buffon is an outsider whose jarring presence and shocking countenance make people avert their world-view gaze the better to consider a new perspective. The Theatre Buffon was a movement whose aim was to reveal through clowning the beautiful sadness at the heart of existence to such an exquisitely profound extent that the audience killed themselves.

With a knowing look my friend let that information hang in the air before he turned on his heal and melted into the crowd……to get his round in.


In steering an organisation’s course exclusively by financial charts the need for strong leadership, clear direction and keen competition can sometimes flatten the real world picture.  The tendency is to develop a cartesian mindset: black-and-white, yes-or-no, for-us-or-against-us. The effect is a bit like digitising analogue material: one or zero, on or off.  CDs and MP3s are more convenient and robust – we have easier, flexible access to more stuff. There’s a cost, though. The warmth and fidelity of the reproduction is sacrificed, as is our ability to appreciate it. Audiophiles swear by more expensive, awkward and fragile analogue media, the impractically resource-hungry 78 being most cherished. Likewise a cinematographer recently complained to me about the nature of digital video: “the problem is, everything is always in focus.”

The merits of the strongest emerging format, system or way of thinking are self evident; that’s why they predominate. However there is always another way and whatever its limitations or inconvenient idiosyncrasies it may well be vastly superior in one, important respect.

In the competition to refine and own what is true, the reality of a situation may be lost. This is how financial bubbles emerge. The price of gold is at an all time high. It appears to be a safe, tangible haven in times of fiscal uncertainty and ephemeral value.  It seems everyone is piling-in, pushing the price ever higher and so re-enforcing this view. Warren Buffett has just sold all of his gold.

How can an organisation stop itself becoming desensitised to the world’s fuzziness? It might be an idea to give centre stage to those awkward buggers who are always picking holes in plans or the smart arses who make jibes behind their hand at management’s ideas. They’re not idiots, otherwise they wouldn’t be employed in the first place. Often they are amongst the most intelligent or scarce talents – why else would they be getting away with their ill-concealed agitating. Instead of writing them off as irritating outsiders that must only be tolerated and controlled, it might be an idea to give them some space and see where their thinking goes. This isn’t a call to put the lunatics in charge of the asylum, but some sort of Feast of Fools might be an interesting examination of the organisation’s truth.

Think of a person or department that is always harping on about how their particular approach to a problem is superior to the ‘official’ process. Instead of closing them down or trying to talk them round, how would you go about  experimenting with their alternative in such a way that everyone could learn something?