What I notice on social media, in particular on the ones aimed at professionals (like LinkedIn), is that we’ve lost our sense of creativity. That’s strange, as we have never communicated as much as we do now. As I told a Portuguese friend today, in my area of work (communication) these days everyone seems to be a “storyteller” or a “coach” or whatever title is available to show how “creative” and “important” they are. Really? Let me take a look at the ultimate communicator.
I’m not going to be popular saying this, but on most social media conformity is the norm, as is bragging, and creativity is to be handled with extreme care. On the face of it, this makes sense: you don’t want to lose business, so just say what others prefer to hear. That is why, dear social copy-pasters, I prefer to create authentic content. First of all, because I love my work. Secondly, I believe it is vital to present yourself (as a person or a business) as you are: unique. And it’s part of my long-term approach as a communicator. Bragging is definitely a short-term thing.
The history of the ultimate communicator: the court jester
Let me make a side-step. A former German colleague told me something about me some time ago. A quality he had noticed in my attitude towards customers and management. He called it “Narrenfreiheit” which is one of those very particular and quite poetic and historically significant German words that require explanation rather than translation.
The word “Narrenfreiheit” relates to the rise of the earliest jesters (because that is what “Narr” in German means), with court jesters being described in literature from the time (royal) courts existed. I’m going to cut the historic part of this story short and tell you what I concluded from all the rather intriguing tales of jesters at various courts.
The role and position of the court jester
Court jesters were (and still are) generally seen as fools, not being taken seriously by courtiers and public. At court, their Majesties would generally be unapproachable on serious matters – one could easily risk losing his head by approaching the sovereign in an unbecoming manner. The court jester proved to be quite a useful middleman. The majesty knew they were missing out on a lot of information because they were feared. The court jester was used as a link to reality. Most members of court were not trustworthy and mostly politically engaged. Not the jester.
So, it turns out that the court jester wasn’t just the fool providing good laughs and entertainment. He was the invisible link between the Head of State and his servants as far as information and communication were concerned. Quite notably, the jester was trusted by both the majesty and his people. Surely, no-one would accuse a fool of bad intentions?
As history has shown, the court jester was quite the communicator, you might call him the facilitator in the medieval information flow and as such way more influential than his title suggested.
It’s all about “Narrenfreiheit”. The jester knew how to earn trust. He was a clever person with many more talents than met the eye. In fact, the eyes were often fooled by his appearance and behaviour, suggesting him to be an outsider. In actual fact, he was not. He was the ultimate insider.
I am a professional jester
Let’s make a leap to today. The court jester doesn’t exist anymore in the capacity we know from the history books and Wikipedia. What a shame! I would advocate reinstating the jester role at organisations in a leading communications position.
Compared to the middle ages, the media landscape has changed quite a lot, with communication now at the centre of many “trust issues”. Whatever happened to ‘Be good and tell it’ as the main principle for public relations and communications professionals?
As I stated in the beginning, we desperately need less conformism and more authenticity.
The freedom to do and speak out has increased but it has also become more impersonal and conformist. Today the social media adage seems ‘Do whatever gets you the most likes and brag about it’. Those with the loudest voices are getting the most attention. Did I hear you think “Trump” again?
Fooling around, or not?
I’ve made a fool of myself. How? Quite simply, I allowed myself to operate independently within my realm, the communications profession. How do I do that or, in other words, what does the profile of my ultimate communications position look like?
To start with, a modern court jester has real stories to tell. But he is also a very keen listener, open to all voices that are relevant. He is not judgmental and has good insight into what the priorities of all concerned groups or individuals are. He speaks languages and understands cultures. He is loyal and trustworthy. He connects people and knows how to be at the right spot at the right time. And finally, he doesn’t care if he is regarded a fool. He likes his job which doesn’t (always) include singing and dancing like in the old days… His tricks of the trade will be more technical and (social) media related, I would think.
Translated to a formal position within an organisation, this would require serious qualifications, I’m sure. Does a modern jester brag about it? Of course not, he is never in the foreground. That would only damage his independent and unique position, his “Narrenfreiheit”. Danny Kaye in the 50s comedy musical “The Court Jester”, puts it like this: ‘It’s a secret, Sire. Which has never before been revealed to anybody in the world.’
Check the video! Danny Kaye in the 50s musical hit, “The Court Jester”, tells the court how his character became a court jester:
‘I made a fool of myself’. Which isn’t that bad after all.
Please contact me if you (dis)agree.