The Fool's Journey

"Start a huge, foolish project, like makes absolutely no difference what people think of you."


There's a fool inside every entrepreneur. Only a fool would willingly leave the security of full-time employment for the vagaries of the entrepreneurial life. Only a fool would risk everything on an idea, hunch, or premonition. Who but a fool would allow him or herself to be seized by a dream? Thomas Edison endured a thousand failures to invent the light bulb. Henry Ford and Walt Disney were serial bankrupts. Einstein and Pasteur barely made it through school. Steve Jobs and Michael Dell didn't graduate college. Each was compelled to leap, without a safety net, into uncertainty. According to Bloomberg, approximately 80% of new businesses fail within 18 months. Despite the risks, failures, skeptics, and bankers, successful entrepreneurs persevere and bring their dreams to reality.


The Fool

According to the Tarot, the Fool is the universal symbol of awakening. Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien suggests the Fool "... represents your ability to give birth to new forms from a place of courage, wonder and anticipation."

Every entrepreneur attempts to bring something new to the world. This requires courage, the willingness to risk, and the ability to see new possibilities. It also demands enlightened naiveté. To achieve a state of enlightened naiveté we must suspend disbelief and look at the world with fresh eyes, the way a child - or a Fool - might.

The Rider-Waite Tarot Card deck depicts the Fool as a fearless, carefree young man. Looking skyward, he carries all his worldly belongings wrapped in cloth and tied to a bindle stick. He steps toward a precipice, seemingly unaware of the danger as a small dog pulls at his pant leg, a reminder to stay grounded while dreaming.

The Fool travels lightly, carrying little baggage. He or she has renounced all attachments to convention - especially conventional thinking - a singular requirement for the journey of discovery. Free of the status quo, the Fool is able to regain the innocence necessary for fresh vision. Stripped down to the "irreducible core" of the authentic self and retaining only what is essential, the Fool's looks into the future without the encumbrance of the past. He or she sees a future fixed only by the limits of imagination.

The entrepreneur, like the Fool, is driven by a vision of how things could be rather than how they currently are. Optimistic by nature, the entrepreneur believes that creativity and innovation is far more rewarding than upholding old forms and enabling the status quo. Theirs is a journey of disruption and transformation.

The entrepreneur seeks the risks and challenges of a creative life. He or she turns away from the predictability of a "nine to five" existence.

Jason Steiner, writing for Forbes, suggests the motivation of the entrepreneur has more to do with the benefits, and less to do with the outcome, of the journey.

"But then we must ask ourselves: why do entrepreneurs do what they do and take such great risks? It seems clear that financial gain is not a sufficient explanation...The answer lies in what are becoming known as extra-rational motivations. Such motivations lie mainly in the psychological rewards of being an entrepreneur and include benefits derived from:

  • the thrill of competition
  • the desire for adventure
  • the joy of creation
  • the satisfaction of team building
  • the desire to achieve meaning in life."

The Fool's precipice confronts every entrepreneur. He or she never knows if the creative adventure will end in disaster or deliverance. This risk is the central tension at the heart of every entrepreneurial journey. Trusting himself and his vision he steps forward into the unknown territory gripped by "extra-rational motivation." Between happy ending and disaster are the tests of imagination and character. Those who make the leap from the precipice are fools; those who land on their feet are entrepreneurs.

Posted on September 15, 2014 .