Consult a fool remix

“The answer was right in front of me.” I shared the story, “Consult a Fool – remix” at an Ex Fabula Story Slam last week. Being open to unexpected sources of wisdom is the topic for the Servant-Leader roundtable this Thursday, March 23 at 8:00 am (CDT) . The story is a quick read, with a little food for thought. Comments and sharing are always welcome.

In this post:


Story: Consult a fool – remix*

I hear the door open and the sound of little footsteps. I say, “Good morning Emelia. How did you sleep?” She says, “Why is it so dark in here?” I open the shades and flip one of the light switches. I decide not to start a conversation on how some people see and others don’t. Giving and getting hugs is a much better idea.

As I hug my four year old granddaughter, I am reminded that when her Mom, Rachel, was her age I sometimes referred to her as my, “Seeing eye kid.” I’m not sure when either of my daughters found out I didn’t see, but Rachel and I quickly became partners in crime.

One of the earliest projects Rachel and I worked on together was preparing the upper flat of the duplex we owned on the East Side of Milwaukee for rent. When we moved into the flat five years earlier, we found the door to the back bedroom was ready to fall off its hinges. Since we used the room for a nursery, it didn’t bother us to just take the door off and store it in the basement. Our project was to fix the frame and re-hang the door.

In the interest of efficiency, my wife and I split the chores and the kids for the day. After packing the car with a few things that needed to go to the new house, Helen and Jessica, our five-year-old, were off.

The plan was to prepare the door frame on Saturday and hang the door the next day. Our job was to drill out the door Frame and install wooden pegs as a base for the door hinges. The drilling, measuring, and cutting was all going as planned. When it was time to install the wooden pegs, we realized we had a problem. We couldn’t get the pegs started into the holes we had drilled. As planned, the pegs and the holes were almost the same size. The pegs needed a taper on them before they would go into the holes.

You know how, when you know exactly what tool you need, you can just picture right where it is? I could clearly picture a file or sandpaper to taper the pegs. We looked in the closets, the kitchen drawers, the pantry, the toolbox in the basement. And yet, nothing.

I quickly ran through our options and found myself quite discouraged.

  • Calling Helen wasn’t an option. The phone had been transferred already and cell phones wouldn’t become popular for another ten years.
  • There was a hardware store down Brady Street, but I didn’t have my cane and didn’t think it would be wise to ask Rachel to guide me in that situation.
  • Just sitting around waiting for Helen and Jessica just didn’t seem like a good idea.

We were stuck. Before giving up completely, I thought I’d try one last thing. I explained to Rachel what I was trying to do and what I’d do if I had the right tools. When I asked her what she thought we should do, she immediately suggested we should scrape the pegs on the floor of the basement. She explained that when she ran and fell in the basement, she scraped some of the skin off her knee. Being a sunny day, we decided to test her advice on the concrete steps at the front of the house. Within a few minutes, we were back upstairs with a set of tapered pegs. The pegs fit in place just as planned and we hung the door the next day.

That was one of our first projects together, but not the last time Rachel gut us out of a jam. It was the start of the many adventures of Rachel and Dad.

Lessons learned

Better planning would have helped Rachel and I avoid running into problems: more tools, I could have brought my cane, etc. Unforeseen problems are often arise on any project. “The plan is nothing, planning is everything.” Rachel’s idea of scraping the pegs on a rough surface is what turned a failure into success. The real problem was the narrow perspective I brought to the situation.


Applying the lessons

A few questions I found myself reflecting on:

  • Who do I include as I conceptualize the outcomes I am seeking to achieve?
  • How do I ensure I am open to the (unexpected) wisdom of others?
  • How do I honor the contributions that come from unexpected individuals?
  • )What do I do to remind myself to expect the unexpected?



I had recently read a book called “A Whack on the Side of the Head” by Roger von Oech on the topic of creative thinking. One of the techniques von Oech suggests is, when stuck for fresh ideas, ask someone who has no knowledge of the topic for advice. The technique is called “Consult a Fool.”

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