Insights · January 13th, 2023

Article contributed by Futurist Think Tank Member Bronwyn Williams Flux Trends in South Africa.


“The Holy Fool is a truth-teller because he is an outcast. Those who are not part of existing social hierarchies are free to blurt out inconvenient truths or question things the rest of us take for granted.”

Malcolm Gladwell

As contemporary futurists,  whether we realise it or not, we are playing the role of both fool and prophet for our clients. We are the professional outsiders who are employed to rattle the cages and shift the status quo of the organisations who engage our services. Our status as outsider is essential to the success of this mission of broadening perspectives from what is to what could be, and, even more importantly, catalysing change.

However, the approach we take affects the success of this mission. In literature and mythology the roles of court jester and Cassandra often overlap; but the humourless prophet is usually far less popular (and less persuasive) than the truth-telling fool. Especially when it comes to pointing out uncomfortable trends and signals that, once properly understood, will require the target audience to embark on change, or even self sacrifice. History is littered with examples of mobs and masters literally and figuratively shooting the proverbial messengers who brought messages they did not particularly like. 

As the comedian Billy Wilder so wisely said : “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they will kill you.”

As such I propose that as futurists, we should see ourselves and our role in both the public and the private sector as that of the contemporary equivalent of the court jester rather than the prophet of doom. That is, I suggest that we need to humble ourselves and understand that harsh truths and big, scary new ideas are often received better by powerful people when delivered with humility and humour, than with self importance (or worse, self righteousness). If, in other words, we can learn to take ourselves less seriously, we can also, counter intuitively, get our messages taken more seriously.

Learning how to wield humour as a way to frame and communicate difficult, unpopular or politically policing truths is a powerful tool to get your message heard (without endangering the messenger). 

We must remember, our role is not to preach or condemn; but rather to inspire new ideas and new actions. And the jesters who are invited and welcomed to perform in the innermost sanctums of power and privilege are perfectly positioned to capture the ears and the hearts of the people who wield real power in our world today. 


Also see the related article – The need for fun, edgy and risky thinking in Futures Design

Facing Our Futures
Nikolas Badminton – Chief Futurist

Nikolas Badminton

Nikolas is the Chief Futurist of the Futurist Think Tank. He is world-renowned futurist speaker, a Fellow of The RSA, and has worked with over 300 of the world’s most impactful companies to establish strategic foresight capabilities, identify trends shaping our world, help anticipate unforeseen risks, and design equitable futures for all. In his new book – ‘Facing Our Futures’ – he challenges short-term thinking and provides executives and organizations with the foundations for futures design and the tools to ignite curiosity, create a framework for futures exploration, and shift their mindset from what is to WHAT IF…

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