I don't suffer fools gladly!

I loathe that expression, don't you? It popped up recently and, rather than poke the protagonist in the eye with a blunt instrument, I took the time to ask for clarification.

You see, I was recently coaching a candidate on his interviewing skills and had asked how he might answer that hairy old chestnut 'what are your weaknesses?' A pause, followed by a triumphant 'I don't suffer fools gladly'. I asked him to define 'fool'. 'Someone who makes a stupid mistake, stuffs up, doesn't listen to instructions, has no logic'. Hmmm...

Originally coined by Saint Paul in a letter to the people of Corinth, 'For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise', with contemporary usage, the focus is now on the negative, 'not' to suffer fools gladly. Interpreted by the Cambridge Idiom Dictionary: 'to become angry with people you think are stupid' The Oxford Dictionary: 'To have very little patience with people who you think are stupid or have stupid ideas'. I asked my candidate a question...

'Describe to me a time when you felt you 'stuffed up'. What were the circumstances, the steps you took to address the situation and what was the outcome?' I queried what he might do differently next time (another typical interview question) and what other people might have said during the aftermath. As my candidate pondered his response, he realised he wasn't exempt, that perhaps such a statement might even be considered arrogant? I concurred.

Thank goodness our greatest inventors chose to ignore those who considered their ideas 'stupid', their efforts 'foolish'. Every day folk who 'stuffed up' again and again until they got it right on so much we take for granted today. The Wright brothers (flying), Edison (phonograph, motion picture cameras, electric light bulbs), Bell (Telemetrics). And what about that Gates bloke huh? A computer in every home at a time when computers took up whole buildings? Ridiculous proposition, silly man, said Apple. Jobs, determined to put our entire music library in our hand, a computer in our pockets, what a fool. You get the gist.

In the words of Theodore Roosevelt (a man who also made a few spectacular stuff ups in his own time):

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood...who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly"

My candidate's rumination on the potential disadvantage his weakness response might give him was an essential insight, given he was prepping to interview with a company working on the absolute cutting edge of innovation. Where disruption is encouraged, where ideas considered 'foolish' are embraced, where 'you need to be curious, embrace change, allow yourself to fail.' A company where the Chief Strategist and Vice President of Creativity (yes, the title exists) looks to his team 'for the wild card, the outlier, the explosive idea that's hard to recognise'.

We found a more suitable response, and as I wished him luck upon his departure, we shared a deep and satisfying smile. A good session indeed. He landed the job.