Last November I was scheduled to moderate a panel at SAWCA’s All Committee Conference at Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. It was to be called “Things That Make Bob Go Hmmmm…”. David Langham, who was at the time SAWCA President, sent me the proposed description of the event sometime before it was scheduled. While the description was fine, I did register a mild objection to a phrase he had used in a reference to me. In the document they had referred to me as a “Corporate Jester”. At the time I really did not understand the use of the term, or even the concept of a “jester”. The image that flashed to mind was a goofy imbecile in a silly hat that everyone in the Kings Court (the community) laughed at.

Now that I write that description out, the connection becomes frighteningly clear to me. I see it now. At any rate, he graciously changed the term to something more palatable for me. I don’t recall what it was – “village idiot”, or something similar that was a tad more accurate.

Last month found me at the SAWCA Annual Conference in Destin, Florida, where I was asked to reprise my role as moderator in a session of the same name. After the session, the now outgoing president Langham called me to the podium and presented me with a book entitled, “The Secret Life of the Corporate Jester”, by David T. Riveness. It had been graciously signed by the members of the SAWCA Executive Committee. Langham explained the back story to the group, and read out loud a description that said “Jestership is not about wearing colorful costumes and entertaining others with jokes; instead, it is a set of behaviors arriving from a unique perspective on organizational effectiveness. True jesters have the unique ability to uncover and address hidden blind spots in thinking and action that negatively affect companies, organizations and individuals.”

Son of a gun. It was a compliment after all.

The book itself is a fairly easy and quick read. It discusses the original role of the jester as often the only person who could or would relay honest and useful information to Kings and other leaders of their day. In the world of monarchies and strong dictatorships it seems that leaders are too often surrounded by sycophantic “yes” men, who are unable or unwilling to speak certain useful truths to those in charge. This leaves the leaders vulnerable to large blind spots that endanger both the individual and the empire they maintain. The jester evolved as a position intended to both entertain and inform, and was often the only person in the kingdom willing to address – often through humor – important weaknesses of the leader they served.

The successful jester most often did not directly point out their leader’s flaws and weaknesses. That was something the lesser jesters would do; and they didn’t last very long in their position, or on earth, for that matter. No, the successful jester would relay the information in such a manner as to allow the leader to be entertained while coming to their own conclusions surrounding potential flaws in their plans or leadership. The jester, it seems, was a valuable counselor indeed.

It all comes down to helping others recognize blind spots they were previously unaware of, and the fact is we all have blind spots. The book contains a very simple yet rather remarkable exercise designed to demonstrate to the reader the very real physical blind spots that exist within our own eyes. It turns out that there are areas within our eyes that contain no visual receptors, and from where no information about what is before us is relayed to the brain. Our brains have adapted to that phenomenon by attempting to fill in what it believes to be in those areas, compiled from visual data received from surrounding sensors. It is quite possible that this reality could cause us not to see certain things that are directly in our line of sight, or to see things that are not in fact there.

Now that is just a tad unnerving, isn’t it?

Of course, this whole “blind spot” thing is where the “Bob Wilson as Corporate Jester” concept comes completely off the rails. I have enough trouble seeing my own blind spots let alone help identify them in others. I’ve looked everywhere for them, but so help me I can’t see them. Maybe that is what they mean by the phrase “those that can’t do, teach”. 

Still, the concept is useful for us. The workers’ compensation industry is one largely built upon and defined by impressions and opinion. Did I receive prompt care? Are they truly concerned with my wellbeing? Did we do everything we could for this particular worker? Blind spots in people on both sides of the service equation can impact what they see, what they think and how they perceive any particular interaction.

And now we learn we don’t even have to have our blinders on for this to occur. In some situations, reality could be staring us in the face and we are just unable to see it. Even worse, our brain is attempting to fill in the gaps with what it believes should be there. That can make for some very interesting interpretations of our experiences and interactions.

I’m guessing a few of you who manage claims are thinking about some specific situations that previously made no sense. You’re welcome.

So we may now rest easy recognizing that what we see may not be real, and what may be real we may never see. That should really simplify things for us. While I jest to a large degree (I am apparently a “jester”, after all) there is some validity in this concept. Blind spots in our field of vision require extra effort and scrutiny to avoid and overcome simple misperceptions. Verbal communications become ever more critical in this scenario. It turns out seeing may not be believing after all.

In many cases, people merely see what they want to; what they expect to, or what they have been conditioned to perceive. Their brains will fill in the rest.

So more effective claims management; better care and improved outcome for injured workers’ will involve identifying our own blind spots as well as helping workers’ identify theirs as well. It will not be as easy as it sounds. 

After all, I’ve been looking everywhere for my blind spots, and I simply can’t see them.



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