I started watching a new series on my computer. A series my friend recommended me to watch almost a year back since he knew my type of movies and the different topics I enjoy talking about and learning more about. The entire plot revolves around the world of journalism and deals with stories related to politics, economics, finance, and even entertainment at certain points of some episodes.
At the end of the first season, the protagonist was labelled by a reporter as the “The Greater Fool” after the latter conducted a week-long field study of how things were done in the protagonist’s newsroom. The essay was perceived as a personal attack on the entire staff for following someone who seemed so naïve and caught in his own fantasy and image of the world. This ended up sending the person targeted in the essay into a depression spiral as he started to second-guess every decision, action, position ever undertaken over the couple of months preceding the scenario I just described.
In order to provide context, it is important that the scenario derives from what is known today as The Greater Fool Theory. It is a theory applied in finance and economics which states that products and services tend to go on the financial market because someone is able to sell them at a rate above the one indicated on the market. The objective is to hold on to an asset for as long as possible until it reaches maximum above-market value that a buyer would be willing to pay. The strategy is, of course, often considered as a major bargain as there is no certainty that there will be a greater fool on the receiving end since no one in their right mind and the right skills in market finance would want to be in this position.
In the event that a product’s market value is not bought by a Greater Fool, an entire structure could collapse in the frame of just a few days. The best example was observed in the 2008 financial crisis; when investors purchased mortgage loans that were simply too high to find a buyer, which then led to another economic term called a correction: this is when an asset’s value decreases by at least 10% from its most recent highest value or peak. For example, let us pretend that Apple’s share was valued at $100 last Monday. Since then, the share price has been decreasing, making the $10 threshold the company’s most recent peak. If the price keeps on falling until it reaches at least $90, then a correction has taken place on Apple’s stock price. At that point, investors start to worry about the money they are potentially losing while the correction is going to last, which could range from three or four months to even an entire.
“No one ever found wisdom without also being a fool.”
– Erica Jong
Although I am not here to give a lesson in finance to anyone, the context was important in the face of the description that the term fit in the case of the series I was watching. The term Greater Fool takes a different meaning when it is perceived under a social angle.
Throughout the course of human history, there has always been at least one person to be labelled the greater fool, for whatever reason that may be. This certainly applies for discoverers, scientists, artists, philosophers and any type of person who is today perceived as having been ahead of their time. Take a look at French writer Jules Verne, for example. A good number of his novels were considered to be too futuristic in comparison to the times he was living. This was particularly the case in his book Around The World In Eighty Days when Verne conceptualises means of transportation that had not been invented yet, by relying on some of the works and designs that Leonardo da Vinci put in place. Today, Jules Verne’s works are recognised as being the initiative for several inventions and discoveries in science and technology. In 1954, the US Navy launched the first nuclear-powered submarine, which was baptised the USS Nautilus like the one present in Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.
The world is filled with people who have been perceived as fools in the eyes of the society they lived in, and rightly so. Developing a vision that seems so far-fetched and could potentially change the status quo is a challenge to anyone who got embedded into the thought process that the masses live by. In such situations, a person’s comfort zone feels threatened, leaving room for insecurity and uncertainty to settle in and establish rationale in order to correctly understand and absorb the change possibly coming.
Being a Greater Fool does involve an important amount of ego-centric – and sometimes even delusional – attitude towards the situation one is faced with, since no one likes to be labeled as such. This approach helps in making sure that second-guesses are present only to help one push forward in the reasoning and logic they are following. Being perceived as such is part of the process when it comes to undertaking a project – whatever it may be – that has not been done before.
In hindsight, it became clear to all of us how much people of the likes of Jules Verne, Leonardo da Vinci, René Descartes, Sigmund Freud, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, Jack Ma, and many more have changed the course of mankind because they turned their thoughts and behaviours into projects and results. However, always remember that while they were alive – or before their projects saw the light of day – they were all labelled as crazy for even thinking that such an initiative would work.
They were Greater Fools, and yet they made it.
Remember that no one ever made it to fame and fortune by being normal.
Wisdom is important when it comes to making decisions, but so is foolishness and taking a chance on the uncertainty that lies.
Coming back to the episode mentioned at the very beginning, here is the phrase that inspired this article:
“The greater fool is someone with the perfect blend of self-delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed. This whole country [the United States] was made by greater fools.”
– The Newsroom