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Analogies for motivation, inspiration, learning and training

Here are stories, analogies, research findings and other examples that provide wonderful illustrations for learning, and inspiration for self-development.

Read about the travellers and the monk, tickle me elmo, get in the wheelbarrow, the shoe box story, the scorpion and the frog, murphy's plough, Pavlov's dogs, the monkeys and the stairs, and more.

Look at the stories index for stories listed by subject.

Or go straight to the stories.

Analogies, stories, fables and case-studies are great ways to illustrate teaching, training and business lessons.

Stories, examples, fables and research references add colour and substance to presentations and reports, and reinforce learning of all types.

Some of these stories are ironic and so can best be used to illustrate pitfalls and vulnerabilities rather than best practice. If you know who wrote any of the unattributed stories below please let us know so that credit can be given.

Read and enjoy and send me your own favourite stories and anecdotes.

See also the quotes page, which contains many more motivational, educational and amusing anecdotes for writing, speaking, learning, teaching and training.

Please note that The Person Who Had Feelings story, which was on this page for some while (with suggested but uncertain attribution to Barbara Dunlap) has been removed at the request of Barbara Dunlap Van Kirk, its author, who has kindly contacted me to explain that she is indeed the author, and that the work is protected and so is not to be reproduced. The version on this page was also somewhat different to Barbara's original.

Some of these stories might be offensive to certain people in certain situations. If you are a strong advocate of political correctness or are easily offended please don't read this page, or the rest of this website, and for goodness sake don't go near the acronyms page.

If you are a publisher, editor, teacher, trainer, writer, or speaker of any sort, then please be mindful that disability, discrimination and equality are highly sensitive issues, and that when seen from these angles, some of these stories will be objectionable or offensive to some people. Many of these stories refer to different forms of the human condition, and to people from different parts of the world. Anyone seeking examples of political incorrectness and stereotyping of all sorts will find lots here. This is a major aspect of storytelling and unavoidable in many cases I'm sorry.

At the same time, the infinite values, lessons, and significance of stories and storytelling of all sorts represent much deeper human interest than should be controlled by the arbitrary application of 'political correctness' in everything that what we read and share. Otherwise ninety-nine percent the world's fairy tales would be outlawed and banned, and nearly all books (especially the Holy Bible), newspapers, films and every other media would not exist.

There are warnings on a few of the stories, notably the ones which mention blind (visually impaired/challenged) people, but similar warnings could effectively apply to every story on this page. Not because the stories are bad or evil or inherently offensive, because they are not, but because in this modern age it is possible to infer and find something offensive to somebody somewhere in anything that humankind can create, and so certainly any bunch of entertaining stories is likely to be highly potentially offensive indeed.

Your aim therefore, if you are a communicator who uses stories (and any other form of communication media), should not be to reject everything which refers to a disadvantaged stereotype or some other 'potentially offensive' example of human condition or ethnicity; your aim is to be aware of your audience and purpose, and to choose and position your materials and words and references accordingly.

Stories Index

Story title Learning, lessons, messages, examples of uses
the emperor's new clothes following the crowd, scrutiny, questioning, bystanding, pride, trickery
the philosophy student and the chair story lateral thinking, creativity, problem-solving, quick-thinking, short answers to big questions, efficiency, cleverness, teaching and learning, exams and tests (and other legendary clever answers to difficult test questions)
the bishop the priest and the ladle story assumptions, deceitfulness, dishonesty, delusion, arrogance, puzzles, mysteries, discovery, creative problem-solving
the man, the boy, and the hotel story humanity, assumptions, things aren't always what they seem, customer service, supporting and helping people, the kindness of strangers
the blind man and the advertising story communications, empathy, connecting with people, advertising, marketing, language meaning, intervention, helping others, expertise, disability, equality, discrimination
the shoes story positive thinking vs negative thinking, opportunities vs problems, attitude, mindset
the pub story racial discrimination, lateral thinking, language meaning
the inflatables story context and meaning, discipline and admonishment, self-respect
the mechanic and the surgeon story perceptions, differences, the devil is in the detail
the zodiac signs mnemonic example of story mnemonic (memory aid)
the two bulls story tactics, strategic thinking, planning, impulse, enthusiasm, wisdom, maturity
the thief and the paintings story planning, resources, project management
the gardener's badge story positive thinking, attitude, seeing the good side, successful business
the rich man and the jewels story possessions, enjoyment, materialism, owning things
the atheist and the bear story loyalty, payback and reward, taking sides, changing sides
the atheist and the bear story II loyalty, payback and reward, taking sides, changing sides, belief, misunderstanding, miscalculation, risk
the fairy story strategic alliances, ageism, sexism, tactical awareness, the sisterhood, loyalty, motives, assumptions, choices, karma, be careful what you wish for
circus story developing young people, coaching, advising, talent development, career choices
stranded car dilemma story creativity, thinking outside of the box, decision-making, ethics
the school story attendance, sickness, overcoming fears, responsibility
the soldiers and the trench story leadership
the john wayne story communications, confusion, understanding, instructions
the blind men and the road story dependency, risk, stretching, motivation, achievement, lifting personal limits, disability, equality, discrimination
the doctor and the thief story ethical decision-making, challenge and change choices
the preacher and the farmer story duty, regardless of demand and reward - adapt provision according to needs
the old lady and the hearing-aid story tactical advantage, underestimating people, disability, equality, discrimination
mobile phone story assumptions, approvals, authority, control, security, identity
the trench-digger story initiative, self-development, self-discipline, making things happen, career advancement, getting experience before you get the job, getting a job requiring experience when you have none - also making assumptions and imagining or suspecting the worst
the double-positive story make your point and then know when to stop, language, communications, lateral thinking, quick-thinking
the bath and bucket story lateral thinking, making assumptions, dangers of judging people
the stamp story customer services, communications, product design, customer inertia
the shot at dawn story ethics and culture, leadership integrity and styles, decision-making, policy-making
direct mail campaign clanger story human nature, integrity, delegation and training, and advertising is a funny business...
the god and eve story gender and sexual discrimination, equality, battle of the sexes debates, after-dinner speeches
the wrong guy interview story interviews, preparation, thinking on your feet, communications, media nonsense, persuasion (this is the famous BBC Guy Goma interview story and video clip)
the very old lady story positive attitude, self-image, ageism, age and beauty, perspective, wisdom, equality, discrimination
the train travellers story relationships, assumptions, marriage, weddings speeches, best man speeches, sex, sexism, disability, equality, discrimination
the william pitt story working creatively to reach agreement, managing situations and environments, facilitation of agreements, negotiation
the biscuit factory story making assumptions, other people's perspectives, individual needs and motivations
the eggs story time management, creative thinking and problem-solving, marriage, weddings speeches, best man speeches, sex, sexism, equality, discrimination
the translator story communications, assumptions, creativity, deceit, language, relationships, karma, cheats don't prosper
the buddha and the abuse story conflict, responding to other people's negative behaviour, angry customers, disruptive kids, bad-tempered bosses
the gandhi shoe story selflessness, compassion, generosity, logic, objectivity
the greta garbo negotiation story negotiation tactics, negotiating position, independence and the power of choice
the jesse james story tactics, strategy, planning, morality, good and bad in us all, yin and yang
the gorilla story negotiating, understanding communications, agreeing clear objectives and responsibilities
the priest and the politician story time management, being late, public speaking
the lipstick kisses on the mirror story creative thinking, creative problem-solving, creative management techniques, avoiding confrontation
measuring by averages story analysis, measurement, statistics
the blind golfers story an ironic example of lack of empathy, and different people's perspectives, disability, equality, discrimination
the sales and marketing rugby analogy story for teams, motivation, team-building, departmental cooperation, training, public speaking
the lock and key story kindness and generosity, 'good pebble ripples', memorable customer service experiences
the stranger and the gingernuts story making assumptions, think before you act, different perspectives
the england football story foundational failure, strategic analysis, alignment and philosophy, viability
the new employees stories importance of induction training for new starters, initiative and lateral thinking, interpretation, delegation, rules, checking and monitoring
the bedtime story communications, communications methods, relationships, marriage, weddings speeches, best man speeches, sex, sexism
the sergeant major's rude parrot story management styles examples, autoctratic management, submissive behaviour, threats, meeting difficult behaviour head-on
the farmer and the boy story helping others, inspiration, gratitude and appreciation, good comes from doing good, the power of legen
the brewery story to challenge belief systems and assumptions, and the need for questioning pointless routine or policy
the rowing competition story identifying and managing performance improvement, establishing cause and accountability, theory x vs theory y, daft executive judgements
the performance evaluation story theory x shortcomings, mis-management
the no exit story different perspectives, viewpoints, how different perspectives cause one thing to appear as two different things
the old couple story positive/negative outlook, blame, attitude
two brothers and the geese story initiative, responsibility, thinking outside the box, anticipating, strategic anticipation, adding value to service, value and reward
the piano story mentoring, coaching, understanding the other person's development needs
the angry customer story funny customer service example, keeping calm, keeping control, managing conflict, angry customers
the clap and cheer story positive attitude, taking pride in whatever you do
the bank story a lesson in customer service, how bad policy encourages poor service
the fish baking story to challenge belief systems and assumptions, and illustrate pointless routine and the need for questioning
the donkey story positive attitudes, turning problems into opportunities
the shepherd story IT consultants, business consultancy, knowing your facts
the speed camera story creative thinking, teamwork, understanding and using modern technology - do not try this at home..
the three engineers story different approaches to problem-solving, modern IT
the sweet old couple story dangers of making assumptions, understand before you intervene
the men and women differences story the other person's perspective, gender empathy, for weddings, best-man speeches, johari window, empathy, NLP, etc
the aunt karen story using lessons, morals, analogies, examples, interpretation, relatives, families, drinking
the tickle me elmo story induction training, communications, giving instructions, delegation, confusion
the get in the wheelbarrow story belief, trust, faith, commitment, walking the walk
the charles plumb parachutes story supporting others, supporting roles, leadership, acknowledging others, saying thank you
the chickens story communications, confusing instructions, testing, research and development
the chihuahua and the leopard story creative thinking, quick thinking, escaping, averting disaster, bluff and boldness
the cannibals story management, managers, secretaries, initiative, habits, conforming, rules and rule-breaking
the dog and the bone story be content with what you have, greed and envy seldom pay (more Aesop's fables)
the "always done it that way.." story time management, challenging habits, assumptions, procedures, belief systems
the dam story how to write a good letter, making assumptions, jumping to conclusions, and how to defend wrong accusations with humour
the blind men and the elephant perception, truth, perspective, empathy, communications and understanding, disability, equality, discrimination
the owl and the field-mouse story executive policy-making, theory versus practice
the rat and the lion story do good, what goes around comes around, karma
the two mules story show off expensive things at your peril, the more you have the more you have to lose
the travellers and the monk story positive attitude, life outlook, positive philosophy, finding what we seek, self-fulfilling prophecies
the human resources story new starters induction, ironic reference to human resources management, keeping promises, employment standards, changing jobs
the shoe box story delusion, men and women, marriage, relationships, secrets, weddings and best-man speeches
the businessman and the fisherman story ambition, work and fulfilment, purpose of life, wealth creation, change for change's sake
the microsoft story computers, WYSInotWYG, ironic reference to computer software problems
the "it will for that one" story making a difference, compassion, personal and social responsibility
the negotiation story negotiating, men and women, funny responses
the mcclelland motivation story david mcclelland's achievement motivation experiment, motivation references and examples
the butterfly story coaching, teaching, enabling, facilitating, interventions
the swimming pool story reviews and asessments, assessing people, things are not always what they seem
the butcher story business ethics, chickens come home to roost, sins discovered, getting caught out, lying to customers
the pavlov's dogs story behaviour, conditioning, fears and neuroses, embedded attitudes and responses
the beans up the nose story accentuate the positive, visualization, auto-suggestion, negative suggestions and attitudes
the hawthorne effect story elton mayo's motivation experiments, motivation
the naval stand-off story negotiation, do your research, know your facts, wrong assumptions, arrogance
the room service story understanding, communicating, interpretation, empathy, meaning, language and translation
the project story project management, six phases of a project, leadership and management
the mswindows car story the power of PR, clever publicity, using humour for publicity, don't get mad get even
the balloon story business, IT, humour, funny business story
the monkey story company policy, organizational development, group behaviour, group beliefs, inertia and assumptions
the creativity story ten ways to murder creativity, leadership, growth and development, innovation and motivation
the scorpion and the frog story responsibility, blame, reality, acceptance, delusion, expectations, personal responsibility, empathy
the rocks in bucket story time management, personal change, managing your activities and environment, project management, life-balance
the rocks in the bucket story II alternative funny version, students' perspective
the murphy's plough story positive thinking, negative thinking, retaliating before being attacked, thinking the worst of people, tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye

Stories add interest and enjoyment to learning, teaching and training - for teachers, trainers and students.

Stories also increase impact and make ideas and concepts far more memorable.

Stories can be used to illustrate all sorts of themes and lessons, and most stories are extremely flexible.

The themes suggested for the stories in this collection are the obvious examples.

Use your imagination - in most stories you can find many other themes to suit your own purposes.

The Emperor's New Clothes

Following the crowd, confidence trickery, fear of embarrassment, bystanding, courage, scrutiny, questioning, mob rule

A pompous king is persuaded by mischievous tailors that a 'magnificent' and extremely expensive suit they have produced for him can only be seen by clever people.

In fact there is no suit at all, so when the king wears the suit, the king is actually naked.

The king, then the king's courtiers, and eventually the crowds at the next royal parade, are all tricked into agreeing that the king's suit is wondrous, even though the king is naked.

Each person does not dare to appear to be stupid. Nobody wants to be the first to question the claim.

So an entire population is persuaded to adopt a completely false belief - based on exploiting people's individual pride, fear of embarrassment, and reluctance to be a lone voice of disagreement.

The tale ends with the intervention of a small boy, who, unaware of the widely publicized mythical claims of the tailors, loudly pronounces the king to be naked, so exposing the sham.

The Emperor's New Clothes was originally written by the Danish author/poet Hans Christian Andersen, as part of his famous fairy tales collection, first published in 1837.

The Philosophy Student and The Chair

Creativity, quick-thinking, exams and tests, short answers to long questions

This is a widely circulated story from the early 2000s. It appeared online and in emails in many different versions. Please tell me if you know it to be earlier, and/or the origin. I've refined the wording of the story as follows:

A philosophy professor gave an unusual test to his class. He lifted his chair onto his desk and wrote on the board simply: "Prove that this chair does not exist." The class set to work, composing long complex explanations - except one student, who took just thirty seconds to complete and hand in his paper, attracting surprised glances from his classmates and the professor. Some days later the class received their grades for the test. The student who took thirty seconds was judged the best. His answer was, "What chair?"

The story is one of several similar urban myths which make fun of supposedly high-minded theorizing and academia, in which an apparently very difficult or impossible question is defeated by a very simple quick 'clever' answer. The story also inspired the fine 'philosophy student' contribution to the Glass Half-Full/Empty Quotes Collection. Here are some other examples of funny legendary test questions and answers:

Q - What do you think of this as a question? A - What do you think of this as an answer?

Q - Why? A - Why not?

Q - Why? A - Because.

Q - Define 'courage'. A - This. (or This is.)

Q - Prove that this chair does not exist. A - This chair is actually a word on a board. The chair that exists is that one on the table.

Q - Briefly explain what hard water is? A - Ice. (This one was real)

Q - What do we call the science of classifying living things? A - Racism. (So was that)

(Thanks for the suggestion, R Bubb)

The Bishop, The Priest and The Ladle

Assumptions, deceitfulness, dishonesty, creative problem-solving, arrogance, delusion

This wonderful story was circulated by email several years ago. Here is an adapted version which can be used to illustrate several different themes.

A bishop invited a young priest to dinner. During the meal, the priest noticed some signs of intimacy between the bishop and his housekeeper. As the priest was leaving, the bishop said to him quietly, "I can guess what you are thinking, but really our relationship is strictly proper." A few days later the housekeeper remarked to the bishop that a valuable antique solid silver soup ladle was missing - since the young priest's visit - and so she wondered if he might have taken it. "I doubt it, but I will ask him," said the bishop. So the bishop wrote to the priest: "Dear Father, I am not saying that 'you did' take a solid silver ladle from my house, and I am not saying that 'you did not' take a solid silver ladle from my house, but the fact is that the ladle has been missing since your visit.." Duly, the bishop received the young priest's reply, which read: "Your Excellency, I'm not saying that 'you do' sleep with your housekeeper, and I'm not saying that 'you do not' sleep with your housekeeper, but the fact is that if you were sleeping in your own bed, you would by now have found the ladle."

(Adapted from a story sent to me by A Höyden. If you know the origins of this story please tell me.)

The Man, The Boy, and the Hotel

Assumptions, customer service, helping others, kindness, humanity

This story is frequently told to be true. Whether true or not, it is certainly powerful.

A man and a young teenage boy checked in to a hotel and were shown to their room. The two receptionists noted the quiet manner of the guests, and the pale appearance of the boy. Later the man and boy ate dinner in the hotel restaurant. The staff again noticed that the two guests were very quiet, and that the boy seemed disinterested in his food. After eating, the boy went to his room and the man went to reception and asked to see the manager. The receptionist initially asked if there was a problem with the service or the room, and offered to fix things, but the man said that there was no problem of that sort, and repeated his request. The manager was called and duly appeared. The man asked to speak privately and was taken into the manager's office.

The man explained that he was spending the night in the hotel with his fourteen-year-old son, who was seriously ill, probably terminally so. The boy was very soon to undergo therapy, which would cause him to lose his hair. They had come to the hotel to have a break together, and also because the boy planned to shave his head, that night, rather than feel that the illness was beating him. The father said that he would be shaving his own head too, in support of his son. He asked that staff be respectful when the two of them came to breakfast with their shaved heads. The manager assured the father that he would inform all staff and that they would behave appropriately.

The following morning the father and son entered the restaurant for breakfast.

There they saw the four male restaurant staff attending to their duties, perfectly normally, all with shaved heads.

(Adapted from a story sent to me by A Smith. If you know the origins of this story please tell me.)

The Blind Man and the Advertising

Communications, perceptions, empathy, connecting with people, advertising, marketing, language meaning, intervention, helping others, expertise, equality, discrimination

Warning: This story contains language and a potentially 'offensive stereotype' of a visually impaired person that certain audiences may find objectionable. At the same time the story carries a powerful main message, is culturally/historically significant, and is useful in debating equality/disability, aside from its obvious 'different perceptions' theme. So be careful how you use this story. Alter the language appropriately where warranted, position it carefully, and if in doubt do not use the story at all. This story is not recommended for education/sharing unless you are very sure of how to use it safely.

An old blind man was sitting on a busy street corner in the rush-hour begging for money. On a cardboard sign, next to an empty tin cup, he had written: 'Blind - Please help'.

No-one was giving him any money.

A young advertising writer walked past and saw the blind man with his sign and empty cup, and also saw the many people passing by completely unmoved, let alone stopping to give money.

The advertising writer took a thick marker-pen from her pocket, turned the cardboard sheet back-to-front, and re-wrote the sign, then went on her way.

Immediately, people began putting money into the tin cup.

After a while, when the cup was overflowing, the blind man asked a stranger to tell him what the sign now said.

"It says," said the stranger, " 'It's a beautiful day. You can see it. I cannot.' "

(My Dad told me this story when I was a teenager in the 1970s. Much later it was interpreted into a popular video on the web. This story illustrates in a timeless way how important choice of words and language is when we want to truly connect with and move other people. The story can also be used to explore issues of disability, equality, discrimination and political correctness, for example, what is it that makes this story offensive to some people?, and given the valuable main message, is there a way to adapt this story so that it cannot cause offence to anyone? Thanks BC and SD)

The Shoes

Positive thinking, negative thinking, attitude, perspective, mindset

You will perhaps have heard this very old story illustrating the difference between positive thinking and negative thinking:

Many years ago two salesmen were sent by a British shoe manufacturer to Africa to investigate and report back on market potential.

The first salesman reported back, "There is no potential here - nobody wears shoes."

The second salesman reported back, "There is massive potential here - nobody wears shoes."

This simple short story provides one of the best examples of how a single situation may be viewed in two quite different ways - negatively or positively.

We could explain this also in terms of seeing a situation's problems and disadvantages, instead of its opportunities and benefits.

When telling this story its impact is increased by using exactly the same form of words (e.g., "nobody wears shoes") in each salesman's report. This emphasises that two quite different interpretations are made of a single situation.

The Pub

Racial issues, discrimination, exclusion, inclusion, lateral thinking, different meanings in language and communications

A Sikh, a Muslim, an Englishman, an Irishman, a Scotsman, a Welshman, a Jew, a Buddhist and a Hindu go into a pub.

The barman looks up and says, "Is this some kind of a joke?"

(This short aside can be used to illustrate or draw attention to issues related to racial stereotyping/discrimination. Separately it offers an example of lateral thinking, and also an example of double meaning in language. The ethnicities may be changed for your own situation or part of the world. Do not share this story unless you can safely position it or you are confident that it will not cause offence.)

The Inflatables

Context is everything, discipline and admonishment

In the land of inflatables (bear with me..), at the inflatable school, what did the inflatable teacher say to the naughty inflatable boy caught misbehaving with a pin?

"You let me down, you let yourself down, and worst of all you let the whole school down."

The Mechanic and the Surgeon

Perceptions, the devil is in the detail, the nature of big differences

A heart surgeon took his car to his local garage for a regular service, where he usually exchanged a little friendly banter with the owner, a skilled but not especially wealthy mechanic.

"So tell me," says the mechanic, "I've been wondering about what we both do for a living, and how much more you get paid than me.."

"Yes?.." says the surgeon.

"Well look at this," says the mechanic, as he worked on a big complicated engine, "I check how it's running, open it up, fix the valves, and put it all back together so it works good as new.. We basically do the same job don't we? And yet you are paid ten times what I am - how do you explain that?"

The surgeon thought for a moment, and smiling gently, replied,"Try it with the engine running.."

Zodiac Star Signs

For remembering the signs of the zodiac, and memory aid example for teaching mnemonics methods

This story is a mnemonic (pronounced 'nemonic' - meaning memory aid) for remembering the twelve Signs of the Zodiac, in order, starting in January.

While this example is useful for pub quizzes, more importantly the method of creating a story mnemonic can be used to retain all sorts of difficult-to-remember pieces of information, for yourself, and taught to others. Mnemonics stories need not make sense - they simply need to be memorable.

In January, a goat (Capricorn), drinking from a stream (Aquarius) said, "Look, a fish (Pisces)."

A ram (Aries), and a bull (Taurus), carrying the twins (Gemini) said "There's also a crab (Cancer)."

A lion (Leo) roared in agreement, which startled the young maiden (Virgo) so that she dropped and smashed her scales (Libra).

"That's no crab - it's a scorpion (Scorpio)," said the archer (Sagittarius).

Note that the Signs of the Zodiac are normally deemed to start and end anything between the 18th and the 24th day of each month, depending on interpretation. It is not by any means a precise science.

The Two Bulls

Tactics, wisdom, planning, youthfulness vs maturity, impulse vs patience

Two bulls, one young and full of enthusiasm, and the other older and wiser, see a herd of cows.

The young bull says, "Let's charge down this hillside and have our wicked way with a couple of those cows."

The old bull replies, "No, how about we stroll gently down this hillside and have our wicked way with them all."

You will perhaps have heard this story told with more fruity language. Feel free to adapt it for your own situation.

The Thief and the Paintings

Planning, preparation, resources, project management

A thief was caught after stealing some paintings from the Louvre in Paris, when his getaway van ran out of fuel.

Given bail at his first hearing, a reporter asked him on the steps of the courthouse how he forgot such a vital part of his plan.

"Simple," said the thief, "I had no Monet for Degas to make the Van Gogh."

(Ack CB)

The Gardener's Badge

Positive thinking, attitude, seeing the good side

A landscape gardener ran a business that had been in the family for two or three generations. The staff were happy, and customers loved to visit the store, or to have the staff work on their gardens or make deliveries - anything from bedding plants to ride-on mowers.

For as long as anyone could remember, the current owner and previous generations of owners were extremely positive happy people.

Most folk assumed it was because they ran a successful business.

In fact it was the other way around...

A tradition in the business was that the owner always wore a big lapel badge, saying Business Is Great!

The business was indeed generally great, although it went through tough times like any other. What never changed however was the owner's attitude, and the badge saying Business Is Great!

Everyone who saw the badge for the first time invariably asked, "What's so great about business?" Sometimes people would also comment that their own business was miserable, or even that they personally were miserable or stressed.

Anyhow, the Business Is Great! badge always tended to start a conversation, which typically involved the owner talking about lots of positive aspects of business and work, for example:

  • The pleasure of meeting and talking with different people every day
  • The reward that comes from helping staff take on new challenges and experiences
  • The fun and laughter in a relaxed and healthy work environment
  • The fascination in the work itself, and in the other people's work and businesses
  • The great feeling when you finish a job and do it to the best of your capabilities
  • The new things you learn every day - even without looking to do so
  • And the thought that everyone in business is blessed - because there are many millions of people who would swap their own situation to have the same opportunities of doing a productive meaningful job, in a civilized well-fed country, where we have no real worries.

And so the list went on. And no matter how miserable a person was, they'd usually end up feeling a lot happier after just a couple of minutes listening to all this infectious enthusiasm and positivity.

It is impossible to quantify or measure attitude like this, but to one extent or another it's probably a self-fulfilling prophecy, on which point, if asked about the badge in a quiet moment, the business owner would confide:

"The badge came first. The great business followed."

The Jewels

Enjoyment, fulfillment, possession, wealth, materialism, greed

Once there was a very rich and greedy man. He loved and hoarded jewels.

One day a visitor asked to see them.

So the jewels were brought out, amid much expensive security, and the two men gazed at the wonderful stones.

As the visitor was leaving he said, "Thank you for sharing your jewels with me."

"I didn't give them to you," exclaimed the rich man, "They belong to me."

"Yes of course," replied the visitor, "And while we enjoyed the jewels just the same, the real difference between us is your trouble and expense of buying and protecting them."

(Thanks Jackie Carpenter, adapted from an original item in New Internationalist 137.)

The Atheist and the Bear

Loyalty, conviction, payback and reward, changing sides

A committed atheist (that's someone who steadfastly does not believe in a god of any sort) was on a trekking holiday when he became lost in some dense woods.

A large angry bear, with ten starving cubs back home and claws like kitchen knives, suddenly emerged from the undergrowth.

The atheist screamed in terror, turned and ran. The bear was quicker however, and after a long and desperate chase eventually cornered the atheist in a gully.

The exhausted atheist sank to his knees, shaking.

The bear, seeing that its prey was trapped, moved slowly towards the petrified man, drooling. The bear was drooling too.

The atheist lifted his head, with tears in his eyes, and uttered the words he thought he would never say in all his life: "God help me..."

With these simple three words, a blinding flash of lightning lit up the sky. There was a deafening crash of thunder. The clouds parted. A brilliant light shone down. The forest fell silent. The bear froze still, in a trance. The atheist stood gaping, transfixed.

A voice came loud from above. Louder than twenty AC/DC concerts all happening at the same time. We can safely assume this voice to have been the voice of a god of some sort.

"You atheists make me seriously mad," boomed the god, "You deny me all your life. You tell others to deny me too. You put your faith in all that bloody Darwinian airy-fairy scientific nonsense, and then what a surprise - you get lost because you can't read your stupid map, and now you're about to get eaten by an angry bear all of a sudden you're on your knees snivelling and begging for my help?......... You must be joking..."

The atheist looked down, realising that he was not arguing from a position of strength.

"Okay, I take your point," said the atheist, thinking on his feet, while he still had them, "I can see it's a bit late for me to convert, but what about the bear?... Maybe you could convert the bear instead?"

"Hmmn... interesting idea..." said the god, thinking hard, "...Okay. It shall be done." At which the brilliant light dimmed and vanished; the clouds closed; and the noises of the forest resumed.

The bear awoke and shook its head, a completely different expression on its face. Calm, at peace.

The bear closed its eyes, bowed its head, and said, "For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful, Amen.."

N.B. The grace prayer in the punchline is the version commonly taught in UK schools. Alternatives might work better depending on the audience, for example:

"Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, let this food of ours be blessed. Amen.." (suggesting an Australian bear of unspecific denomination)
"Lass't uns beten! O Herr, segne uns und diese deine gaben, die wir von deiner Güte nun empfangen werden. Durch Christus, unseren Herr'n! Amen.." (suggesting a German Catholic bear)

You will perhaps devise your own endings. Perhaps your own animals. Perhaps your own god.

It has been suggested that this story could offend certain sensitivities.

I apologise therefore to bears everywhere.

(Adapted from a story sent by S Hart, thank you.)

A much shorter and simpler version of this story (thanks D Baudois) is as follows:

The Missionary Man and the Lion

A missionary came upon a hungry lion in the middle of the African plain.

The missionary knelt and prayed, "God, please give this lion a christian soul!"

The lion stopped, knelt, and prayed also: "Lord above, may this meal be blessed.."

And here is another interpretation of the story (thanks Koppa Dasao)..

The Atheist and the Bear II

Alternative Koppa Dasao version

An atheist was trekking in the woods when he came across an angry bear. Startled at the disturbance the bear gave chase.

After a minute or so the bear said, "Hey, atheist, why are you running?"

The atheist replied, "I don't believe in talking bears."

The bear replied: "Well, I don't believe in atheists."

"Thank God, I'm safe," said the atheist, and stopped running, at which the bear bit off his head.

(thanks Koppa Dasao - published at 25 March 2012)

The Fairy

Strategic alliances, tactical awareness, ageism, sexism, being careful about what you wish for and how you go about getting it

A couple were dining out together celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary.

After the meal, the husband presented his wife romantically with a beautiful very old gold antique locket on a chain.

Amazingly when his wife opened the locket, a tiny fairy appeared.

Addressing the astonished couple, the fairy said, "Your forty years of devotion to each other has released me from this locket, and in return I can now grant you both one wish each - anything you want.."

Without hesitating, the wife asked, "Please, can I travel to the four corners of the world with my husband, as happy and in love as we've always been?"

The fairy waved her wand with a flourish, and magically there on the table were two first-class tickets for a round-the-world holiday.

Staggered, the couple looked at each other, unable to believe their luck.

"Your turn," said the fairy and the wife to the husband.

The husband thought for a few seconds, and then said, with a little guilt in his voice, "Forgive me, but to really enjoy that holiday of a lifetime - I yearn for a younger woman - so I wish that my wife could be thirty years younger than me."

Shocked, the fairy glanced at the wife, and with a knowing look in her eye, waved her wand.....

and the husband became ninety-three.

(Adapted from a suggestion from J Riley, thanks.)

The Circus

Developing young people, talent, career choice, parenting

This short story - it's a joke really - can be used to illustrate attitudes to developing young people, career direction, and especially the advice and aspirations of parents and coaches, which might be different to the dreams of the individual...

In a circus, the Bearded Lady and the World's Strongest Man fell in love, and decided to start a family.

Soon the Bearded Lady fell pregnant.

A few weeks before she was due to give birth, the Bearded Lady and the circus ring-master were talking.

"How's it going?" the ring-master asked, "Are you well?"

"Yes thanks - very excited," said the bearded lady, "We have so many plans for the baby - we want to be supportive parents."

"That's nice," said the ring-master, "Do you want a boy or a girl?"

"Oh, we really don't mind as long as it's healthy," said the Bearded Lady, "And it fits into the cannon.."

(Thanks DC)

Stranded Car Dilemma

Creative thinking, ethics, decision-making

This story is adapted from a scenario which featured in a widely circulated email, in which (supposedly) job applicants were given loosely the following question to answer, to indicate their personality and decision-making motives (supposedly). The job application context is extremely doubtful, but the lesson in creative thinking is interesting, especially if people are not given too long to dwell on it:

You are driving alone in two-seater car on a deserted road in blizzard conditions, when you see another car which has recently run off the road and into a tree. There are three people in the stranded car, none of whom is injured:

  • An old friend, who once saved your life
  • Your childhood sweetheart greatest lost love
  • An elderly lady

No-one has a phone. The likelihood of any more passing traffic is effectively zero. The conditions are too dangerous for people to walk anywhere. It is not possible to tow the crashed car. The nearest town is an hour's drive away.

The question is: Given that your car is just a two-seater, in what order should the stranded people be taken to the nearest town?










There is no right or wrong answer to this, and it's a daft scenario anyway, but the most creatively balanced solution is arguably: Ask your old friend to drive the old lady to the town and raise the alarm, while you and your lost love keep each other warm and wait for help to arrive.

The School

Attendance, sickness, responsibility, parenting, and various other uses

My apologies if this story is well-known to you. It's an old joke, yet a useful illustration for various themes.

A mother repeatedly called upstairs for her son to get up, get dressed and get ready for school. It was a familiar routine, especially at exam time.

"I feel sick," said the voice from the bedroom.

"You are not sick. Get up and get ready," called the mother, walking up the stairs and hovering outside the bedroom door.

"I hate school and I'm not going," said the voice from the bedroom, "I'm always getting things wrong, making mistakes and getting told off. Nobody likes me, and I've got no friends. And we have too many tests and they are too confusing. It's all just pointless, and I'm not going to school ever again."

"I'm sorry, but you are going to school," said the mother through the door, continuing encouragingly, "Really, mistakes are how we learn and develop. And please try not to take criticism so personally. And I can't believe that nobody likes you - you have lots of friends at school. And yes, all those tests can be confusing, but we are all tested in many ways throughout our lives, so all of this experience at school is useful for life in general. Besides, you have to go, you are the headteacher."

(Based on a suggestion from P Hallinger, thanks.)

The Soldiers and The Trench


The story goes that sometime, close to a battlefield over 200 years ago, a man in civilian clothes rode past a small group of exhausted battle-weary soldiers digging an obviously important defensive position. The section leader, making no effort to help, was shouting orders, threatening punishment if the work was not completed within the hour.

"Why are you are not helping?" asked the stranger on horseback.

"I am in charge. The men do as I tell them," said the section leader, adding, "Help them yourself if you feel strongly about it."

To the section leader's surprise the stranger dismounted and helped the men until the job was finished.

Before leaving the stranger congratulated the men for their work, and approached the puzzled section leader.

"You should notify top command next time your rank prevents you from supporting your men - and I will provide a more permanent solution," said the stranger.

Up close, the section leader now recognized General Washington, and also the lesson he'd just been taught.

(This story is allegedly based on truth. Whatever, similar examples are found in history, and arise in modern times too, so please forgive the mythical possibility of the above attribution; the story's message is more important than its historical accuracy.)

The John Wayne Story

Instructions, communications, understanding, confused messages

It is said that when filming the biblical epic The Greatest Story Ever Told, the director George Stevens was trying to encourage extra passion from John Wayne when delivering the highly significant line, "Truly, this was the Son of God."

"You are talking about Jesus - think about it," said Stevens, "You've got to say it with awe."

For the next take John Wayne duly summoned his most intense feelings. He paused dramatically, and said:

"Aw, truly this was the Son of God."

The Blind Men and the Road

Stretching, dependency, risk, achievement under pressure

Warning: This story contains language and a potentially 'offensive stereotype' of visually impaired person that certain audiences may find objectionable. At the same time, the main message is uplifting and in major part offers an empowered and optimistic view of visual impairment. Nevertheless, be careful how you use this story. Alter the language appropriately where warranted, and if in doubt do not use the story at all.

A blind (visually impaired) man had been waiting a while at a busy road for someone to offer to guide him across, when he felt a tap on his shoulder.

"Excuse me," said the tapper, "I'm blind - would you mind guiding me across the road?"

The first blind man took the arm of the second blind man, and they both crossed the road.

Apparently this is a true story. The first blind man was the jazz pianist George Shearing. He is quoted (in Bartlett's Anecdotes) as saying after the event, "What could I do? I took him across and it was the biggest thrill of my life."

There are times when we think we cannot do something and so do not stretch or take a risk. Being forced to stretch and take a risk can often help us to reduce our dependencies (on others, or our own personal safety mechanisms), and to discover new excitement and capabilities. The poem Come to the Edge is another wonderful perspective on risk and stretching.

The Doctor and the Thief

Ethical decision making - also adaptability, flexibility, accepting what cannot be changed

A man goes to the doctor and says "Doctor, I've become a compulsive thief."

The doctor prescribes him a course of tablets and says, "If you're not cured in a couple of weeks would you get me a widescreen television?"

This is not a lesson of ideal behaviour, it's a humorous illustration of options - whether to try to change something, to accept it or to actively support it. Such decisions normally have two main reference points - the difficulty of the change, and the ethical implications of the situation.

The Preacher and the Farmer Story

Understanding the needs of your people, caring for minorities and individuals, looking deeper than the mainstream

An old hill farming crofter trudges several miles through freezing snow to his local and very remote chapel for Sunday service. No-one else is there, aside from the clergyman.

"I'm not sure it's worth proceeding with the service - might we do better to go back to our warm homes and a hot drink?.." asks the clergyman, inviting a mutually helpful reaction from his audience of one.

"Well, I'm just a simple farmer," says the old crofter, "But when I go to feed my herd, and if only one beast turns up, I sure don't leave it hungry."

So the clergyman, feeling somewhat ashamed, delivers his service - all the bells and whistles, hymns and readings, lasting a good couple of hours - finishing proudly with the fresh observation that no matter how small the need, our duty remains. And he thanks the old farmer for the lesson he has learned.

"Was that okay?" asks the clergyman, as the two set off home.

"Well I'm just a simple farmer," says the old crofter, "But when I go to feed my herd, and if only one beast turns up, I sure don't force it to eat what I brought for the whole herd..."

From which we see the extra lesson, that while our duty remains regardless of the level of need, we have the additional responsibility to ensure that we adapt our delivery (of whatever is our stock in trade) according to the requirements of our audience.

(Adapted from a suggestion from P Hallinger, and based apparently on a story told by Roland Barth, whom I assume to be the US educationalist.)

The Old Lady and the Hearing Aid

Assumptions about weaknesses, underestimating people, tactical advantage

An old lady had a hearing-aid fitted, hidden underneath her hair.

A week later she returned to the doctor for her check-up.

"It's wonderful - I can hear everything now," she reported very happily to the doctor.

"And is your family pleased too?" asked the doctor.

"Oh I haven't told them yet," said the old lady, "And I've changed my will twice already.."

(Thanks BC. Based on a letter published in the newspaper several years ago, written by the doctor. I suspect variations of this story have been told many times elsewhere too.)

The Mobile Phone

Assumptions, authority, control, the risks of modern communications and technology, privacy, security, identity theft, etc

Several men were in a golf club locker room.

A mobile phone rings.

"Yes I can talk," says the man answering the call, "You're shopping are you? That's nice."

The listening men smile to each other.

"You want to order those new carpets? Okay.. And they'll include the curtains for an extra five thousand?.. Sure, why not?"

More smiles among the listeners.

"You want to book that week on Necker Island?.. They're holding the price at twenty-two thousand?.. Sounds a bargain.. You want a fortnight?.. If that's what you want honey, okay by me."

Smiles turn to expressions of mild envy.

"And you want to give the builder the go-ahead for the new conservatory? Seventy-five thousand if we say yes today? Sounds fair.. sure, that's fine."

The listeners exchange glances of amazement.

"Okay sugar, see you later.. Yes, love you too," says the man, ending the call.

He looks at the other men and says, "Whose phone is this anyhow?.."

The Trench Digger

Initiative, self-development, making things happen, career advancement, how to get a job requiring experience when you have none

This is adapted from (apparently) a true story.

An elderly couple retired to the countryside - to a small isolated cottage overlooking some rugged and rocky heathland.

One early morning the woman saw from her window a young man dressed in working clothes walking on the heath, about a hundred yards away. He was carrying a spade and a small case, and he disappeared from view behind a copse of trees.

The woman thought no more about it but around the same time the next day she saw the man again, carrying his spade and a small case, and again he disappeared behind the copse.

The woman mentioned this to her husband, who said he was probably a farmer or gamekeeper setting traps, or performing some other country practice that would be perfectly normal, and so not to worry.

However after several more sightings of the young man with the spade over the next two weeks the woman persuaded her husband to take a stroll - early, before the man tended to arrive - to the copse of trees to investigate what he was doing.

There they found a surprisingly long and deep trench, rough and uneven at one end, becoming much neater and tidier towards the other end.

"How strange," the old lady said, "Why dig a trench here - and in such difficult rocky ground?" and her husband agreed.

Just then the young man appeared - earlier than his usual time.

"You're early," said the old woman, making light of their obvious curiosity, "We wondered what you were doing - and we also wondered what was in the case."

"I'm digging a trench," said the man, who continued, realising a bigger explanation was appropriate, "I'm actually learning how to dig a good trench, because the job I'm being interviewed for later today says that experience is essential - so I'm getting the experience. And the case - it's got my lunch in it."

He got the job.

(Adapted from a suggestion - thanks R Columbo)

Double Positive Story

Make your point and then know when to stop, language, communications, lateral thinking, quick-thinking

On hearing one of his students use the expression, "I don't know nothing about it..." a teacher took the opportunity to explain about double negatives and correct grammar to the class.

The teacher explained, "In the English language a double negative makes the statement positive, so your assertion that you 'don't know nothing about it' is actually an admission that you do know something about it."

Encouraged by the interest in this revelation among certain class members, the teacher went on to demonstrate more of his knowledge of world languages: "Of course not all languages operate according to the same grammatical rules, for example, in Russian, a double negative remains negative, although perhaps surprisingly, there is not a single language anywhere in the world in which a double positive makes a negative.."

At which a voice from the back of the classroom called out ironically "Yeah, right.."

(This is adapted from a story sent to me by M Morris. Apparently the original story was based on a true incident at a Modern Language Association meeting in New York in the mid-1970's, reported in the NY Times. The quick-witted response in the original story, actually "Yeah, yeah..", seemingly came from from Sidney Morganbesser, a professor of philosophy who was noted for his speedy retorts. Thanks M Morris, Apr 2007.)

The Bath and the Bucket

Lateral thinking, making assumptions, dangers of judging people

Given the title (on the subject of buckets..) and its quick simple message, this story is a good partner analogy to the rocks in a bucket time management story.

The story illustrates lateral thinking, narrow-mindedness, the risks of making assumptions, and judging people and situations:

A party of suppliers was being given a tour of a mental hospital.

One of the visitors had made some very insulting remarks about the patients.

After the tour the visitors were introduced to various members of staff in the canteen.

The rude visitor chatted to one of the security staff, Bill, a kindly and wise ex-policeman.

"Are they all raving loonies in here then?" said the rude man.

"Only the ones who fail the test," said Bill.

"What's the test?" said the man.

"Well, we show them a bath full of water, a bucket, a jug and an egg-cup, and we ask them what's the quickest way to empty the bath," said Bill.

"Oh I see, simple - the normal ones know it's the bucket, right?"

"No actually," said Bill, "The normal ones say pull out the plug. Should I check when there's a bed free for you?"

The Stamp

Customer services, communications, product design, customer inertia

The staff at an old people's home were puzzled when one of the residents began gargling with TCP. They asked her why but all she would say was that something had happened at the post-office. This is what actually occurred.

The old lady, who rarely ventured out, had visited the post office to post a letter.

She bought a stamp, and since there was a long queue behind her she stepped aside. She put her change in her purse, licked the stamp and put it on her letter. Despite pressing and thumping and licking it again, the stamp failed to stick.

"Excuse me, this stamp won't stick," said the old lady.

"You need to peel the paper off the back," explained the clerk.

The old lady put on her spectacles, fiddled for a few seconds to peel off the backing paper - and then licked the stamp again.

"It still won't stick," interrupted the old lady again.

"It's a self-stick stamp," said the assistant.

"Well this one isn't sticking at all - there's something wrong with it," demanded the old lady.

"Well it won't stick now because you've licked it."

"Well I'm totally confused now," said the old lady.

"Just give it here and I'll post it for you," said the cashier, and doing her best to explain continued, "These new stamps don't need licking. They are self-sticking. They save time. They are already sticky."

The old lady continued to look blankly at the assistant.

"Look," said the well-meaning but desperate post-office clerk, "Just imagine they've already been licked..."

Which sent the old lady scurrying out of the door and across the road to the chemist.

(Thanks Stephen Rafe for the original tale from which the above was adapted. Stephen also provided another example of confused customer service communications, in which the customer was convinced for a while that the customer service person was somehow carrying on his work from inside prison, because the bad line was due to him speaking from his cell-phone..)

The Shot At Dawn Campaign

Ethics and culture, leadership integrity and styles, decision-making, policy-making

By December 1916 more than 17,000 British troops were officially diagnosed as suffering from nervous or mental disability (we'd say shell-shock or post-traumatic stress disorder these days), despite which the British military authorities continued to charge and convict sufferers with 'cowardice' and 'desertion', and to sentence to death by firing squad many of those found 'guilty'.

On 16 August 2006 the British government announced that it would pardon 308 British soldiers who were shot by firing squad for 'cowardice' and 'desertion' during the First World War of 1914-18. The decision was ratified by Parliament on 7 November 2006, and represented a remarkable u-turn by this and previous governments who had always firmly refuted any evidence and justification for pardoning the victims.

This reversal followed and was largely due to decades of persistent lobbying and campaigning by organisations and individuals, many being families and descendents of the victims. It is not easy to imagine their suffering, especially of the widows and parents long since gone, for whom this decision came a lifetime too late.

The story emphasises two things: first, that people in authority have a responsibility to behave with integrity. Second, that where people in authority fail to act with integrity, the persistence and determination of ordinary people will eventually force them to do so.

Here is more background about the Shot At Dawn campaign, and the history of this particularly shameful example of British institutional behaviour.

It provides lessons to us all about doing the right thing, and calling to account those who do not.

See the related discussion ideas for developing awareness and understanding of the issues and how they relate to us all.

N.B. Some people will not agree with this interpretation. This makes it such an interesting subject for debate, especially in transferring the issues and principles to modern challenges in organisations, and the world beyond.

Direct Mail Campaign

Human nature, integrity, delegation and training, and advertising is a funny business...

This is a true story. Some years ago a client engaged a consultant to help with a small postal mailing to the purchasing departments of blue chip corporations. The consultant sourced the list (which was provided on MSExcel) and drafted the letter. Thereafter the client was keen to take control of the project, ie., to run the mail-merge and the fulfilment (basically printing, envelope-stuffing and mailing).

The consultant discovered some weeks later that a junior member of the client's marketing department had sorted the list (changed the order of the listed organisations in the spreadsheet), but had sorted the company name column only, instead of all columns, with the result that every letter (about 500) was addressed and sent to a blue chip corporation at another entirely different corporation's address.

Interestingly the mailing produced a particularly high response, which when investigated seemed to stem from the fact that an unusually high percentage of letters were opened and read, due apparently to the irresistible temptation of reading another corporation's mail...

God and Eve

Gender and sexual discrimination, equality, battle of the sexes debates, after-dinner speaking, etc

"God, I've been thinking.." says Eve one day.

"What's on your mind Eve?" says God.

"Well, I know that you created me and this beautiful garden and all of these wonderful creatures, but lately I've been feeling that maybe there's more to life."

"Go on..." says God.

"Sometimes I get a bit bored - I fancy a bit of fun. And I get a bit fed up with all the heaving lifting and carrying, and warding off the mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers, not to mention that bloody snake. This garden can be dangerous place."

"I see," says God, pausing for thought.

"Eve, I have a cunning plan," says God, "I shall create Man for you."

" Man ?" asks Eve, "What is Man ?"

"Man..." says God, "Is a flawed creature. He will have many weaknesses and disgusting habits. Man will lie, cheat and behave like an idiot - in fact mostly he'll be a complete pain in the backside. But on the plus side he'll be big and strong, and will be able to protect you, and hunt and kill things, which might be handy sometimes. He will tend to lose control of mind and body when aroused, but with a bit training can reach an acceptable standard in the bedroom department, if you know what I mean."

"Hmm," says Eve, "Seems like this Man idea might be worth a try, but tell me God, is there anything else I need to know?"

"Just this," says God, "Man comes with one condition... In keeping with his arrogant, deluded, self-important character, Man will naturally believe that he was made first, and frankly we all have better things to do than argue, so you must keep all this a secret between us, if that's okay with you. You know, woman to woman.."

(unknown origin - if you can shed any light on the origin please contact me - thanks CB)

The Wrong Guy at the Interview

Interviews, preparation, thinking on your feet, communications

This is a true story. It concerned Guy Goma, a lovely cuddly business graduate from the Congo, who on 8th May 2006 attended the BBC building in West London for an interview for an IT job. At the same time, the BBC News 24 TV channel was expecting a Guy Kewney (now sadly deceased), editor of the website, for a live 10.30am studio interview about the Apple court case judgement. (Apple Corps, owned by surviving Beatles McCartney and Starr, lost their case against Apple Computers, in which they sought to prevent the Apple name being used in relation to iTunes music downloads.)

Due to failed communications, entirely the BBC's fault (both Guys were blameless in this), the BBC News 24 staff grabbed the wrong Guy (waiting in a different reception to Guy Kewney), who, being an unassuming, foreign and extremely polite fellow, dutifully took his place in the studio, and after declining make-up (really), was introduced on live TV to viewers as Guy Kewney, editor of the technology website 'Newswireless', and then asked three questions by the BBC News 24 business presenter Karen Bowerman about the Apple judgements and its implications for internet music downloading.

Meanwhile the real Guy Kewney sat and watched 'himself' on the monitor in the BBC reception.

What's so utterly fascinating about this story and the supporting video, is:

Guy Goma initially expresses surprise about the interview situation, but, largely due to his broken English and heavy French accent the interviewer interprets and leads Mr Goma's response to mean that he is surprised about the court judgement. If you listen carefully Guy Goma does actually mention his 'interview' in his first answer. See the transcript below. However the pressure of the situation is too great and he has little option other than to play out the role that the fates have created for him. He actually does quite well, given that he knows little about the subject. Subsequent media reports that Guy Goma was a taxi driver are false - he's a business graduate. He later attended his IT job interview but regrettably was unsuccessful. You can read what Guy Kewney thought of it all on his own blog at (there are several entries - read them all to see the full picture).

As mentioned, sadly Guy Kewney has since died, on 8 Apr 2010. His blog as at Sep 2010 still stands. Please let me know if it ceases to be available. On hearing of Guy Kewney's passing (thanks D Guy - another different Guy..) I considered whether to remove or retain this item and obviously I decided to retain it. I never met Guy Kewney. From what I understand he seems to have been a lovely man. The opportunity to say this is part of my decision.

The wrong guy interview transcript

Karen Bowerman: ...Well, Guy Kewney is editor of the technology website Newswireless.
[Camera switches to Guy Goma's face, portraying a mixture of shock, disbelief and impending disaster.]
KB: Hello, good morning to you.
Guy Goma: Good morning.
KB: Were you surprised by this verdict today?
GG: I am very surprised to see... this verdict, to come on me because I was not expecting that. When I came they told me something else and I am coming. Got an interview... [another word, impossible to discern] .... a big surprise anyway.
KB: A big surprise, yes, yes. [seeming a little anxious]
GG: Exactly. [growing in confidence]
KB: With regard to the costs involved do you think now more people will be downloading online?
GG: Actually, if you go everywhere you are gonna see a lot of people downloading to internet and the website everything they want. But I think, is much better for development and to empower people what they want and to get on the easy way and so faster if they are looking for.
KB: This does really seem the way the music industry's progressing now, that people want to go onto the website and download music.
GG: Exactly. You can go everywhere on the cyber cafe and you can take [maybe 'check'?], you can go easy. It's going to be very easy way for everyone to get something to the internet.
KB: Thank you [actually sounds more like 'Thank Kewney' - as if Ms Bowerman was a little distracted, no wonder]. Thanks very much indeed.

Lessons from this:

  • Good clear communications are essential when managing any sort of interview.
  • Pressure situations can easily lead people (especially interviewees) to give false impressions, which are no help to anyone.
  • The behaviours demonstrated in this incident illustrate the power of suggestion, and NLP, albeit used mostly inadvertently in this case; the point is that all communications involve a hell of a lot more than just words..
  • The power of the media to interpret just about anything for their own journalistic purposes is bloody frightening.

The Very Old Lady

Positive attitude, self-image, ageism

A very old lady looked in the mirror one morning. She had three remaining hairs on her head, and being a positive soul, she said, "I think I'll braid my hair today." So she braided her three hairs, and she had a great day.

Some days later, looking in the mirror one morning, preparing for her day, she saw that she had only two hairs remaining. "Hmm, two hairs... I fancy a centre parting today." She duly parted her two hairs, and as ever, she had a great day.

A week or so later, she saw that she had just one hair left on her head. "One hair huh...," she mused, "I know, a pony-tail will be perfect." And again she had a great day.

The next morning she looked in the mirror. She was completely bald.

"Finally bald huh," she said to herself, "How wonderful! I won't have to waste time doing my hair any more.."

(Ack CB)

The Train Travellers

Relationships, assumptions, etc

A wealthy businessman who is used to getting his own way finds himself sharing a sleeper compartment with a beautiful young woman as they travel to Brussells on the train. It is winter and the heating is not working so the compartment is cold.

The two settle down to sleep.

"Two strangers, on a train..." says the businessman.

"Yes," says the woman.

"A man and a woman - away from home - probably never meet again.." Says the businessman.

"Yes," says the woman.

"It's cold, isn't it?" says the businessman.

"Yes," says the woman.

"Could you pass me another blanket?" says the businessman, "... Or maybe we could pretend to be man and wife for tonight?.."

"Yes, that would be good," says the woman, "Get your own bloody blanket."

The William Pitt Story

Working creatively to reach agreement, managing situations and environments, facilitation of agreements

There is the story of William Pitt, 1759-1806, British statesman and Prime Minister from 1783-1801, who once sought to expedite a crucial agreement in Parliament for the movement of the British fleet to defend against the French. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Newcastle, had certain objections, but when Pitt called on the Chancellor endeavouring to resolve the differences, he found the Chancellor distinctly unhappy in bed suffering with gout. The bedroom was freezing, and when Pitt remarked on this, Lord Newcastle replied that the cold weather would hinder the fleet movement, but more particularly that the combination of the cold conditions and the gout would prevent any further discussion of the issue at that time, which Pitt quickly judged to be at the root of the problem. Begging the Chancellor's pardon, Pitt calmly removed his boots, climbed into bed and drew up the covers (apparently there was another bed in the room..), whereupon the two were able to discuss the matter and soon agreed a united way forward.

The Biscuit Factory

Making assumptions, other people's perspectives, individual needs and motivations

This is a true story. Some years ago the following exchange was broadcast on an Open University sociology TV programme.

An interviewer was talking to a female production-line worker in a biscuit factory. The dialogue went like this:

Interviewer: How long have you worked here?

Production Lady: Since I left school (probably about 15 years).

Interviewer: What do you do?

Production Lady: I take packets of biscuits off the conveyor belt and put them into cardboard boxes.

Interviewer: Have you always done the same job?

Production Lady: Yes.

Interviewer: Do you enjoy it?

Production Lady: Oooh Yes, it's great, everyone is so nice and friendly, we have a good laugh.

Interviewer (with a hint of disbelief): Really? Don't you find it a bit boring?

Production Lady: Oh no, sometimes they change the biscuits...

My thanks to Shirley Moon for this lovely story, who also points out the following lessons within it:

  • Do not impose your own needs and ambitions on to other people who may not share them.
  • Don't assume that things that motivate you will motivate someone else.
  • Recognise that sources of happiness may vary widely between people.

See also the sections on personality styles, multiple intelligence and learning styles, and motivation, which all relate to this story.

A Short Story About Eggs

Time management, creative thinking and problem-solving

A young woman was in her kitchen.

A pan of water was simmering on the stove.

She was making boiled eggs for breakfast.

He walked in.

Their eyes met.

"Make love to me here, now," she said.

They made love on the kitchen table.

"Couldn't resist me, huh?" he said.

"The egg timer is broken," she replied.

Of course this story is a bit far-fetched given that an egg timer lasts for three whole minutes..

(Ack Detoxman)

The Translator

Communications, assumptions, creativity, deceit, language, relationships, just desserts

The story goes that a prominent, married, philandering, wealthy politician took advantage of a young female Italian translator during an overseas visit. Shortly after his return home he received a phone call at his office from the woman informing him that she was pregnant and that he was definitely the father.

Seemingly experienced at dealing with such situations, the politician instructed the young woman, "I will arrange for you and the child to be provided for. Do not worry about money. I will pay ten times the typical Italian settlement, but this must be kept secret."

"I see," said the young woman, a little taken aback, but since she knew the man and his reputation she was not unduly surprised, and was also entirely happy never to see or speak to him again.

He went on, "Don't ever call me again. Send me a postcard with some sort of coded message confirming date of birth, that the child is healthy and whether a boy or girl. Use your imagination - you are a translator after all."

"As you wish," said the young woman, and ended the call.

A little under nine months later the politician's wife (who was also his PA) was opening his mail. When she came to a particular postcard the politician noticed and suddenly became attentive.

"Here's a postcard..." said his wife.

"Oh yes," said the politician, "What does it say?"

"Just a silly joke I think," said his wife, continuing, as she watched the colour drain from her husband's face, "It says: 'March 12th - Just had three big beautiful bowls of spaghetti - all with meatballs..' "

(Ack SF)

The Helpful Old Lady

Check the facts, false assumptions, etc

One afternoon, an old lady, laden with shopping, noticed two small boys on the front step of a house. With their bags and uniforms they were obviously going home after school. They were on tip-toe trying to reach the door-bell with a stick.

"Poor little lads, they can't get in," she thought, "Parents these days just don't seem to care."

So she marched up the path, reached over the boys and gave the bell a long firm push.

The surprised boys turned around and screamed "Quick, run!" and promptly disappeared over the garden wall.

The Buddha and the Abuse

Responding to other people's negative behaviour; angry customers, disruptive kids, bad-tempered bosses, etc

A tale is told about the Buddha, Gautama (563-483BC), the Indian prince and spiritual leader whose teachings founded Buddhism. This short story illustrates that every one of us has the choice whether or not to take personal offence from another person's behaviour.

It is said that on an occasion when the Buddha was teaching a group of people, he found himself on the receiving end of a fierce outburst of abuse from a bystander, who was for some reason very angry.

The Buddha listened patiently while the stranger vented his rage, and then the Buddha said to the group and to the stranger, "If someone gives a gift to another person, who then chooses to decline it, tell me, who would then own the gift? The giver or the person who refuses to accept the gift?"

"The giver," said the group after a little thought. "Any fool can see that," added the angry stranger.

"Then it follows, does it not," said the Buddha, "Whenever a person tries to abuse us, or to unload their anger on us, we can each choose to decline or to accept the abuse; whether to make it ours or not. By our personal response to the abuse from another, we can choose who owns and keeps the bad feelings."

(This is related to Transactional Analysis)

Gandhi's Shoes

Selfless compassion, generosity without strings

Mohandas [Mahatma] Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), the great Indian statesman and spiritual leader is noted for his unusual humanity and selflessness, which this story epitomises. Gandhi was boarding a train one day with a number of companions and followers, when his shoe fell from his foot and disappeared in the gap between the train and platform. Unable to retrieve it, he took off his other shoe and threw it down by the first. Responding to the puzzlement of his fellow travellers, Gandhi explained that a poor person who finds a single shoe is no better off - what's really helpful is finding a pair.

Separately, Gandhi was once asked what he thought of Western Civilisation. Gandhi replied: "I think that it would be a very good idea."

The notion still applies.

Greta Garbo's Negotiation

Negotiation tactics, negotiating position, independence and the power of choice

Great Garbo (1905-90), the 1930's Swedish-born film star, demonstrated how to negotiate with a bullying adversary, and particularly the tactic of 'walking away'. After Garbo had become established as a major star, she decided to negotiate a contract that suitably reflected her considerable box-office value to the producers. Accordingly she demanded a weekly fee of $5,000 - compared to the derisory $350 a week she'd previously been paid. When film mogul Louis Mayer heard Garbo's demand he offered her $2,500. Garbo replied simply, in her Swedish-American accent, "I think I go home.." And off she went.

Garbo returned to her hotel and stayed there, not budging, while Mayer stewed - for seven months - at which Mayer eventually caved in and gave Garbo what she asked for.

(Interestingly Garbo never actually said, "I want to be alone". There phrase was in fact "I want to be left alone," which her character Grusinskaya said in Garbo's 1932 film Grand Hotel. The resonance of the words with Garbo's real life didn't just extend to her negotiating style: she retired in 1941 with the world still at her feet, and lived the rest of her life an obsessive recluse in New York after becoming a US citizen in 1951.)

The Jesse James Story

Tactics, morality, good and bad in us all

The notorious American Wild West bank robber Jesse James (1847-82) was hunted and demonised by the authorities, but was held in high regard by many ordinary folk. Here's an example of why:

The story goes that Jesse James and his gang had taken refuge for a few days in ramshackle farmhouse after one of their raids. The old widow who lived there fed the men, and apologised for her modest offerings and the poor state of the accommodation. While the gang laid low, they learned from the widow that she faced eviction from her landlord and was expecting a visit from his debt collector any day. Taking pity on the old lady, as they left, the gang gave her some of the spoils of their robbery to settle her debt - several hundred dollars, which was a small fortune in those days. The gang moved on, but only to a nearby copse, where for a couple more days they watched and waited for the arrival - and departure - of the debt collector, whom they promptly held up and robbed.

Of course robbing anyone is bad, but if you've got to rob someone...

The Gorilla

Negotiating, understanding communications, agreeing clear objectives and responsibilities

A zoo had among its animals a female gorilla, whose mood was becoming increasingly difficult. The vet concluded that she was on heat and that a mate should be found. The vet contacted some other nearby zoos to find a partner for the broody female,but to no avail. The female gorilla's behaviour continued to worsen, but the vet noticed that she grew calmer, and strangely responsive, whenever a particularly well-built and none-too-handsome keeper entered the enclosure. Being an unprincipled and adventurous fellow, the vet put an outrageous proposition to the keeper: For a fee of five hundred pounds would the keeper consider spending a little 'quality time' with the gorilla, purely in the interests of research of course?....

The keeper, also an unprincipled and adventurous fellow, pondered the suggestion, and after a few minutes agreed to the offer, subject to three conditions. The vet, intrigued, listened to the keeper's demands:

"First," the keeper said, "No kissing."

"Fine," said the vet.

"Second, no-one must ever know - if this gets out I'll kill you."

"You have my word," said the vet, "And your final condition?"

"It's just," said the keeper a little awkwardly, "Can I have a couple of weeks to raise the five hundred quid?"

(With acknowledgements to Shane and apologies to vets and zoo-keepers everywhere.)

The Priest and the Politician

Time management, being late, public speaking

After twenty-five years in the same parish, Father O'Shaunessey was saying his farewells at his retirement dinner. An eminent member of the congregation - a leading politician - had been asked to make a presentation and a short speech, but was late arriving.

So the priest took it upon himself to fill the time, and stood up to the microphone:

"I remember the first confession I heard here twenty-five years ago and it worried me as to what sort of place I'd come to... That first confession remains the worst I've ever heard. The chap confessed that he'd stolen a TV set from a neighbour and lied to the police when questioned, successfully blaming it on a local scallywag. He said that he'd stolen money from his parents and from his employer; that he'd had affairs with several of his friends' wives; that he'd taken hard drugs, and had slept with his sister and given her VD. You can imagine what I thought... However I'm pleased to say that as the days passed I soon realised that this sad fellow was a frightful exception and that this parish was indeed a wonderful place full of kind and decent people..."

At this point the politician arrived and apologised for being late, and keen to take the stage, he immediately stepped up to the microphone and pulled his speech from his pocket:

"I'll always remember when Father O'Shaunessey first came to our parish," said the politician, "In fact, I'm pretty certain that I was the first person in the parish that he heard in confession.."

(Ack Stephen Hart)

Lipstick Kisses on the Mirror

Creative thinking, creative problem-solving, creative management techniques, avoiding confrontation

A school head was alerted by the caretaker to a persistent problem in the girls lavatories: some of the girl students were leaving lipstick kisses on the mirrors. The caretaker had left notices on the toilet walls asking for the practice to cease, but to no avail; every evening the caretaker would wipe away the kisses, and the next day lots more kisses would be planted on the mirror. It had become a bit of a game. The head teacher usually took a creative approach to problem solving, and so the next day she asked a few girl representatives from each class to meet with her in the lavatory.

"Thank you for coming," said the head, "You will see there are several lipstick kisses in the mirrors in this washroom.."

Some of the girls grinned at each other.

"As you will understand, modern lipstick is cleverly designed to stay on the lips, and so the lipstick is not easy at all to clean from the mirrors. We have therefore had to develop a special cleaning regime, and my hope is that when you see the effort involved you will help spread the word that we'd all be better off if those responsible for the kisses use tissue paper instead of the mirrors in future.."

At this point the caretaker stepped forward with a sponge squeegee, which he took into one of the toilet cubicles, dipped into the toilet bowl, and then used to clean one of the lipstick-covered mirrors.

The caretaker smiled. The girls departed. And there were no more lipstick kisses on the mirrors.

(Thanks H)

Measuring by Averages

Analysis, measurement, statistics, etc

Three statisticians went hunting in the woods. Before long, one of them pointed to a plump pigeon in a tree, and the three of them stopped and took aim. The first fired, missing the bird by a couple of inches to the left. Immediately afterwards the second fired, but also missed, a couple of inches to the right. The third put down his gun exclaiming, "Great shooting lads, on average I reckon we got it..."

(ack K Hutchinson)

The Blind Golfers

An ironic example of lack of empathy, and different people's perspectives

Warning: This story contains language and a potentially 'offensive stereotype' of visually impaired person that certain audiences may find objectionable. At the same time, the main message and purpose of the story is to highlight tendencies of some people to show poor or no regard for the misfortunes or disabilities of others, and in this context the story has a value if used carefully. Neverthess be very cautious how you use this story. Alter the language appropriately where warranted, and if in doubt do not use the story at all.

A clergyman, a doctor and a business consultant were playing golf together one day and were waiting for a particularly slow group ahead. The business consultant exclaimed, "What's with these people? We've been waiting over half and hour! It's a complete disgrace." The doctor agreed, "They're hopeless, I've never seen such a rabble on a golf course." The clergyman spotted the approaching greenkeeper and asked him what was going on, "What's happening with that group ahead of us? They're surely too slow and useless to be playing, aren't they?" The greenkeeper replied, "Oh, yes, that's a group of blind (visually impaired) fire-fighters. They lost their sight saving our clubhouse from a fire last year, so we always let them play for free anytime." The three golfers fell silent for a moment. The clergyman said, "Oh dear, that's so sad. I shall say some special prayers for them tonight." The doctor added, rather meekly, "That's a good thought. I'll get in touch with an ophthalmic surgeon friend of mine to see if there's anything that can be done for them." After pondering the situation for a few seconds, the business consultant turned to the greenkeeper and asked, "Why can't they play at night?"

(Other job-titles can be substituted instead of business consultant to suit the purpose of the story, for example, government advisor, venture capitalist, engineer, project manager, accountant, finance director, quality manager, etc)

The Sales and Marketing Rugby Analogy

For teams, motivation, team-building, departmental cooperation, training, public speaking

I am assured this is a true story. A consultant was asked to give a talk at a sales conference. The CEO asks him to focus on the importance of cooperation and teamwork between the sales and marketing teams, since neither group has a particularly high regard for the other, and the lack of cohesion and goodwill is hampering effectiveness and morale. The marketing staff constantly moan about the sales people 'doing their own thing' and 'failing to follow central strategy'; and the sales people say that the marketing people are all 'idle theorists who waste their time at exhibitions and agency lunches' and have 'never done a decent day's work in their lives'.

Being a lover of rugby, the consultant decides to use the analogy of a rugby team's forwards and backs working together to achieve the best team performance:

"......So, just as in the game of rugby, the forwards , like the marketing department, do the initial work to create the platform and to make the opportunities , and then pass the ball out to the backs , the sales department, who then use their skills and energy to score the tries . The forwards and the backs , just like marketing and sales , are each good at what they do: and they work together so that the team wins ..." said the consultant, finishing his talk.

The audience seemed to respond positively, and the conference broke for lunch. At the bar the consultant asked one of the top sales-people what he'd thought of the analogy - had it given him food for thought?

"Yes, I see what you mean," said the salesman, "It does make sense. The sales people - the backs, yes? - the backs need the marketing department - the forwards, yes? - to make the opportunities for us, so that we, the backs, can go and score the tries - to win the business. We work together as a team - each playing our own part - working as a team."

The consultant beamed and nodded enthusiastically, only to be utterly dashed when the salesman added as an afterthought, "I still think our forwards are a bunch of wankers..."

(with thanks to Martin Deighton)

The Lock and Key

Kindness and generosity, 'good pebble ripples', memorable customer service experiences

A British family were on holiday in a rented motor-home in the USA. Travelling through California they visited the Magic Mountain amusement park close by Los Angeles. Mid-afternoon, halfway through what was turning out to be a most enjoyable day at the park, Mum, Dad and the three kids came upon a particularly steep plummeting ride. In the queue, the ride attendants strongly warned everyone about the risks of losing hats, spectacles, coins and keys, etc., and these warnings were echoed by large signs around the ride. During the ride, Dad lost the keys.

Due to the fact that the motor-home was a replacement vehicle resulting from a breakdown earlier in the holiday, there were no spare keys. And there were six keys on the lost bunch: ignition, front doors, side door, fuel tank, propane tank, and storage cupboards.

The park attendants drove the family back to the motor-home, suggesting the least damaging ways to break into it.

Fortunately a window had been left slightly open, enabling the middle son to be put in and to open the doors from the inside.

Inside the motor-home Mum and Dad discussed what to do. They were stranded.

Middle son (all of six years old) said he'd got a key - said he'd found it - but no-one was listening properly. "Perhaps it will fit, I'll get it." (The optimism of young children of course knows no bounds.)

Not thinking for one second that little lad's key would fit, Dad tried it. Incredibly the key fitted the ignition - and the driver's door. Middle son is a hero. It seems he'd found the key in a cupboard when packing his clothes soon after the motor-homes were swapped after the first vehicle broke down.

The next day back at the camp site, Dad called a local locksmith to see what could be done.

"I might be able to make new keys from the locks, if you bring the vehicle to me," said the locksmith, so the family drove to the locksmith, whose business was in a small shopping centre in the California countryside.

The locksmith looked at the motor-home, and said he'd try. "If you come back in an hour I'll know better what I can do for you."

The family went to the nearby shops and a coffee bar to pass the time. Dad returned to the locksmith to see how things were going. The locksmith says he thought he could make new keys for all the locks, but it would be a long job.

In fact the job took the locksmith most of the day. The family hung around the locksmiths, visited the shops again, and generally made a day of being at the little shopping centre. While working on the locks and the keys, the locksmith talked with the family about England, about America, about the rides at Las Vegas, about motor-homes, about business, about locks, about families and kids, about lots of things.

Late on in the afternoon the locksmith said that he'd nearly done - "But you have time to go get something to eat if you want. When you come back I'll be done." So the family went to a burger bar for something to eat.

An hour later the family returned to the locksmith's shop. It was 4pm and they'd been at the shopping centre since 10.00 in the morning.

When Dad entered the locksmith's shop the locksmith was smiling. He put two new gleaming bunches of keys on the counter. "Here you go - a new set of keys for all the locks, and a spare set too," said the locksmith, "And I tell you what I'm going to do..."

Dad offered his credit card, gratefully.

"You know, I've had such a great time with you guys today," says the locksmith, "You can have these for free."

This is a true story. It happened over ten years ago. I still tell people about it now, like I'm telling you. The company is Newhall Valencia Lock & Key, in the El Centro Shopping Center, Canyon Country, California. This little company gave me and my family an experience that transcended customer service, and I was delighted when I found their business card in my kitchen drawer the other day, because it prompted me to share this story and to properly express my thanks.

Just a final note - I'm not suggesting that great customer service is about giving your products and services away. Obviously that's not a particularly sustainable business model. What I'm saying though, is that there are times when you'll see opportunity to do something really special for a customer, or for another human being, and when you do it, the ripples of your 'good pebble' can stretch around the world, and last for years and years. So, within the boundaries of what's possible and viable for you, drop in a good pebble whenever you can and make some ripples of your own.

The Stranger and the Gingernuts

Making assumptions, think before you act, different perspectives

At the airport after a tiring business trip a lady's return flight was delayed. She went to the airport shop, bought a book, a coffee and a small packet containing five gingernut biscuits. The airport was crowded and she found a seat in the lounge, next to a stranger. After a few minutes' reading she became absorbed in her book. She took a biscuit from the packet and began to drink her coffee. To her great surprise, the stranger in the next seat calmly took one of the biscuits and ate it. Stunned, she couldn't bring herself to say anything, nor even to look at the stranger. Nervously she continued reading. After a few minutes she slowly picked up and ate the third biscuit. Incredibly, the stranger took the fourth gingernut and ate it, then to the woman's amazement, he picked up the packet and offered her the last biscuit. This being too much to tolerate, the lady angrily picked up her belongings, gave the stranger an indignant scowl and marched off to the boarding gate, where her flight was now ready. Flustered and enraged, she reached inside her bag for her boarding ticket, and found her unopened packet of gingernuts...

(Adapted from a suggestion submitted by S Frost. Apparently the story appears in a variety of urban legends dating from at least 30 years ago, and is also described in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, book four, 1984, 'So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish'. Ack L Baldock.)

The England Football Story

Cause and effect, foundations of failure, fundamental strategy, structure, planning and philosophy, strategic analysis

When a business fails or struggles in some other way people commonly look for recent tactical or incidental causes, but the roots of failure are usually far deeper in foundational strategies, structures and philosophies.

The poor performance of the England football team at the FIFA 2010 World Cup offers an example of a venture inflicted with fundamental problems, and therefore likely to fail.

Here are some indicators (as at FIFA World Cup 2010) of foundational weakness and vulnerability in the basic organization and ethos of the England national football effort. Think of it like a business. Success is difficult when foundations are flaky and misaligned. With a little imagination it is easy to relate these lessons/examples to the business world.

The English Premiership (England's top domestic league and effectively the pool from which the national team is selected) is dominated by clubs which are:

  • Mostly owned, and the teams managed/coached, by people/companies from outside of the UK, who have little interest in the success of the England national team, and in many cases have very strong national football loyalties overseas.
  • Mostly staffed by players from outside of England (two-thirds are from overseas), which restricts the pool of available English national talent, and also the opportunities for English home-grown talent to develop and become experienced.
  • Clubs are very strongly profit-driven, and are so debt-ridden as to be effectively bankrupt.
  • As a consequence of these commercial pressures, players are forced to play too many games in a season (generally far more than their international counterparts), without break, and so that when the World Cup happens it is during the one month in the year when players would normally be resting and recovering.

The leadership of the Football Association, guardian of England's national game, has for some years been chaotic and disjointed, indicators being:

  • Recent resignations of Chief Executive and Chairman.
  • Regular scandals and infighting.
  • Lack of control over domestic game and clubs.

Other 'foundations of failure' indicators:

  • England has approximately 10% of the number of FIFA qualified coaches compared to European countries like Spain, Germany, Italy, and France (about 2,700 compared to about 20,000 or 30,000 in these other countries).
  • The coach of the national team is not English and cannot speak English properly. It is not ideal to have coach who cannot communicate effectively, and by virtue of his foreign nationality cannot possibly have English national pride in the truest sense. Would an Englishman ever coach the Italian or German national team? This is not xenophobia (dislike of foreigners) or discrimination, it is practicality and common sense.
  • The coach is paid £5 million (or £6m, depending on interpretation) per year, regardless of performance; moreover failure and early departure is effectively rewarded because of a contracted fixed two-year term termination payment (although the effect of this is probably to maintain a failed situation - because the cost of change is prohibitive).
  • England players are paid around £100,000 per week; for doing another job (playing for their clubs). Failure at national level may be slightly upsetting for a day or two, but it does not really hurt or matter.
  • At least one England squad member had to be asked by the coach to make himself available for his country. Another could not be persuaded. National representation is a peak sporting achievement. It's worrying when candidates reject this notion, and just as worrying when such candidates are pursued and recruited.
  • Culturally the integrity and ethos of football - especially what it means to be a footballer - has been lost to the corporate world. The focus (of the role-models and therefore the kids) is no longer on ball skills and being the best - it's on the brands, the replica shirts, the day-glo boots and the millionaire celebrity lifestyles. Not much works well when hype dominates substance.

A national football team is in many ways like a business. It needs solid strategic and philosophical foundations. Misalignment at a basic level eventually produces problems at the level of tactical or operational implementation. Like a national football team, if a business fails at a tactical or operational level, the causes - and therefore the solutions - are generally much deeper than they seem.

This story can be useful in demonstrating/exploring the strategic business analysis tools such as SWOT, PEST and Porter's Five Forces model, and in researching fundamental drivers/indicators of strategic viability.

The New Bus Driver

Importance of induction training, initiative and lateral thinking, interpretation, delegatoin, rules, checking and monitoring

While transporting some unfortunate mental patients from one secure place to another, the newly appointed bus driver stopped at a roadside restaurant for natural break. On his return to the bus, all twenty patients were gone. Being a resourceful fellow and fearing the consequences of his negligence, he drove to the next bus stop, where he claimed to be a replacement for the usual service. Allowing twenty people aboard, the driver made straight for his destination, where he warned staff at the gates that the 'patients' were deluded and extremely volatile. The angry 'patients' were duly removed, sedated and incarcerated, and remained in detention for three days, until staff were able to check the records and confirm their true identities. The actual patients were never found.

The New Elevator Cleaner

Very similar the the Bus Driver story above

A new hotel employee was asked to clean the elevators and report back to the supervisor when the task was completed. When the employee failed to appear at the end of the day the supervisor assumed that like many others he had simply not liked the job and left. However, after four days the supervisor bumped into the new employee. He was cleaning in one of the elevators. "You surely haven't been cleaning these elevators for four days, have you?" asked the supervisor, accusingly. "Yes sir," said the employee, "This is a big job and I've not finished yet - do you realise there are over forty of them, two on each floor, and sometimes they are not even there.."

The Bedtime Story

Communications, men and women, communications methods, relationships

A man and his wife had been arguing all night, and as bedtime approached neither was speaking to the other. It was not unusual for the pair to continue this war of silence for two or three days, however, on this occasion the man was concerned; he needed to be awake at 4:30am the next morning to catch an important flight, and being a very heavy sleeper he normally relied on his wife to wake him. Cleverly, so he thought, while his wife was in the bathroom, he wrote on a piece of paper: 'Please wake me at 4:30am - I have an important flight to catch'. He put the note on his wife's pillow, then turned over and went to sleep.

The man awoke the next morning and looked at the clock. It was 8:00am. Enraged that he'd missed his flight, he was about to go in search of his errant wife to give her a piece of his mind, when he spotted a hand-written note on his bedside cabinet.

The note said: 'It's 4:30am - get up.'

The Sergeant Major's Rude Parrot

Examples of management styles

A retired sergeant major inherited a talking parrot from a recently departed relative who had run a busy dockside pub. For the first few days in his new home the normally talkative parrot was distinctly shy. The old major, despite his stern and disciplined ways, felt sorry for the bird, and gently encouraged it with soft words and pieces of fruit. After a week or so the parrot began to find its voice - a little at first - and then more so. Responding to the kind treatment, the parrot's vocabulary continued to recover, including particularly the many colourful expressions it had been taught in the dockside pub. The old sergeant major began to be quite irritated by the parrot's incessant rudeness, and after a few more days of worsening profanities, decided action was required to bring the bird under control. The sergeant major tried at first to incentivise the parrot with the promise of reward for good behaviour, but to no avail. He next tried to teach the bird a lesson by withdrawing its privileges, again to no avail; the parrot remained stubbornly rude. Finally the old major flipped into battleground management mode; he grabbed the bird, clamped his hands around its beak, and thrust the struggling, swearing parrot, into the top drawer of the freezer, slamming the door tightly shut. The swearing and struggling noises continued inside the freezer for a few seconds and then abruptly stopped. The sergeant major listened for a while and then, concerned that the parrot's shock might have been terminal, carefully opened the freezer door and opened the drawer to look. The parrot slowly clambered out of the drawer and perched on its edge.

"I must apologise for my rude and disrespectful behaviour," said the parrot, "I promise never to use bad language again. And by the way, what did the turkey do?"

The Farmer and the Boy in the Bog

Helping others, inspiration, gratitude and appreciation, good comes from doing good

This widely used story is often told as if it's a true story. It is most certainly not. It is an urban legend, but even as such, the story contains great lessons and is very inspirational.

Fleming was a poor Scottish farmer. One day at work in a field he heard a cry for help. Following the sound, Fleming came to a deep bog, in which a boy was stuck up to his chest, screaming and sinking. Farmer Fleming tied a rope around his own waist and the other end to a tree, and waded into the bog. After a mighty struggle in which it seemed they would both perish, the exhausted farmer pulled himself and the boy to safety. He took the lad back to the farmhouse, where Mrs Fleming fed him, dried his clothes, and when satisfied he had recovered, sent him on his way home.

The next day a carriage arrived at the Fleming's humble farmhouse. An well-dressed man stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy whom Fleming had saved. "You saved my son's life," said the man to Fleming, "How can I repay you?"

"I don't want payment," Fleming replied, "Anyone would have done the same."

At that moment, Fleming's own young son appeared at the farmhouse door.

"Is he your son?" the man asked.

"Yes," said Fleming proudly.

"I have an idea. Let me pay for his education. If he's like his father, he'll grow to be a man we'll both be proud of."

And so he did. The farmer's son attended the very best schools, graduated medical college, and later became the world-renowned nobel prize-winning scientist and discoverer of penicillin, Sir Alexander Fleming.

It is said that many years later, the grown man who'd been saved from the bog as a boy, was stricken with pneumonia.

Penicillin saved his life. His name? Sir Winston Churchill.

(I repeat this is an urban legend - it is not a true story - so I recommend you present it as such when you tell it. Ack B McFarlane)

The Brewery

To challenge belief systems and assumptions, and the need for questioning pointless routine or policy

It has been suggested to me that this is a true story: A very old traditional brewery decided to install a new canning line, so as to enable its beer products to be marketed through the supermarket sector. This represented a major change for the little company, and local dignitaries and past employees were invited to witness the first running of the new canning line, which was followed by an buffet and drinks.

After the new line had been switched on successfully, and the formalities completed, the guests relaxed in small groups to chat and enjoy the buffet. In a quiet corner stood three men discussing trucks and transport and distribution, since one was the present distribution manager, and the other two were past holders of the post, having retired many years ago. The three men represented three generations of company distribution management, spanning over sixty years.

The present distribution manager confessed that his job was becoming more stressful because company policy required long deliveries be made on Monday and Tuesday, short deliveries on Fridays, and all other deliveries mid-week.

"It's so difficult to schedule things efficiently - heaven knows what we'll do with these new cans and the tight demands of the supermarkets..."

The other two men nodded in agreement.

"It was the same in my day," sympathised the present manager's predecessor, "It always seemed strange to me that trucks returning early on Mondays and Tuesdays couldn't be used for little local runs, because the local deliveries had to be left until Friday.."

The third man nodded, and was thinking hard, struggling to recall the policy's roots many years ago when he'd have been a junior in the despatch department. After a pause, the third man smiled and then ventured a suggestion.

"I think I remember now," he said, "It was the horses..... During the Second World War fuel rationing was introduced. So we mothballed the trucks and went back to using the horses. On Mondays the horses were well-rested after the weekend - hence the long deliveries. By Friday the horses so tired they could only handle the short local drops..."

Soon after the opening of the new canning line the company changed its delivery policy.

(Ack R Chagar)

The Rowing Competition

Identifying and managing performance improvement, establishing cause and accountability, theory x vs theory y, daft executive judgements

The boards of the two fiercely competitive companies decided to organize a rowing match to challenge each other's organisational and sporting abilities. The first company was strongly 'theory X': ruthless, autocratic, zero staff empowerment, etc. The second company was more 'theory y': a culture of developing people, devolved responsibility and decision-making.

Race day arrived. The Y company's boat appeared from the boat-house first, with its crew: eight rowers and a helmsman (the cox). Next followed the X company boat and its crew - eight helmsmen and a single rower.

Not surprisingly the Y company's boat won an easy victory.

The next day the X company board of directors held an inquest with the crew, to review what had been learned from the embarrassing defeat, which might be of benefit to the organization as a whole, and any future re-match.

After a long and wearing meeting the X company board finally came came to their decision. They concluded that the rower should be replaced immediately because clearly he had not listened well enough to the instructions he'd been given.

(Ack JJ Lasseur)

Performance Evaluation

Theory x shortcomings, management myopia

Following a poor first-half year performance the board of Company X tasked a senior manager to investigate what was happening on the factory floor, since the directors believed poor productivity was at the root of the problem. While walking around the plant, the investigating manager came upon a large warehouse area where a man stood next to a pillar. The manager introduced himself as the person investigating performance on the factory floor, appointed by the board, and then asked the man by the pillar what he was doing. "It's my job," replied the man, "I was told to stand by this pillar."

The investigator thanked the man for his cooperation and encouraged him to keep up the good work. The investigator next walked into a large packing area, where he saw another man standing next to a pillar. The investigator again introduced himself and asked the man what he was doing. "I've been told to stand by this pillar, so that's what I do." said the man.

Two weeks later the investigator completed his report and duly presented his findings to the board, who held a brief meeting to decide remedial action. The board called the investigator back into the room, thanked him for his work, and then instructed him to sack one of the men he'd found standing by pillars, since obviously this was a duplication of effort.

(Ack JJL)

No Exit

Different perspectives, viewpoints, how different perspectives cause one thing to appear as two different things

A man checked into a hotel for the first time in his life, and goes up to his room.

Five minutes later he called the reception desk and said: "You've given me a room with no exit. How do I leave?"

The desk clerk said, "Sir, that's absurd. Have you looked for the door?"

The man said, "Well, there's one door that leads to the bathroom. There's a second door that goes into the closet. And there's a door I haven't tried, but it has a 'do not disturb' sign on it."

(Ack B McFarlane)

The Old Couple

Positive/negative outlook, blame, attitude

An elderly couple, married for sixty years, took a rare vacation. They were not well-off but were in good health, perhaps because the wife had insisted on a strict diet of healthy foods, no alcohol, no smoking, and lots of gym exercise for most of their lives. Sadly their plane crashed however, and duly they both entered heaven, where St Peter escorted them through the Pearly Gates, and into a waiting limousine. Driving through beautiful countryside they drew up at a beautiful mansion and were shown inside. It was furnished in gold and fine silks, with a splendid kitchen and a sumptuous lounge stocked with wonderful food and drink - there was even a waterfall in the master bathroom. A maid was hanging beautiful designer clothes in the walk-in wardrobes. They gasped in astonishment when St Peter said, "Welcome to heaven. This will be your home now."

The old man asked Peter how much all this was going to cost. "Nothing," Peter replied, "this is your heavenly reward."

The old man looked out of the window and saw a magnificent championship golf course.

"What are the green fees?" he asked suspiciously.

"This is heaven," St Peter replied, "You can play for free whenever you wish."

Next they went to the clubhouse and saw the lavish buffet lunch, with every imaginable cuisine laid out before them.

Anticipating the old man's next question, St Peter said, "Don't ask, this is heaven, it is all free for you to enjoy."

The old man looked around and glanced nervously at his wife. "Well, where are the low fat and low cholesterol foods, and the decaffeinated tea?" he asked.

"This is heaven. You can eat and drink as much as you like, and you will never get fat or sick."

"I don't need to go to the gym?" the old man pressed.

"Not unless you want to," St Peter replied.

"No testing my sugar or blood pressure or..."

"Never again. All you do here is enjoy yourself."

The old man glared at his wife, "You and your bloody bran muffins. We could have been here ten years ago!"

(Ack CB)

Two Brothers and the Geese

Initiative, responsibility, thinking outside the box, anticipating, strategic anticipation, adding value to service, value and reward

Two sons work for their father on the family's farm. The younger brother had for some years been given more responsibility and reward, and one day the older brother asks his father to explain why.

The father says, "First, go to the Kelly's farm and see if they have any geese for sale - we need to add to our stock."

The brother soon returns with the answer, "Yes they have five geese they can sell to us."

That father then says, "Good, please ask them the price."

The son returns with the answer, "The geese are £10 each."

The father says, "Good, now ask if they can deliver the geese tomorrow."

And duly the sone returns with the answer, "Yes, they can deliver the geese them tomorrow."

The father asks the older brother to wait and listen, and then calls to the younger brother in a nearby field, "Go to the Davidson's Farm and see if they have any geese for sale - we need to add to our stock."

The younger brother soon returns with the answer, "Yes, they have five geese for £10 each, or ten geese for £8 each; and they can deliver them tomorrow - I asked them to deliver the five unless they heard otherwise from us in the next hour. And I agreed that if we want the extra five geese we could buy them at £6 each."

The father turned to the older son, who nodded his head in appreciation - he now realised why his brother was given more responsibility and reward.

(adapted from a suggestion - thanks PI)

The Piano Story

Mentoring, coaching, understanding the other person's development needs

A mother wished to encourage her small girl's interest in the piano and so took her a local concert featuring an excellent pianist. In the entrance foyer the mother met an old friend and the two stopped to talk. The little girl was keen to see inside the hall and so wandered off, unnoticed by her mother. The girl's mother became concerned when she entered the hall and could see no sign of her daughter. Staff were notified and an announcement was made asking the audience to look out for the little lost girl. With the concert due to start, the little girl had still not been found. In preparation for the pianist's entrance, the curtains drew aside, to reveal the little girl sitting at the great piano, focused in concentration, quietly picking out the notes of 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'.

The audience's amusement turned to curiosity when the pianist entered the stage, walked up to the little girl, and said "Keep playing."

The pianist sat down beside her, listened for a few seconds, and whispered some more words of encouragement. He then began quietly to play a bass accompaniment, and then a few bars later reached around the little girl to add more accompaniment. At the end of the impromptu performance the audience applauded loudly as the pianist took the little girl back to her seat to be reunited with her mother. The experience was inspirational for everyone, not least the small girl.

It takes just a few moments to make somebody's day, to help someone with their own personal aims and dreams - especially someone who looks up to you for encouragement and support.

(Ack PC)

The Angry Customer

Funny customer service example

Allegedly a true story from the old airport in Denver: a major airline had cancelled a very busy flight and a lone check-in agent is busy trying to sort out all the displaced passengers. A very angry and aggressive man barges his way to the front of the queue to confront her. He says says that he is flying first class and demands to go on the flight. The agent politely explains the situation and asks that people take their place in the queue. The man bellows at her, "Do you know who I am?" - at which the agent calmly picks up the microphone for the PA system, and announces to the airport, "This is (airline name) desk 64; we have a gentleman here who does not know who he is. If anyone can come and identify him please do so." The man, now purple with rage, yells at her, "Well f**k you.." - to which the agent replies, "And you'll have to stand in line for that as well, Sir.."

(Ack MS)

Clap and Cheer

Positive attitude, taking pride in whatever you do

A small boy was auditioning with his classmates for a school play. His mother knew that he'd set his heart on being in the play - just like all the other children hoped too - and she feared how he would react if he was not chosen. On the day the parts were awarded, the little boy's mother went to the school gates to collect her son. The little lad rushed up to her, eyes shining with pride and excitement. "Guess what Mum," he shouted, and then said the words that provide a lesson to us all, "I've been chosen to clap and cheer."

(Ack F Laufs)

The Bank

A lesson in customer service, how bad policy encourages poor service

I am assured this is a true story from a UK bank. The bank concerned had introduced a charge to be levied when people paid in money to be credited to an account held by a different bank. The charge was 50p and had been in force for about 6 months or so. A well to do, upper-class lady enters the bank and presents the cashier a cheque (check) which she asks to be paid into an account held by a different bank. The cashier duly tells the lady that there will be a charge of 50p. Indignantly, she tells him, "I wasn't charged the last time."

To which the cashier immediately replies, "Well that will be a pound then..."

(Ack MS)

The Fish Baking

To challenge belief systems and assumptions, and illustrate pointless routine and the need for questioning

A little girl was watching her mother prepare a fish for dinner. Her mother cut the head and tail off the fish and then placed it into a baking pan. The little girl asked her mother why she cut the head and tail off the fish. Her mother thought for a while and then said, "I've always done it that way - that's how babicka (Czech for grandma) did it."

Not satisfied with the answer, the little girl went to visit her grandma to find out why she cut the head and tail off the fish before baking it.

Grandma thought for a while and replied, "I don't know. My mother always did it that way."

So the little girl and the grandma went to visit great grandma to find ask if she knew the answer.

Great grandma thought for a while and said, “Because my baking pan was too small to fit in the whole fish”.

(Ack M Hamanova)

The Donkey

Positive attitudes, turning problems into opportunities

One day a farmer's donkey fell into a well. The farmer frantically thought what to do as the stricken animal cried out to be rescued. With no obvious solution, the farmer regretfully concluded that as the donkey was old, and as the well needed to be filled in anyway, he should give up the idea of rescuing the beast, and simply fill in the well. Hopefully the poor animal would not suffer too much, he tried to persuade himself.

The farmer asked his neighbours help, and before long they all began to shovel earth quickly into the well. When the donkey realised what was happening he wailed and struggled, but then, to everyone's relief, the noise stopped.

After a while the farmer looked down into the well and was astonished by what he saw. The donkey was still alive, and progressing towards the top of the well. The donkey had discovered that by shaking off the dirt instead of letting it cover him, he could keep stepping on top of the earth as the level rose. Soon the donkey was able to step up over the edge of the well, and he happily trotted off.

Life tends to shovel dirt on top of each of us from time to time. The trick is to shake it off and take a step up.

(Ack TB)

The Shepherd

IT consultants, business consultancy, knowing your facts - ironic example

A shepherd was tending his flock in a field, when a new sports car screeched to a stop on the road nearby in a cloud of dust. The driver, a young man in expensive designer clothes and sunglasses, leans out of the window and shouts over to the shepherd, "If I tell you exactly how many sheep you have here, can I take one?"

The shepherd looks up slowly up at the young man, then looks at his peaceful flock, and calmly answers, "Sure, why not?"

The young man steps out of his car holding a state-of-the-art palmtop pda, with which he proceeds to connects to a series of websites, first calling up satellite navigation system to pinpoint his location, then keying in the location to generate an ultra-high resolution picture of the field. After emailing the photo to an image processing facility, the processed data is returned, which he then feeds into an online database, and enters the parameters for a report. Within another few seconds a miniature printer in the car produces a full colour report containing several pages of analysis and results. The young man studies the data for a few more seconds and returns to the shepherd.

"You have exactly one-thousand five-hundred and eighty-six sheep, including three rams, and seven-hundred and twenty-two lambs."

"That's right," says the shepherd, mildly impressed. "Well, I guess that means you get to take one of my sheep."

The young man makes his choice and loads the animal onto the back seat of his car, at which the shepherd says, almost as an afterthought, "Hey there, if I can tell you what your business is, will you give me back my sheep?"

The young man, feeling confident, agrees.

"You're a consultant," says the shepherd.

"Wow, that's right," says the young man, taken aback, "How did you guess that?"

"No guessing required," answers the shepherd, "You showed up here even though nobody called you. You took a fee for giving me an answer that already know, to a question I never asked, and you know nothing about my business. Now give me back my dog."

(Adapted from a version sent by S Faure. Thanks also T Curran.)

Speed Camera

Creative thinking, teamwork, understanding and using modern technology - do not try this at home....

This allegedly true story, supposedly leaked by the Australian Department of Transport, concerns four Australian young men and a mobile speed camera police van. Three of the four lads engaged the speed camera operators in conversation about the camera equipment, and the number of cars caught, etc., while the fourth unscrewed the van's front registration plate. Bidding the police farewell, the lads returned home, screwed the registration plate to their own car and proceeded to complete 17 very fast round trips through the speed camera's radar. The traffic penalties department subsequently issued 17 speeding tickets to itself.

The Three Engineers

Different approaches to problem-solving, modern IT, etc

A mechanical engineer, a systems engineer, and a software engineer are in a car driving down a steep mountain road when the brakes fail. The driver desperately pumps the brake pedal, trying to control the speeding vehicle around cliff-edge bends, while the passengers do their best not to panic. As the car hurtles towards an impossible corner the driver spots an escape route into a hedge and a haystack beyond, where the car eventually grinds to a surprisingly safe stop. The three engineers all get out, shaken, relieved, and take turns to assess the situation.

"Hmm,' says the mechanical engineer, "It looks like a brake line was leaking - let's repair the split, bleed the brakes, and we should be able to get on our way..."

The systems engineer thinks for a while and says, "Maybe we need to contact the manufacturer and the dealer to confirm exactly what the problem is..."

The software engineer slowly climbs into the driver's seat and, gesturing for the others to join him, says, "How about we get back on the road and see if it happens again?.."

An alternative final line, suggested kindly and brilliantly by David Shiell, is: "How about if we close all the windows and try again.."

And an equally brilliant suggestion for an alternative final line, contributed kindly by Nancy Falcon, is: "Did you turn the car off and then back on again?.."

The Sweet Old Couple

Dangers of making assumptions, understand before you intervene

A little old couple walked into a fast food restaurant. The little old man walked up to the counter, ordered the food, paid, and took the tray back to the table where the little old lady sat. On the tray was a hamburger, a small bag of fries and a drink. Carefully the old man cut the hamburger in two, and divided the fries into two neat piles. He sipped the drink and passed it to the little old lady, who took a sip and passed it back. A young man on a nearby table had watched the old couple and felt sorry for them. He offered to buy them another meal, but the old man politely declined, saying that they were used to sharing everything. The old man began to eat his food, but his wife sat still, not eating. The young continued to watch the couple. He still felt he should be offering to help. As the little old man finished eating, the old lady had still not started on her food. "Ma'am, why aren't you eating?" asked the young man sympathetically.

The old lady looked up and said politely, "I'm waiting for the teeth.."

Men and Women Differences

The other person's perspective, gender empathy, for weddings, best-man speeches, johari window, empathy, NLP, etc

Not really a story, more of a silly list that circulates by email from time to time.

Some things that men generally take for granted, and fail to realize that women cannot.

  • Your last name stays put.
  • The garage is all yours.
  • Wedding plans take care of themselves.
  • Chocolate is just another snack.
  • You can never be pregnant.
  • You can wear a white T-shirt to a water park.
  • Car mechanics tell you the truth.
  • The world is your urinal.
  • You never have to drive to another gas station restroom because this one is just 'too icky'.
  • You don't have to stop and think of which way to turn a nut on a bolt.
  • Same work, more pay.
  • Wrinkles add character.
  • Wedding dress $5000. Tux rental - $100.
  • People never stare at your chest when you're talking to them.
  • The occasional well-rendered belch is practically expected.
  • New shoes don't cut, blister, or mangle your feet.
  • One mood - all the time.
  • Phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat.
  • You know stuff about tanks.
  • A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase.
  • You can open all your own jars.
  • You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness.
  • If someone forgets to invite you, he or she can still be your friend.
  • Your underwear is $8.95 for a three-pack.
  • Three pairs of shoes are more than enough.
  • You almost never have strap problems in public.
  • You are unable to see wrinkles in your clothes.
  • Everything on your face stays its original color.
  • The same hairstyle lasts for years, maybe decades.
  • You only have to shave your face and neck.
  • You can play with toys all your life.
  • Your belly usually hides your big hips.
  • One wallet and one pair of shoes one color for all seasons.
  • You can wear shorts no matter how your legs look.
  • You can 'do' your nails with a pocket-knife.
  • You have freedom of choice concerning growing a moustache.
  • You can do Christmas shopping for twenty-five relatives on 24th December in forty-five minutes.

(Ack CB and Tom Robinson - please contact us if you know the author of the original 20 items to which Tom refers in his explanation of his own particular input: "... I received the e-mail originally back in 2002, with around 20 reasons why it's good to be a bloke... I spent most of the following 3 days making the number up to 50..." )

Aunt Karen

Relevance and reliability of lessons, morals and examples

A teacher told her young class to ask their parents for a family story with a moral at the end of it, and to return the next day to tell their stories.

In the classroom the next day, Joe gave his example first, "My dad is a farmer and we have chickens. One day we were taking lots of eggs to market in a basket on the front seat of the truck when we hit a big bump in the road; the basket fell off the seat and all the eggs broke. The moral of the story is not to put all your eggs in one basket.."

"Very good," said the teacher.

Next, Mary said, "We are farmers too. We had twenty eggs waiting to hatch, but when they did we only got ten chicks. The moral of this story is not to count your chickens before they're hatched.."

"Very good," said the teacher again, very pleased with the response so far.

Next it was Barney's turn to tell his story: "My dad told me this story about my Aunt Karen.... Aunt Karen was a flight engineer in the war and her plane got hit. She had to bail out over enemy territory and all she had was a bottle of whisky, a machine gun and a machete."

"Go on," said the teacher, intrigued.

"Aunt Karen drank the whisky on the way down to prepare herself; then she landed right in the middle of a hundred enemy soldiers. She killed seventy of them with the machine gun until she ran out of bullets. Then she killed twenty more with the machete till the blade broke. And then she killed the last ten with her bare hands."

"Good heavens," said the horrified teacher, "What did your father say was the moral of that frightening story?"

"Stay away from Aunt Karen when she's been drinking..."

(Ack CB - if you know the origin please tell us)

Tickle Me Elmo

Induction training, communications, giving instructions, delegation

This allegedly took place in a factory in the USA which manufactured the 'Tickle Me Elmo' toys, (a children's plush cuddly toy which laughs when tickled under the arm). The legend has is it that a new employee was hired at the Tickle Me Elmo factory and she duly reported for her first day's induction training, prior to being allocated a job on the production line. At 08:45 the next day the personnel manager received a visit from an excited assembly line foreman who was not best pleased about the performance of the new recruit. The foreman explained that she was far too slow, and that she was causing the entire line to back-up, delaying the whole production schedule. The personnel manager asked to see what was happening, so both men proceeded to the factory floor. On arrival they saw that the line was indeed badly backed-up - there were hundreds of Tickle Me Elmos strewn all over the factory floor, and they were still piling up. Virtually buried in a mountain of toys sat the new employee earnestly focused on her work. She had a roll of red plush fabric and a bag of marbles. The two men watched amazed as she cut a little piece of fabric, wrapped it around a pair of marbles and carefully began sewing the little package between Elmo's legs. The personnel manager began to laugh, and it was some while before he could compose himself, at which he approached the trainee. "I'm sorry," he said to her, not able to disguise his amusement, "But I think you misunderstood the instructions I gave you yesterday.... Your job is to give Elmo two test tickles."

Get in the Wheelbarrow

Belief, trust, faith, commitment, courage, conviction

The story goes: upon completing a highly dangerous tightrope walk over Niagara Falls in appalling wind and rain, 'The Great Zumbrati' was met by an enthusiastic supporter, who urged him to make a return trip, this time pushing a wheelbarrow, which the spectator had thoughtfully brought along.

The Great Zumbrati was reluctant, given the terrible conditions, but the supporter pressed him, "You can do it - I know you can," he urged.

"You really believe I can do it?" asked Zumbrati.

"Yes - definitely - you can do it." the supporter gushed.

"Okay," said Zumbrati, "Get in the wheelbarrow..."

Charles Plumb's Parachutes

Supporting others, acknowledging others, saying thanks

Charles Plumb was a navy jet pilot. On his seventy-sixth combat mission, he was shot down and parachuted into enemy territory. He was captured and spent six years in prison. He survived and now lectures on the lessons he learned from his experiences.

One day, a man in approached Plumb and his wife in a restaurant, and said, "Are you Plumb the navy pilot?"

"Yes, how did you know?" asked Plumb.

"I packed your parachute," the man replied.

Plumb was amazed - and grateful: "If the chute you packed hadn't worked I wouldn't be here today..."

Plumb refers to this in his lectures: his realisation that the anonymous sailors who packed the parachutes held the pilots' lives in their hands, and yet the pilots never gave these sailors a second thought; never even said hello, let alone said thanks.

Now Plumb asks his audiences, "Who packs your parachutes?..... Who helps you through your life?.... Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually?....... Think about who helps you; recognise them and say thanks."

(Ack JK, and thanks to the person who wrote to confirm that Charles Plum still speaks and lectures.)

The Chickens story

Communications, confusing instructions, testing, research and development

This is allegedly a true story. Engineers at a major aerospace company were instructed to test the effects of bird-strikes (notably geese) on the windshields of airliners and military jets. To simulate the effect of a goose colliding with an aircraft travelling at high speed, the test engineers built a powerful gun, with which they fired dead chickens at the windshields. The simulations using the gun and the dead chickens worked extremely effectively, happily proving the suitability of the windshields, and several articles about the project appeared in the testing industry press.

It so happened that another test laboratory in a different part of the world was involved in assessing bird-strikes - in this case on the windshields and drivers' cabs of new very high speed trains. The train test engineers had read about the pioneering test developed by the aerospace team, and so they approached them to ask for specifications of the gun and the testing methods. The aerospace engineers duly gave them details, and the train engineers set about building their own simulation.

The simulated bird-strike tests on the train windshields and cabs produced shocking results. The supposed state-of-the-art shatter-proof high speed train windshields offered little resistance to the high-speed chickens; in fact every single windshield that was submitted for testing was smashed to pieces, along with a number of train cabs and much of the test booth itself.

The horrified train engineers were concerned that the new high speed trains required a safety technology that was beyond their experience, so they contacted the aerospace team for advice and suggestions, sending them an extensive report of the tests and failures.

The brief reply came back from the aero-engineers: "You need to defrost the chickens...."

(Ack S Money)

The Chihuahua and the Leopard

Creative thinking, quick thinking, escaping, averting disaster, bluff and boldness

Like most great stories, this one exists in different versions, although the meaning is the same. Many feature a poodle, or another small breed of dog instead of a chihuahua.

A lady takes her pet chihuahua with her on a safari holiday. Wandering too far one day the chihuahua gets lost in the bush, and soon encounters a very hungry looking leopard. The chihuahua realises he's in trouble, but, noticing some fresh bones on the ground, he settles down to chew on them, with his back to the big cat. As the leopard is about to leap, the chihuahua smacks his lips and exclaims loudly, "Boy, that was one delicious leopard. I wonder if there are any more around here."

The leopard stops mid-stride, and slinks away into the trees.

"Phew," says the leopard, "that was close - that evil little dog nearly had me."

A monkey nearby sees everything and thinks he'll win a favour by putting the stupid leopard straight. The chihuahua sees the monkey go after the leopard, and guesses he might be up to no good.

When the leopard hears the monkey's story he feels angry at being made a fool, and offers the monkey a ride back to see him exact his revenge.

The little dog sees them approaching and fears the worse.

Thinking quickly, the little dog turns his back, pretends not to notice them, and when the pair are within earshot says aloud, "Now where's that monkey got to? I sent him ages ago to bring me another leopard..."

The Cannibals

Management, managers, secretaries, initiative, habits, conforming, rules and rule-breaking

A big corporation hired several cannibals. "You are all part of our team now," said the HR manager during the welcome briefing. "You get all the usual benefits and you can go to the cafeteria for something to eat, but please don't eat any of the other employees." The cannibals promised they would not.

A few weeks later the cannibals' boss remarked, "You're all working very hard, and I'm satisfied with you. However, one of our secretaries has disappeared. Do any of you know what happened to her?" The cannibals all shook their heads, "No," they said.

After the boss left, the leader of the cannibals said to the others angrily, "Right, which one of you idiots ate the secretary?"

A hand rose hesitantly in admission. "You fool!" said the leader, "For weeks we've been eating managers and no one noticed anything, but nooo, you had to go and eat someone important!..."

(Ack A Fiorello)

The Dog and the Bone

Be content with what you have, greed and envy seldom pay

A dog held a juicy bone in his jaws as he crossed a bridge over a brook. When he looked down into the water he saw a another dog below with what appeared to be a bigger juicier bone. He jumped into the brook to snatch the bigger bone, letting go his own bone, He quickly learned of course that the bigger bone was just a reflection, and so he ended up with nothing.

(Thanks J Phillips)

'We've Always Done It This Way'

Time management, challenging habits and questioning procedures, challenging assumptions and belief systems

Apparently this is based on a true incident. A quality management consultant was visiting a small and somewhat antiquated English manufacturing company, to advise on improving general operating efficiency. The advisor was reviewing a particular daily report which dealt with aspects of productivity, absentee rates, machine failure, down-time, etc. The report was completed manually onto a photocopied proforma that was several generations away from the original master-copy, so its headings and descriptions were quite difficult to understand. The photocopied forms were particularly fuzzy at the top-right corner, where a small box had a heading that was not clear at all. The advisor was interested to note that the figure '0' had been written in every daily report for the past year. On questioning the members of staff who completed the report, they told him that they always put a zero in that box, and when he asked them why they looked at each other blankly. "Hmmm.., I'm not sure about that," they each said, "I guess we've just always done it that way."

Intrigued, the consultant visited the archives to see if he could find a clearer form, to discover what was originally being reported and whether it actually held any significance. When he found the old reports, he saw that the zero return had continued uninterrupted for as far back as the records extended - at least the past thirty years - but none of the forms was any clearer than those presently in use. A little frustrated, he packed away the old papers and turned to leave the room, but something caught his eye. In another box he noticed a folder, promisingly titled 'master forms'. Sure enough inside it he found the original daily report proforma master-copy, in pristine condition. In the top right corner was the mysterious box, with the heading clearly shown ...... 'Number of Air Raids Today'.

The Dam

How to write a good letter, making assumptions, jumping to conclusions, and how to defend wrong accusations with humour

Here are two letters, according to the story both real, the first allegedly sent to a man named Ryan DeVries by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, State of Michigan; the second is Mr DeVries' amusing response. The letters provide a great example of the dangers of making assumptions and jumping to conclusions, and also how to reply to a false accusation with humour and style.

The Michigan DOEQ letter

Subject: DEQ File No.97-59-0023;
T11N; R10W, Sec. 20;
Montcalm County

Dear Mr. DeVries,

It has come to the attention of the Department of Environmental Quality that there has been recent unauthorized activity on the above referenced parcel of property. You have been certified as the legal landowner and/or contractor who did the following unauthorized activity:

Construction and maintenance of two wood debris dams across the outlet stream of Spring Pond.

A permit must be issued prior to the start of this type of activity. A review of the Department's files shows that no permits have been issued. Therefore, the Department has determined that this activity is in violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Michigan Compiled Laws, annotated.

The Department has been informed that one or both of the dams partially failed during a recent rain event, causing debris and flooding at downstream locations. We find that dams of this nature are inherently hazardous and cannot be permitted. The Department therefore orders you to cease and desist all activities at this location, and to restore the stream to a free-flow condition by removing all wood and brush forming the dams from the stream channel. All restoration work shall be completed no later than January 31, 2003. Please notify this office when the restoration has been completed so that our staff may schedule a follow-up site inspection.

Failure to comply with this request or any further unauthorized activity on the site may result in this case being referred for elevated enforcement action. We anticipate and would appreciate your full cooperation in this matter. Please feel free to contact me at this office if you have any questions.

District Representative
Land and Water Management Division

Mr Devries' letter response

Dear Sirs,

Re: DEQ File No. 97-59-0023; T11N; R10W, Sec. 20; Montcalm County.

Your certified letter dated 12/17/02 has been handed to me to respond to. I am the legal landowner but not the Contractor at 2088 Dagget, Pierson, Michigan. A couple of beavers are in the process (State unauthorized) of constructing and maintaining two wood "debris" dams across the outlet stream of my Spring Pond. While I did not pay for, authorize, nor supervise their dam project, I think they would be highly offended that you call their skillful use of natures building materials "debris".

I would like to challenge your department to attempt to emulate their dam project any time and/or any place you choose. I believe I can safely state there is no way you could ever match their dam skills, their dam resourcefulness, their dam ingenuity, their dam persistence, their dam determination and/or their dam work ethic. As to your request, I do not think the beavers are aware that they must first fill out a dam permit prior to the start of this type of dam activity.

My first dam question to you is: (1) are you trying to discriminate against my Spring Pond Beavers or (2) do you require all beavers throughout this State to conform to said dam request? If you are not discriminating against these particular beavers, through the Freedom of Information Act, I request completed copies of all those other applicable beaver dam permits that have been issued. Perhaps we will see if there really is a dam violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Michigan Compiled Laws, annotated.

I have several concerns. My first concern is: aren't the beavers entitled to legal representation? The Spring Pond Beavers are financially destitute and are unable to pay for said representation, so the State will have to provide them with a dam lawyer. The Department's dam concern that either one or both of the dams failed during a recent rain event causing flooding is proof that this is a natural occurrence, which the Department is required to protect. In other words, we should leave the Spring Pond Beavers alone rather than harassing them and calling them dam names. If you want the stream "restored" to a dam free-flow condition please contact the beavers, but if you are going to arrest them, they obviously did not pay any attention to your dam letter, they being unable to read English.

In my humble opinion, the Spring Pond Beavers have a right to build their unauthorized dams as long as the sky is blue, the grass is green and water flows downstream. They have more dam rights than I do to live and enjoy Spring Pond. If the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection lives up to its name, it should protect the natural resources (Beavers) and the environment (Beavers' Dams). So, as far as the beavers and I are concerned, this dam case can be referred for more elevated enforcement action right now. Why wait until 1/31/2003? The Spring Pond Beavers may be under the dam ice then and there will be no way for you or your dam staff to contact/harass them then.

In conclusion, I would like to bring to your attention to a real environmental quality (health) problem in the area. It is the bears! Bears are actually defecating in our woods. I definitely believe you should be persecuting the defecating bears and leave the beavers alone. If you are going to investigate the beaver dam, watch your step! (The bears are not careful where they dump!) Being unable to comply with your dam request, and being unable to contact you on your dam answering machine, I am sending this response to your dam office.

Thank you

Ryan Devries and the Dam Beavers

Footnote: I'm grateful to J DeKorne for pointing out that these letters are in fact based on real correspondence involving Stephen Tvedten of Marne, Michigan.

The Blind Men and the Elephant

Perception, truth, perspective, empathy, communications and understanding

Warning: This story contains language and a potentially 'offensive stereotype' of a visually impaired person that certain audiences may find objectionable. At the same time the story is historically significant and is useful in debating equality/disability, aside from the obvious 'different perceptions' theme. Nevertheless be careful how you use this story. Alter the language appropriately where warranted, and if in doubt do not use the story at all.

There are various versions of the story of the blind (visually impaired) men and the elephant. The 'blind men and the elephant' is a legend that appears in different cultures - notably China, Africa and India - and the tale dates back thousands of years. Some versions of the story feature three blind men, others five or six, but the message is always the same. Here's a story of the six blind men and the elephant:

Six blind men were discussing exactly what they believed an elephant to be, since each had heard how strange the creature was, yet none had ever seen one before. So the blind men agreed to find an elephant and discover what the animal was really like.

It didn't take the blind men long to find an elephant at a nearby market. The first blind man approached the beast and felt the animal's firm flat side. "It seems to me that the elephant is just like a wall," he said to his friends.

The second blind man reached out and touched one of the elephant's tusks. "No, this is round and smooth and sharp - the elephant is like a spear."

Intrigued, the third blind man stepped up to the elephant and touched its trunk. "Well, I can't agree with either of you; I feel a squirming writhing thing - surely the elephant is just like a snake."

The fourth blind man was of course by now quite puzzled. So he reached out, and felt the elephant's leg. "You are all talking complete nonsense," he said, "because clearly the elephant is just like a tree."

Utterly confused, the fifth blind man stepped forward and grabbed one of the elephant's ears. "You must all be mad - an elephant is exactly like a fan."

Duly, the sixth man approached, and, holding the beast's tail, disagreed again. "It's nothing like any of your descriptions - the elephant is just like a rope."

And all six blind men continued to argue, based on their own particular experiences, as to what they thought an elephant was like. It was an argument that they were never able to resolve. Each of them was concerned only with their own idea. None of them had the full picture, and none could see any of the other's point of view. Each man saw the elephant as something quite different, and while in part each blind man was right, none was wholly correct.

There is never just one way to look at something - there are always different perspectives, meanings, and perceptions, depending on who is looking.

The Owl and the Field-Mouse

Executive policy-making, theory versus practice

A little field-mouse was lost in a dense wood, unable to find his way out. He came upon a wise old owl sitting in a tree. "Please help me, wise old owl, how can I get out of this wood?" said the field-mouse.

"Easy," said the owl, "Grow wings and fly out, as I do."

"But how can I grow wings?" asked the mouse.

The owl looked at him haughtily, sniffed disdainfully, and said, "Don't bother me with the details, I only decide the policy."

(Thanks P Boden)

Aircraft Engineering Support

Lessons in communications and support service

According to the story, after every Qantas Airlines flight (other airlines, and military sources are suggested instead also) the pilots complete a a 'gripe sheet' report, which conveys to the ground crew engineers any mechanical problems on the aircraft during the flight. The engineer reads the form, corrects the problem, then writes details of action taken on the lower section of the form for the pilot to review before the next flight. It is clear from the examples below that ground crew engineers have a keen sense of humour - these are supposedly real extracts from gripe forms completed by pilots with the solution responses by the engineers. Incidentally, Qantas has the best safety record of all the world's major airlines.

(1 = The problem logged by the pilot.) (2 = The solution and action taken by the mechanics.)

  1. Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
  2. Almost replaced left inside main tire.
  1. Test flight OK, except auto-land very rough.
  2. Auto-land not installed on this aircraft.
  1. Something loose in cockpit.
  2. Something tightened in cockpit.
  1. Dead bugs on windshield.
  2. Live bugs on back-order.
  1. Autopilot in altitude-hold mode produces a 200 feet per minute descent.
  2. Cannot reproduce problem on ground.
  1. Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
  2. Evidence removed.
  1. DME volume unbelievably loud.
  2. DME volume set to more believable level.
  1. Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.
  2. That's what they're there for.
  1. IFF inoperative.
  2. IFF always inoperative in OFF mode.
  1. Suspected crack in windshield.
  2. Suspect you're right.
  1. Number 3 engine missing.
  2. Engine found on right wing after brief search.
  1. Aircraft handles funny.
  2. Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right, and be serious.
  1. Target radar hums.
  2. Reprogrammed target radar with lyrics.
  1. Mouse in cockpit.
  2. Cat installed.
  1. Noise coming from under instrument panel. Sounds like a midget pounding on something with a hammer.
  2. Took hammer away from midget.

(Ack. CB)

The Rat and the Lion

Do good, what goes around comes around, karma

One day a small rat surfaced from his nest to find himself between the paws of a huge sleeping lion, which immediately awoke and seized the rat. The rat pleaded with the fierce beast to be set free, and the lion, being very noble and wise, and in no need of such small prey, agreed to let the relieved rat go on his way.

Some days later in the same part of the forest, a hunter had laid a trap for the lion, and it duly caught him, so that the lion was trussed up in a strong net, helpless, with nothing to do than wait for the hunter to return.

But it was the rat who came along next, and seeing the lion in need of help, promptly set about biting and gnawing through the net, which soon began to unravel, setting the great lion free.

The moral of the story is of course to make the world your debtor - even the humblest of folk may one day be of use.

The Two Mules

Show off expensive things at your peril, the more you have the more you have to lose

Two mules travelled regularly together with their loads, from their town to the city. The first mule, a humble beast, wore a tatty cloak, and carried sacks of oats for the miller. The second mule was an arrogant animal, who wore a fine coat with jingling bells. He carried gold and silver coins for the tax collector, and loved to brag about his responsibility and importance. Running late one day, the second mule suggested taking a short-cut, off the main road, despite his companion's warnings about the risks of taking such a dangerous route. Sure enough, before too long, thieves attacked the second mule, stealing his valuable load, and leaving him injured by the roadside.

"But why me?" moaned the stricken animal, "I am attacked and robbed while the vagabonds leave you untouched?"

"I think even in this desperate place no thief would be interested in a poor miller's slave, or my humble load!" said the first mule, "But you ventured down this dangerous track and made a show of yourself - you have only yourself to blame."

The Travellers and the Monk

Positive attitude, life outlook

One day a traveller was walking along a road on his journey from one village to another. As he walked he noticed a monk tending the ground in the fields beside the road. The monk said "Good day" to the traveller, and the traveller nodded to the monk. The traveller then turned to the monk and said "Excuse me, do you mind if I ask you a question?".

"Not at all," replied the monk.

"I am travelling from the village in the mountains to the village in the valley and I was wondering if you knew what it is like in the village in the valley?"

"Tell me," said the monk, "What was your experience of the village in the mountains?"

"Dreadful," replied the traveller, "to be honest I am glad to be away from there. I found the people most unwelcoming. When I first arrived I was greeted coldly. I was never made to feel part of the village no matter how hard I tried. The villagers keep very much to themselves, they don't take kindly to strangers. So tell me, what can I expect in the village in the valley?"

"I am sorry to tell you," said the monk, "but I think your experience will be much the same there".

The traveller hung his head despondently and walked on.

A while later another traveller was journeying down the same road and he also came upon the monk.

"I'm going to the village in the valley," said the second traveller, "Do you know what it is like?"

"I do," replied the monk "But first tell me - where have you come from?"

"I've come from the village in the mountains."

"And how was that?"

"It was a wonderful experience. I would have stayed if I could but I am committed to travelling on. I felt as though I was a member of the family in the village. The elders gave me much advice, the children laughed and joked with me and people were generally kind and generous. I am sad to have left there. It will always hold special memories for me. And what of the village in the valley?" he asked again.

"I think you will find it much the same" replied the monk, "Good day to you".

"Good day and thank you," the traveller replied, smiled, and journeyed on.

(Thanks Carrie Birmingham)

Human Resources

New starter induction, ironic reference to human resources management, keeping promises, employment standards

A highly successful Human Resources Manager was tragically knocked down by a bus and killed. Her soul arrived at the Pearly Gates, where St. Peter welcomed her:

"Before you get settled in," he said, "We have a little problem... you see, we've never had a Human Resources Manager make it this far before and we're not really sure what to do with you."

"Oh, I see," said the woman. "Can't you just let me in?"

"Well, I'd like to," said St Peter, "But I have higher orders. We're instructed to let you have a day in hell and a day in heaven, and then you are to choose where you'd like to go for all eternity."

"Actually, I think I'd prefer heaven", said the woman.

"Sorry, we have rules..." at which St. Peter put the HR Manager into the downward bound elevator.

As the doors opened in hell she stepped out onto a beautiful golf course. In the distance was a country club; around her were many friends - past fellow executives, all smartly dressed, happy, and cheering for her. They ran up and kissed her on both cheeks and they talked about old times. They played a perfect round of golf and afterwards went to the country club where she enjoyed a superb steak and lobster dinner. She met the Devil, who was actually rather nice, and she had a wonderful night telling jokes and dancing. Before she knew it, it was time to leave; everyone shook her hand and waved goodbye as she stepped into the elevator. The elevator went back up to heaven where St. Peter was waiting for her.

"Now it's time to spend a day in heaven," he said.

So she spent the next 24 hours lounging around on clouds and playing the harp and singing, which was almost as enjoyable as her day in hell. At the day's end St Peter returned.

"So," he said, "You've spent a day in hell and you've spent a day in heaven. You must choose between the two."

The woman thought for a second and replied, "Well, heaven is certainly lovely, but I actually had a better time in hell. I choose hell."

Accordingly, St. Peter took her to the elevator again and she went back down to hell.

When the doors of the elevator opened she found herself standing in a desolate wasteland covered in garbage and filth. She saw her friends dressed in rags, picking up rubbish and putting it in old sacks. The Devil approached and put his arm around her.

"I don't understand," stuttered the HR Manager, "Yesterday I was here, and there was a golf course, and a country club, and we ate lobster, and we danced and had a wonderful happy time. Now all there's just a dirty wasteland of garbage and all my friends look miserable."

The Devil looked at her and smiled. "Yesterday we were recruiting you, today you're staff."

(Thanks CB and CC)

The Shoe Box

Delusion, men and women, marriage, relationships, secrets, weddings and best-man speeches

There was once a man and woman who had been married for more than 60 years. They had shared everything. They had talked about everything. They had kept no secrets from each other except that the little old woman had a shoe box in the top of her closet that she had cautioned her husband never to open or ask her about. For all of these years, he had never thought about the box, but one day the little old woman got very sick and the doctor said she would not recover. In trying to sort out their affairs, the little old man took down the shoe box and took it to his wife's bedside. She agreed that it was time that he should know what was in the box. When he opened it, he found two crocheted doilies and a stack of money totaling $25,000. He asked her about the contents. "When we were to be married," she said, "My grandmother told me the secret of a happy marriage was to never argue. She told me that if I ever got angry with you, I should just keep quiet and crochet a doily." The little old man was so moved, he had to fight back tears. Only two precious doilies were in the box. She had only been angry with him two times in all those years of living and loving. He almost burst with happiness. "Honey," he said, "that explains the doilies, but what about all of this money? Where did it come from?" "Oh," she said, "that's the money I made from selling the doilies."

(Thanks C Byrd)

The Businessman and the Fisherman

Ambition, wealth creation, change for change's sake, purpose of life, work and fulfilment - also featured on a 'Kit-Kat' snack-bar TV advert

A management consultant, on holiday in a African fishing village, watched a little fishing boat dock at the quayside. Noting the quality of the fish, the consultant asked the fisherman how long it had taken to catch them.

"Not very long." answered the fisherman.

"Then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the consultant.

The fisherman explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The consultant asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, have an afternoon's rest under a coconut tree. In the evenings, I go into the community hall to see my friends, have a few beers, play the drums, and sing a few songs..... I have a full and happy life." replied the fisherman.

The consultant ventured, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you...... You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have a large fleet. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to a city here or maybe even in the United Kingdom, from where you can direct your huge enterprise."

"How long would that take?" asked the fisherman.

"Oh, ten, maybe twenty years." replied the consultant.

"And after that?" asked the fisherman.

"After that? That's when it gets really interesting," answered the consultant, laughing, "When your business gets really big, you can start selling shares in your company and make millions!"

"Millions? Really? And after that?" pressed the fisherman.

"After that you'll be able to retire, move out to a small village by the sea, sleep in late every day, spend time with your family, go fishing, take afternoon naps under a coconut tree, and spend relaxing evenings havings drinks with friends..."

(Ack Jean Kent)

The Microsoft Story

Computers, WYSInotWYG, ironic reference to computer software problems

A different slant on the human resources tale above...

In 2050 A.D. Bill Gates dies in a car accident. He finds himself in the Purgatory waiting room, when God enters...

"Well, Bill," says God, "I'm confused. I'm not sure whether to send you to Heaven or Hell: you helped society enormously by putting a computer in almost every home in the world, and yet you've also created some of the most unearthly frustrations known to mankind. I'm going to do something I've never done before: I'm going to let you choose where you want to go."

Bill replies, "Well, thanks, God. What's the difference between the two?"

God says, "I'm willing to let you visit both places briefly to help you make your decision."

"Okay, where should I go first?" asks Bill.

God says, "That's up to you."

Bill says, "OK, let's try Hell first."

So Bill goes to Hell. It's a beautiful, clean, sandy beach with clear waters. There are thousands of beautiful women running around, playing in the water, laughing and frolicking about. The sun is shining, the temperature is just right. The whole thing looks perfect, and Bill is very pleased.

"This is great!" he tells God, "If this is Hell, I REALLY want to see Heaven!"

"Fine," says God, and off they go.

Heaven is a high place in the clouds, with angels drifting about playing harps and singing. It very nice but not as enticing as Hell. Bill thinks for a moment and announces his decision.

"Hmm, I think I prefer Hell." he tells God.

"Fine," says God, "As you desire."

So Bill Gates is taken to Hell.

Two weeks later, God decides to check up on Bill to see how he's doing in Hell. When God arrives in Hell, he finds Bill shackled to a wall, screaming amongst the hot flames in a dark cave. He's being burned and tortured by demons.

"How's everything going, Bill?" God asks.

Bill replies, his voice full of anguish and disappointment, "This is awful, it's not what I expected at all, I can't believe it. What happened to that other place with the beaches and the beautiful women playing in the water?"

God smiles and says, "That was the screen saver."

(Ack CB and JM)

'It Will For That One'

Making a difference, compassion, social responsibility

A small boy was walking along a beach at low tide, where countless thousands of small sea creatures, having been washed up, were stranded and doomed to perish. A man watched as the boy picked up individual creatures and took them back into the water.

"I can see you're being very kind," said the watching man, "But there must be a million of them; it can't possibly make any difference."

Returning from the water's edge, the boy said, "It will for that one."

The Negotiation Story

Negotiating, men and women, funny responses

A sales-woman is driving home in the rain when she sees a little old lady walking by the roadside, heavily laden with shopping. Being a kindly soul, the sales-woman stops the car and invites the old lady to climb in. During their small talk, the old lady glances surreptitiously at a brown paper bag on the front seat between them. "If you are wondering what's in the bag," offers the sales-woman, "It's a bottle of wine. I got it for my husband." The little old lady is silent for a while, nods several times, and says ........ "Good trade."

Mcclelland Motivation

David mcclelland's achievement motivation experiment, motivation references and examples

A pioneering thinker in the field of workplace motivation, David McClelland developed his theories chiefly while at Harvard in the 1950-60's with experiments such as this one.

Volunteers were asked to throw rings over pegs rather like the fairground game; no distance was stipulated, and most people seemed to throw from arbitrary, random distances, sometimes close, sometimes farther away. However a small group of volunteers, whom McClelland suggested were strongly achievement-motivated, took some care to measure and test distances that would produce an ideal challenge - not too easy, and not impossible.

Interestingly a parallel exists in biology, known as the 'overload principle', which is commony applied to fitness and exercising, ie., in order to develop fitness and/or strength the exercise must be sufficiently demanding to increase existing levels, but not so demanding as to cause damage or strain.

McClelland identified the same need for a 'balanced challenge' in the approach of achievement-motivated people. People with a strong achievement-motivation need set themselves challenging and realistic goals - they need the challenge, but they also need to be sure they'll accomplish the aim.

The Butterfly

Coaching, teaching, enabling, facilitating, interventions

A man found a cocoon for a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared, he sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through the little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared stuck.

The man decided to help the butterfly and with a pair of scissors he cut open the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. Something was strange. The butterfly had a swollen body and shrivelled wings. The man watched the butterfly expecting it to take on its correct proportions. But nothing changed.

The butterfly stayed the same. It was never able to fly. In his kindness and haste the man did not realise that the butterfly's struggle to get through the small opening of the cocoon is nature's way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight.

Like the sapling which grows strong from being buffeted by the wind, in life we all need to struggle sometimes to make us strong.

When we coach and teach others it is helpful to recognize when people need to do things for themselves.

(Ack Paul Matthews)

The Swimming Pool

Reviews and asessments, assessing people, things are not always what they seem

Fred and Mabel were both patients in a mental hospital. One day as they both walked beside the swimming pool, Mabel jumped into the deep end and sank to the bottom. Without a thought for his own safety, Fred jumped in after her, brought her to the surface, hauled her out, gave her the kiss of life and saved her.

The next day happened to be Fred's annual review. He was brought before the hospital board, where the director told him, "Fred, I have some good news and some bad news: the good news is that in light of your heroic act yesterday we consider that you are sane and can be released from this home back into society. The bad news is, I'm afraid, that Mabel, the patient you saved, shortly afterwards hung herself in the bathroom with the belt from her bathrobe. I'm sorry but she's dead."

"She didn't hang herself," Fred replied, "I put her there to dry."

The Butcher

Business ethics, chickens come home to roost, sins discovered, getting caught out, lying to customers

A butcher, who had had a particularly good day, proudly flipped his last chicken on a scale and weighed it. "That will be £6.35," he told the customer.

"That's a good price, but it really is a little too small," said the woman. "Don't you have anything larger?"

Hesitating, but thinking fast, the clerk returned the chicken to the refrigerator, paused a moment, then took it out again.

"This one," he said faintly, " will be £6.65."

The woman paused for a moment, then made her decision...

"I know what," she said, "I'll take both of them!"

(Thanks Doug Boit)

Pavlov's Dogs

Behaviour, conditioning, fears and neuroses, embedded attitudes and responses

Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist who lived from 1849-1936. He founded the Institute of Experimental Medicine in 1890, where his primary interest was digestion.

Pavlov's Dogs is the name given to Ivan Pavlov's seminal research in the early 20th century which established some essential principles of Classical Conditioning in the field of human psychology. Classical Conditioning concerns 'learned' or conditioned behaviour, (which also forms the basis of behaviour therapy).

We all have behaviours that we might seek to change. The Pavlov's Dogs illustration helps us to understand more about why we respond sometimes irrationally to certain situations.

Pavlov's Dogs provides a wonderful and true example for anyone seeking to explain or understand how our past experiences can prompt certain behaviours in the future, for example, phobias (irrational fears), neurosis (severe nervous or emotional responses to particular situations), and even mild feelings of concern or anxiety that virtually all of us are prone to in one way or another (eg., public speaking, fear of heights, flying, being reprimanded or tested, etc.)

The initial Pavlov's Dogs experiment was simply to place a dog in a sound-proof, smell-proof cubicle, with no outside view - a controlled environment in other words. A sound was made when food was given to the dog, and the amount of salivation the dog produced was measured. After repeating this several times (called 'trials'), the sound was made but no food was given. The dog still salivated.

This simple experiment established that the dog did not necessarily need the food in order to respond to food. The dog was responding to a stimulus or 'trigger' that produced the same response as the real thing. Pavlov could make the dog salivate whenever the sound was made.

This is expressed technically: a 'Conditioned Stimulus' (the sound) can produce a 'Conditioned Response' (the salivation), which was the same 'Unconditioned Response' (salivation in response to food) for the original 'Unconditioned Stimulus' (the food).

Pavlov also proved that slightly different sounds to the original Conditioned Stimulus produced a similar Conditioned Response, which he called 'Generalisation'. Pavlov also obtained the same results by showing the dog a shape (a circle for food), and then established a level of 'Discrimination' by showing an oval when there was no food.

By continually repeating the Conditioned Stimulus, the Conditioned response was seen to weaken, and then eventually to cease, which he called 'Extinction'. Surprisingly though, after a day or two, when the Conditioned Stimulus (sound) was started again the dog again produced the Conditioned Response (salivation), which is called 'Spontaneous Recovery'. This showed that conditioned behaviours can become very deeply embedded and well established.

Classical Conditioning is responsible for all behaviour that involves 'Reflexes' - heart-rate, perspiration, muscle-tension, etc.

Think about your own anxieties that produce these reactions. They are probably Conditioned Responses from something (a Conditioned Stimulus) that you experienced in the past. Note also that if the original response is very strong, the conditioning can result from a single event, technically referred to as 'One Trial Learning'.

Beans Up The Nose

Accentuate the positive, visualization, auto-suggestion, negative suggestions and attitudes

This lovely analogy illustrates how accentuating the negative can often produce the very result you are seeking to avoid. The metaphor is so strong that it gave rise to the expression 'Beans up the Nose', meaning to increase the likelihood of unwanted result by highlighting the potential for it to happen.

Beans up the Nose is a great way to emphasise the need for managers to accentuate the positive - not the negative - when communicating instructions to their people.

A mother was preparing a meal for her young son. She emptied a tin of beans into a saucepan and put them on the stove to cook. Just then the phone rang - she was expecting a call and wanted to take it. Mindful that she'd be leaving her little boy unsupervised for a minute or two, and wanting to prevent him doing anything daft while she was out of the room, she firmly told him, "Stay here while I answer the phone. I'll be back soon; don't misbehave, and whatever you do, don't go putting those beans up your nose..."

The Hawthorne Effect

(Elton Mayo's motivation experiments, motivation

The Hawthorne Effect: the proposition that workers are more motivated more by emotional than economic factors (i.e., by being involved and feeling important, rather than by an improvement in workplace conditions).

So-called after workplace behavioural research by Elton Mayo at the Western Electric Company's Hawthorne plant in Cicero, Chicago, 1927-32, which ran on without Mayo until 1937. Mayo was a founding father of industrial psychology, attached to Harvard University as professor of industrial research from 1926, laying the foundations for later gurus, notably Herzberg ( Motivation and Hygiene Factors ), Maslow ( Hierarchy of Needs ), McGregor ( XY Theory ), Peters and Waterman (' In Search of Excellence ' etc).

At a peak, 20,000 Western Electric employees were subject to research by a team of Harvard scientists and up to 100 investigators. This massive ten-year programme grew from the initial experiment in which improved lighting was installed to assess the effect on workers' motivation and productivity. Sure enough, productivity increased, but productivity also increased in the 'control group' of workers where conditions were unchanged, except that they were informed they were part of the study. This was perhaps the earliest significant demonstration that people are not actually motivated by improving their workplace conditions ('Taylorism' - after FW Taylor - had been the common view, in which money and conditions were thought to be the prime motivators). The Hawthorne Effect, and the experiments at the Hawthorne plant, proved that people are mainly motivated not by economic factors, but emotional factors, such as feeling involved and receiving attention.

The Naval Stand-Off

Negotiation, do your research, know your facts

This story is an 'alleged' transcript of an actual radio conversation between a US naval ship and Canadian maritime contact off the coast of Newfoundland in October 1995. The tale, in various versions and featuring different nationalities, has circulated widely in emails and in books for many years, and has been used by numerous speakers and writers to illustrate lessons relating to negotiation, making assumptions, and related themes. Unfortunately it is not true, but it is nevertheless a great story. If using this as a teaching analogy, you will probably be forgiven for not revealing the truth of the matter until after telling the story.

Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees North to avoid a collision.

Canadians: Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees South to avoid collision.

Americans: This is the captain of a US navy ship; I say again divert your course.

Canadians: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course.


Canadians: We are a lighthouse; your call.

(This story is a lesson in making wrong assumptions - especially where an obstacle is misinterpreted to be movable, when in fact it is not. For a similar lesson see the wonderful air traffic control story about assumptions.)

Room Service

Understanding, communicating, interpretation, empathy, meaning

This story was widely circulated by email around 2001-2, within which it was alleged to be the genuine transcript of a telephone conversation between a guest and room-service in a hotel in Asia in the late 1990's, and it supposedly appeared in an item published in the Far East Economic Review. This is all false however:

Room Service is in fact a chapter from US comedian Shelley Berman's book ' A Hotel Is A Funny Place '. In truth the incident portrayed never happened in any hotel, in Asia or otherwise. Shelley Berman wrote 'Room Service' as a piece of fictional humour. Shelley Berman has kindly allowed this extract to appear on this site, and this permission is gratefully acknowledged.

As well as being one of the best loved and funniest comedians and writers of his generation, Shelly Berman is also a lecturer at the University of Southern California.

The Room Service fictional exchange is a wonderful and amusing example of how and why the effective understanding relies not only on language and communication, but also on the abilities of the communicators to interpret meaning.

Excerpt from " A Hotel is a Funny Place ... "

N.B. This material is a chapter from Shelley Berman's copyrighted book. It is reproduced here with permission. Reading hints: You are on the phone. The other party is also in the hotel:

Morny, rune sore-bees.

Oh sorry, I thought I dialed room service.

Rye. Rune sore-bees. Morny. Jewish to odor sunteen?

Yes, order something. This is room thirteen-on-five. I want…

Okay, torino-fie. Yes plea?

I'd like some bacon and eggs.

Ow July then?



Ow July then? Pry, boy, pooch…?

Oh, the eggs! How do I like them? Sorry. Scrambled, please.

Ow July thee baycome? Crease?

Crisp will be fine.

Okay. An Santos?


Santos. July Santos?

Uh…I don't know…I don't think so.

No? Judo one toes?

Look. I really feel bad about this, but I just don't know what judo-one-toes means. I'm sorry…

Toes! Toes! Why Jew Don Juan toes? Ow bow eenlish mopping we bother?

English muffin! I've got it! You were saying toast! Fine. An English muffin will be fine. We bother? No. Just put the bother on the side.


I'm sorry. I meant butter. Butter on the side.


I feel terrible about this but… Copy.

Copy, tea, mill…

Coffee!! Yes, coffee please. And that's all.

One Minnie. Ass rune torino-fie, strangle-aches, crease baycome, tossy eenlish mopping we bother honey sigh, and copy. Rye?

Whatever you say. Okay.


You're welcome.

Next time someone sends you the email you can inform them: the above dialogue never actually took place in any hotel anywhere in the world. The Room Service dialogue is an intentionally composed humorous fiction and is entirely the creation of Shelley Berman, written as a chapter in his book, A Hotel Is A Funny Place , publishers Price/Sloan/Stern. Copyright 1972 and 1985. Any claim to the contrary is utterly baseless and erroneous.

Room Service is © Shelley Berman. Used with Permission with grateful thanks to Shelley Berman. Not to be sold or published.

The Project

Project management, six phases of a project

Not exactly a story, but a widely referred to ironic model detailing the six phases of a project. Do you recognize this model?

  1. Enthusiasm
  2. Disillusionment
  3. Panic
  4. Search for the guilty
  5. Punishment of the innocent
  6. Praise and honours for the non-participants

MSWindows Car

The power of PR, clever publicity, using humour for publicity, don't get mad get even

You may have seen this before as it's been widely circulated over the internet. Whether it's true or not, it's a great example of the risks of arrogant PR, and then in response, fantastic PR that's utterly in tune with the mood of the moment. Despite all this though, a supremely powerful supplier can, while they remain supremely powerful, re-write the rules of customer service.

At a computer expo (COMDEX) around 1997/98, Bill Gates of Microsoft was reported to have compared the computer and automotive industries, saying that "If General Motors had kept up with technology like the computer industry does, we would all be driving around in twenty-five dollar cars that go 1,000 miles to the gallon."

In response to this alleged outburst, GM are supposed to have issued a press release along the following lines, stating:

If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics -

  1. For no reason at all your car would crash twice a day, and you would have not a single clue as to the cause.
  2. Every time they re-painted the lines on the road you would have to buy a new car.
  3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason, and you would just accept this, re-start and drive on.
  4. Occasionally, executing a manoeuvre such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to re-start, in which case you would have to re-install the engine.
  5. Only one person at a time could use the car, unless you bought 'Car95' or 'CarNT', but then you'd have to buy more seats.
  6. (Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, reliable, five times as fast, and twice as easy to drive, but it would only run on five percent of the roads. The Macintosh car owners would have to buy expensive GM upgrades for their cars which would make them run much slower.)
  7. The oil, water temperature and alternator warning lights would be replaced by a 'general car default' warning light.
  8. The car's new seats would force everyone to have the same size butt.
  9. The airbag system would say 'Are you sure?' before activating.
  10. Occasionally for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key, and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.
  11. GM would require all car buyers to additionally purchase a deluxe set of Rand McNally road maps (which would be a GM subsidiary) even though the customer neither needed nor wanted them. Attempting to do without these extras would immediately cause the car's performance to diminish by fifty percent or more. Moreover, GM would become a target for investigation under the anti-trust laws by the Justice Department.
  12. Every time GM introduced a new model, car buyers would have to learn to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as in the previous car.
  13. And you'd need to press the 'Start' button to shut off the engine.

The Balloon

Business, IT, humour, funny business story

A man in a hot air balloon is lost. He sees a man on the ground and reduces height to speak to him.

"Excuse me, can you tell me where I am?"

"You're in a hot air balloon hovering thirty feet above this field," comes the reply.

"You must work in Information Technology," says the balloonist.

"I do," says the man, "How did you know?"

"Well," says the balloonist, "Everything you told me is technically correct, but it's no use to anyone."

"You must be in business," says the man.

"I am," says the balloonist, "How did you know?"

"Well," says the man, "You don't know where you are, you don't know where you're going, but you expect me to be able to help. You're in the same position you were before we met, but now it's my fault."

(You can of course substitute other professions as appropriate.)

The Monkey Cage

Company policy, organizational development, group behaviour, group beliefs, inertia and assumptions

Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it.

Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana.

As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result - all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, turn off the cold water.

Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one.

The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs.

To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.

After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one.

The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked.

The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Again, replace a third original monkey with a new one.

The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well.

Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys that have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced.

Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs.

Why not?

Because as far as they know that's the way it's always been around here.

And that's how company policy begins ...

The Creativity Story

Ten ways to murder creativity, leadership, growth and development, innovation and motivation

Again not a story, instead a sardonic view of the way that organizations typically approach managing people and projects, which of course kills the creative incentive and capabilities of creative people. Do you recognize the model?

  1. Always pretend to know more than everybody around you.
  2. Get employees to fill in time sheets.
  3. Run daily checks on progress of everyone's work.
  4. Ensure that highly qualified people do mundane work for long periods.
  5. Put barriers up between departments.
  6. Don't speak personally to employees, except when announcing increased targets, shortened deadlines and tightened cost restraints.
  7. Ask for a 200-page document to justify every new idea.
  8. Call lots of meetings.
  9. Place the biggest emphasis on the budget.
  10. Buy lots of computers.

The Scorpion and the Frog

Personality and type, inability to change, expectations, personal responsibility, reality, acceptance, delusion, blame

Once upon a time a scorpion wanted to cross a brook. On the bank he saw a frog and asked if the frog would give him a ride to the other side.

"Oh no," says the frog, "If I carry you on my back you will sting me."

"But why would I sting you when we would both surely perish," replied the scorpion.

The frog eventually conceded that the scorpion had a point, and agreed to the request.

Half way across, the scorpion stang the frog, and they both began to drown.

"But why did you break your word and sting me, knowing it would be certain death for us both?" cried the frog.

"Because it is in my nature." said the scorpion.

Rocks in the Bucket

Time management, personal change, managing your activities and environment, project management

This wonderful story can be used to help people understand time management.

It is also a lesson in prioritization, and illustrates the value of planning in time management.

The 'story' goes..

Start with a bucket, some big rocks enough to fill it, some small stones or pebbles, some sand, and water.

Put the big rocks in the bucket - is it full?

Put the small stones in around the big rocks - is it full?

Put the sand in and give it a shake - is it full?

Put the water in. Now it's full.

The point is: unless you put the big rocks in first, you won't get them in at all.

In other words: Plan time-slots for your big issues before anything else, or the inevitable sand and water issues will fill up your days and you won't fit the big issues in (a big issue doesn't necessarily have to be a work task - it could be your child's sports-day, or a holiday).

The story, and the analogy contained within it, are also known as 'Big Rocks in First', although this title rather gives the answer away if you intend using the story as a puzzle.

The expression 'Big Rocks' has become a metaphor for big important jobs. The other smaller and more fluid items represent less crucial tasks which typically interrupt or distract us from scheduled work.

Rocks in a Bucket v2

Alternative funny version

A lecturer at a university is giving a pre-exam lecture on time management. On his desk is a bag of sand, a bag of pebbles, some big rocks and bucket. He asks for a volunteer to put all three grades of stone into the bucket, and a keen student duly steps up to carry out the task, starting with the sand, then the pebbles, then the rocks, which do not all fit in the bucket.

"The is an analogy of poor time management," trills the lecturer, "If you'd have put the rocks in first, then the pebbles, then the sand, all three would have fit. This is much like time management, in that by completing your biggest tasks first, you leave room to complete your medium tasks, then your smaller ones. By completing your smallest tasks first you spend so much time on them you leave yourself unable to complete either medium of large tasks satisfactorily. Let me show you.."

And the lecturer re-fills the bucket, big rocks first, then pebbles, then sand, shaking the bucket between each so that everything fits.

"But Sir," says one student, slouched at the back of the theatre, "You've forgotten one thing.."

At which the student approaches the bucket, produces a can of lager, opens it and pours into the bucket. "No matter how busy you are," quips the student with a smile, "There's always time for a quick beer."

(Ack Simon Dedman)

Murphy's Plough

Positive thinking, negative thinking, retaliating before being attacked, thinking the worst of people, tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye

Use this story to illustrate the risks of failing to use positive thinking. The story also illustrates the common tendency for us all to retaliate before we are attacked, and humankind's potential for tit-for-tat or 'eye-for-an-eye' behaviour, on which most international politics has been based since the beginning of civilisation.

McGinty, a farmer, needed to plough his field before the dry spell set in, but his own plough had broken.

"I know, I'll ask my neighbour, farmer Murphy, to borrow his plough. He's a good man; I'm sure he'll have done his ploughing by now and he'll be glad to lend me his machine."

So McGinty began to walk the three or four fields to Murphy's farm.

After a field of walking, McGinty says to himself, "I hope that Murphy has finished all his own ploughing or he'll not be able to lend me his machine..."

Then after a few more minutes of worrying and walking, McGinty says to himself, "And what if Murphy's plough is old and on it's last legs - he'll never be wanting to lend it to me will he?.."

And after another field, McGinty says, "Murphy was never a very helpful fellow, I reckon maybe he won't be too keen to lend me his plough even if it's in perfect working order and he's finished all his own ploughing weeks ago...."

As McGinty arrives at Murphy's farm, McGinty is thinking, "That old Murphy can be a mean old fellow. I reckon even if he's got all his ploughing done, and his own machine is sitting there doing nothing, he'll not lend it to me just so watch me go to ruin..."

McGinty walks up Murphy's front path, knocks on the door, and Murphy answers.

"Well good morning Mr McGinty, what can I do for you?" says Murphy.

And McGinty says, with eyes bulging, "You can take your bloody plough, and you can stick it up your bloody arse!"

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