Tuesday, 26 August 2014

50 Stories & Snippets Extract 3

Here's the latest extract from my new ebook publication for speakers and trainers in the Almost Free series, available on Kindle and Nook:
50 Stories & Snippets for Conference & Workshop Presentations. 

The Blind Men and the Elephant

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind)
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side
At once began to bawl:
'God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!'
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, 'Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!'
The Third approached the animal
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands
Thus boldly up and spake:
'I see,' quoth he, 'the Elephant
Is very like a SNAKE!'
The Fourth reached out an eager hand
And felt about the knee.
'What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,' quoth he:
''Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!'
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: 'E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a FAN!'
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
'I see,' quoth he, 'the Elephant
Is very like a ROPE!'
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right
And all were in the wrong!
John Godfrey Saxe, US poet (1816-1887)


Using the poem


This classic poem and various prose adaptations of the underlying parable have been used metaphorically in a wide range of situations - from illustrating the difficulties presented in medical diagnosis to discussing comparative religion - but the common theme is a search for truth.
Use this poem to show how limited observation, a particular experience, partial knowledge of a situation, or a conditioned perspective can all affect one's viewpoint and possibly lead to miscommunication, misunderstanding, misinterpretation or mistrust. Promote discussion among your group by asking what the blind men of Indostan might have done to resolve their dispute and reach a common understanding. What may come out is the importance of seeing the bigger picture, of weighing all the evidence before coming to a conclusion, and perhaps seeking objective advice from an expert witness. The discussion may even widen to an exploration of the nature of truth itself. Thus this simple witty verse lends itself both to modest ends and, if you should wish, profound philosophical debate.

The Boulder

Noam in ancient times was a desperately poor kingdom. People there blamed the king, comparing him to his grandfather who, they said, ran everything so much more smoothly than this lax ruler. Everything, it seemed, was better in the old days. In truth the young king tried his best, but the day-to-day problems were more than he could handle alone. He could not command support, and so the kingdom became poorer year by year.
One morning a huge boulder appeared in the middle of the road leading to the gates of the capital. Rich merchants and fashionable courtiers grumbled as they walked around the rock, cursing the king for failing to keep the roads clear and causing them to trail their cloaks in the ditch.
A peasant came along on his way to market with a heavy sack of produce on his back. Seeing the boulder he set down his burden and tried to move the rock to the side of the road. He strained and struggled for over an hour under the hot midday sun. Townsfolk mocked as they squeezed by the sweating peasant. Finally he succeeded and his red face broke into a smile of relief and pride as the great rock rolled into the ditch.
Stepping back into the road to retrieve his sack the peasant noticed a leather purse lying where the boulder had been. Inside the purse he found a dozen gold coins and a note from the king explaining that here was a reward for the person who cleared the rock from the roadway.
As the peasant gazed in wonder the royal coach appeared, travelling towards the city gates. The coach stopped and the king himself opened the door. He invited the peasant to join him, and they rode through a throng of staring citizens to the palace where they talked into the night of ways to save the kingdom.
'The block of granite, which is an obstacle in the pathway of the weak, becomes a stepping-stone in the pathway of the strong.'
Thomas Carlyle, Scottish essayist, historian (1795-1881)

Using the story


'It was much better in the old days' is a common refrain in organizations and communities. The tendency to hark back to some mythical golden age goes hand in hand with the urge to blame someone for the present state of things, usually the people seen as running the show.
Use this story to remind everyone listening that they need to take responsibility for problems and challenges if they are to make progress, rather than waiting for some higher authority to come along with a solution. The story works well when used together with the quotation from Thomas Carlyle as it reinforces the notion that every problem comes with a gift in its hand, the opportunity for transformation.
More extracts to come, but if you can't wait or you want them all in one published collection you can download the book to your Kindle or Nook. 

50 Stories & Snippets Extract 2

Here's the latest extract from my new ebook publication for speakers and trainers in the Almost Free series, available on Kindle and Nook:
50 Stories & Snippets for Conference & Workshop Presentations. 

The Artist Inventor

As a creative genius, the Italian artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci was always attuned to possibility wherever he happened to be. Just one example shows how new ideas can come from accident, from being attuned to nature, and from combining unlikely elements to create something entirely new.

Taking a walk in the open air, Leonardo was idly throwing stones in a well, watching the ripples moving out from the centre of the splash, when he heard a church bell ringing in the distance. Leonardo was struck by an association between what he was seeing and what he heard.

He later wrote in his journal: 'The stone where it strikes the surface of the water causes circles around it which spread until they are lost; and in the same the air, struck by a voice, also has a circular motion, so he who is nearest hears the best and he who is most distant cannot hear it.'

For Leonardo, a breakthrough occurred the moment he realised that sound travels in waves, like the ripples spreading out from the stone. 

Using the story 

Dynamic individuals and organizations will be constantly searching for imaginative approaches, different encounters and new ways of thinking. They know that a creative environment keeps their work fresh and imaginative. Changing that environment often, seeking out new ways of looking at things, being open to possibility, being ready to make unexpected associations - all help the creative process and encourage innovation.

Use this story to show how creative ideas can come from observations and connections you may make with the world around you.

The Big Black Door

A much-feared general in the revolutionary war had the unsettling custom of giving condemned criminals a choice between the firing squad and 'the big black door'. Most people chose the firing squad and died in a hail of bullets. What lay beyond the big, black door?
But only a few people were brave enough to take the risk and choose the big, black door.
Our best opportunities may stand behind the scary-looking door of the great unknown.
'When you get to the end of all the light you know and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.'
Edward Teller, Hungarian/US nuclear physicist (b.1908)

 Using the story

When change is proposed or a new venture is contemplated a typical response is resistance. This may come from vested interests, a fear of the unknown, or may simply emerge from a natural reluctance to disturb the status quo. All change means movement, and movement creates friction.
Use this story to show how people often miss opportunities because they fear the unknown. The key to overcoming resistance is often to recognize the horrors people are imagining behind 'the big black door' of change, listen carefully to those fears, work on allaying them, and offer an alternative scenario of fresh possibility beyond the threshold.
More extracts to come, but if you can't wait or you want them all in one published collection you can download the book to your Kindle or Nook. 


Friday, 15 August 2014

50 Stories & Snippets: Intro and Extract 1

In addition to my creative writing (new novel coming soon) I publish, in ebook form only, a series of mini books for trainers, facilitators and speakers that I call my Almost Free series as they are on offer for a ridiculously cheap price.

I'd like to introduce the latest publication in this series, available on Kindle and Nook:
50 Stories & Snippets for Conference & Workshop Presentations. 

This mini-book features stories, snippets, clippings and examples that I have found useful over the years while presenting conferences and workshops to a wide range of organizations. It's a companion to my compilation 1000 Great Quotations for Business, Management & Training, also available in this Almost Free series.
You will find in the book a motley selection, presented alphabetically by title, but to help focus your thoughts I have included under each entry a brief commentary and some suggestions for appropriate use, and at the back of the book you will find a Category Index with click-through links to relevant stories. These are for guidance only - the usefulness of this material is limited only by your imagination.
If you are a trainer or facilitator use these stories and quotes to enliven your sessions and underline the learning with examples and points to ponder from a wide range of sources.
To whet your appetite I'm going to publish a series of extracts over the next month or two of blog posts. Here are the first couple.




In Australia an earnest and dedicated social worker visited a run-down aboriginal settlement to see if there was any way she could help.

The old Aborigine leader stood watching her as she approached his shanty. She was about to introduce herself when he raised his hand in a gesture that commanded her silence.

He spoke imperiously: 'If you have come here to do something for me, you are wasting your time. If you have come here because your transformation is directly involved with mine, let’s get to work.'

Using the story


Attempts at partnership or collaboration (whether inside organizations or across communities) are often undermined by the failure of members to appreciate that they do not have a monopoly of the truth. As painful as it may be, the ability and willingness to listen carefully to the views of the people involved (including those you may not agree with) are fundamental to success.

A true partnership is one that accommodates diversity and assimilates all shades of views and opinions in pursuit of a common truth.

In discussing this story you may also find it interesting to consider the use of the words 'aborigine', 'aboriginal' and associated terms such as 'indigenous'. Finding appropriate language, avoiding offence while remaining aware that a 'tick-box' politically correct mentality can itself be patronising - these are tricky issues in many areas of communication, collaboration and culture.

The Artist

The great Italian artist Michelangelo sculpted many beautiful works, such as the breathtaking marble statue of David. Whenever he was about to start a new sculpture Michelangelo would stand before the shapeless mass of stone, lost in contemplation. He would stare into, not at, the stone and eventually, he said, he could see the figure trapped inside. All he had to do then was chip away, and chip away … until the statue was fully revealed.
'I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.'
Michelangelo, Italian artist (1475-1564)

Using the story

A vision, whether individual or corporate, begins with a dream. The vision is effectively an imagined picture of a desired outcome, just as Michelangelo conjured when he stood in front of the shapeless rock, preparing to work on a new sculpture.
Use this story to underline how important it is to visualise the outcome from the start. The story also makes the point that it still requires a great deal of painstaking work (‘chipping away’) to ensure that the dream is realised.
More extracts to come, but if you can't wait or you want them all in one published collection you can download the book to your Kindle or Nook.