Words of Wisdom for
Leadership, Learning, and Life in
Exactly 99 Words
99's On the Go

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99-Word Stories by ,
Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2011 Brian Remer
Updated Dec. 2011

99's on the 9th
A Newsletter of 99-Word Stories that
comes to you on the 9th of every month.

(Click here to see an alternate interpretation from a reader below.)

May 2011

Built to Last
The Incan ruins of Machu Pichu are famous for their massive stone walls fitted together without mortar. Even after hundreds of years, the blocks are so tight there's not the slightest gap between them. What's more, each block has a unique, irregular shape. Some are larger than an SUV!

Why build with such irregular stones when clearly any shape could have been fashioned? Because these walls have withstood earth quakes when walls of standardized block have crumbled.

Helping people fit into the place that's best for them builds a stronger organization than forcing people to conform.


You can build upon the theme of this 99-Word Story by using some of the following questions for your own reflection or to spark a discussion within your team or organization.


One Interpretation
There are many ways to understand this story as the discussion questions suggest. If you or your group would like to compare or contrast your interpretation with an outside viewpoint, consider this analysis.

Managers have the job of making sure an organization runs as efficiently and predictably as possible. Leaders, however, have the responsibility to set a course and inspire people to contribute their best toward a shared goal. Both roles are necessary in an organization and both can be focused and highly directed. But neither managers nor leaders need work in ways that stifle creativity. When people are forced to squeeze themselves into a way of doing things that they didn't choose, some of their vitality trickles out too.

Coaches and mentors are in a position to recognize and encourage the unique talents and gifts that "shape" the contribution each member of an organization can make. Managers are in a position to remove the barriers that might prevent someone from making their best contribution. They help make the right "fit" between talent and task. Leaders provide the "internal reinforcement" necessary to withstand the violent turbulence in markets, the economy, or funding sources that is bound to occur. By championing the vision of the organization, leaders constantly remind everyone of why their collective work matters and how it will change the big picture over the long term.

The challenge for leaders, managers, mentors, and coaches is to create an environment where singular talents can be focused toward a common purpose. When that happens, people and the organizations they work in thrive. Face it, without the specialized input of each person, your whole enterprise might be sitting on a fault line waiting for disaster. Capitalize on those talents and you'll be ready to withstand the inevitable tectonic shifts and shakes.


Reader Interpretation

Your 99 word Incan story concerns what may be the most troublesome aspect of organizations, or even groups in particular. I tried to argue with my colleagues and authorities, when I was trying to teach with games - or for that matter teach at all in a significant manner - that there are two kinds of discipline.

The discipline of the military is necessary when it is important that all forces act simultaneously, because separate actions would have no impact, and many battles have been lost because the attacks went in separately. Lee lost at Gettysburg - happily ! - because he attacked successively.

In a school, impact comes from successive actions, rather than simultaneous ones, and from the differences, rather than the similarities. The discipline of the school needs the other kind of discipline, that of the circus. In a circus each performer accepts a rigorous discipline to master his field, but each discipline has different requirements.

An organization can have a requirement of results, or a requirement of conformity. The conformity of my college I always associated with its origin in the Catholic Church, which ran all schools and colleges here until fifty years ago. In many ways, the ministry of education has inherited the Catholic vision: schools must draw up plans that conform to the official doctrine.

Since my brother is a civil servant for the Canadian government, he is able to note that the English civil service has its roots in the military, hence a requirement of results, while the Québec civil service has its roots in the Church. However, you are working in a country with English and Protestant cultural roots, and the same issues arise. Obviously then, the Catholic origins of Québec are not a sufficient, or even necessary, explanation.

Perhaps the answer is that everywhere, authority is concerned with control before all else. The military and the circus share a common characteristic, in that the inefficient get killed, and conformity to a doctrine does not help.

You might propose a description of a circus in which all performers do exactly the same thing, and raise the question, would you want to visit such a circus? A comparison of the resemblances and differences between circuses in different cultures also sounds like an intriguing subject !

Amitiés, Pierre Corbeil, Montreal


Did you use this 99-Word Story and the discussion questions or interpretation in your work or personal life? If so, about your experience! If you would like help using 99-Word Stories in your organization, please me.

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