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.
© 2012 Brian Remer
Updated June 2012

Read my new book
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99's on the 9th

Ideas based on 99-Word Stories that
come to you on the 9th of every month.

June 2012

Seeing the Big Picture
I needed to find my way through a large, unfamiliar metro area. Fortunately I was able to borrow my sister's car equipped with a GPS navigation system. With this handy device I sliced through city traffic during rush hour with ease. I just kept one eye on the readout and listened for the prompts.

But the trip wasn't without anxiety. Several times, the gentle metallic voice gave instructions that were counterintuitive. At 65 mph it was very disconcerting!

I realized that discrete instructions do not always make sense if you don't know the whole picture.


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 discssion within your team or organization.


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:

If you want to learn something, if you need to go from "here" to "there," ask an expert. Access the best information and advice you can, right? The problem is, you might get more than you need. Experts, especially when they are teaching, want to share everything they know. They have spent years honing their skills, becoming more and more proficient. All those facts they know in detail are important. Except all the details may not be important for you. Being able to identify every tree in the forest won't help if you're still lost in the woods.

Too much detail is not helpful for new learners. Discrete elements need to be balanced with an appreciation for the overall concepts, the big picture. This is hardly a difficult notion yet it is frequently overlooked. As mentioned, subject matter experts are often guilty of missing the forest for the trees. But any of us might forget to share the big picture when we don't state a goal clearly or when we assume everyone has agreed on the same goal. The result for others, on an emotional level, is like being told to take a right turn where there is no exit ramp.

If you are using a GPS to cross the city, there are several strategies to help you avoid the emotional dislocation of surprise directives. You can study a map before you leave, identify potential trouble spots in your route, program a secondary route into the GPS, compare the map and satellite views of the route, and ask locals for directions.

What are the parallel strategies in the work place? For example, when managing a project, careful preparation before starting, identification of milestones and bottlenecks in the process, devising contingency plans, comparing multiple perspectives of your team members, and asking for help along the way are strategies that come to mind.

Seeing the big picture and having simple instructions works in nature all the time. Consider the flight of a flock of birds. Big picture: Stay Safe. Simple instructions: Stay in a group; Keep a distance of two wing-spans from the next bird; If you see a predator, go home.

A cereal manufacturer applied this principle in its operation. Big picture: Stay Safe. Simple instructions: Operate machines safely; Look for the "red flags" that indicate unsafe conditions; If you see a red flag, fix it or clean it up then tell your team leader.

We might think we are being helpful by giving blow-by-blow instructions with all the fine points. But sometimes, too much detail underutilizes the experience and know-how of those doing the work. People can work smart on their own - and they enjoy a challenge. Give them the big picture and simple instructions and they can usually figure out the details, avoid the trees, and arrive at their destination on time and intact.


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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