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.
© 2013 Brian Remer
Updated Apr. 2013

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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.

Special Notice:
If you like 99-Word Stories and want to learn how to use them for teaching, plan to attend the conference of the New England chapter of the American Society for Training and Development. Brian will be presenting "Why Short Stories Rock" on April 26 at NEASTD in Chelmsford, MA. Click HERE for registration details.

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April 2013

Read this story aloud or make copies for your group or team members.

Trash or Treasure
"Used bicycle parts - Some junk"

That's the label on a typical cardboard box in Ralph's garage. This barn beside his home where he has lived (and accumulated) for over 50 years used to have space for three cars. Today there is barely room for one. The building is stuffed with treasures only Ralph would value. Bent yard tools, charred clothes from a house fire, a child's kindergarten craft projects, boxed and labeled fill the space from floor to ceiling. You can find anything.

Unfortunately, it's not enough to be organized if you're still surrounded by junk.

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.

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.

Things fall apart but that doesn't always mean they've become useless.

We all know the adage that trash for one is treasure for another. The complication is that trash for me today might also be treasure for me tomorrow. So, instead of giving our old goods away, we hang onto stuff that's a bit busted. If we can box it, label it, shelve it, we might (just might) be able to locate it when we need it as treasure.

There is more than one irony at work in the story of Ralph and his garage. The trash-or-treasure determination is obviously a matter of perspective. And although Ralph seems to have made the decision about some items, he still keeps the junk. The question is why? Is it the notion that he will one day sit down with his grandchildren for a sentimental Saturday of storytelling? Perhaps he thinks a piece of junk will yield just the right washer for a fix-it project and it's easier to scavenge the castoffs later than salvage the odds and ends now. Maybe what he really needs is to borrow a truck for a run to the dump!

Beyond this, there is a concern about whether the close proximity of junk and useful stuff is a problem. Might useful items become "contaminated" by junk? This is certainly true of food. Separate the fresh onions from the ones sprouting green hair or you won't be able to make dinner! Even with bicycle parts, it might be difficult to find a useful piece mixed among a box of junk.

If we are successful in separating all the trash and drag it to the dumpster, the good stuff left on the shelf is not immune to becoming junk all by itself. The concept of entropy suggests that everything decays, decomposes, breaks down. A new item in its original packaging will eventually become useless. Whether computer components or a strategic plan, leave it on the shelf long enough and it becomes outmoded and no longer compatible with current technology. In short, the more we use something the greater its usefulness tends to become.

Of course, this line of thinking is relevant beyond the realm of tangible objects. As the discussion questions suggest, there may be old-time policies or procedures that have an adverse effect on the organizational changes we need to make to stay relevant. In our personal lives, there may be disagreements, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings from the past that are mixed into our current relationships. Making the explicit decision to purge these poisoning memories takes courage but could leave pure gold.

Whether we are talking about objects or ideas, organization is good. But it's only the first step to staying relevant. Real utility comes with periodic review of what we've saved, intentional questioning of whether it's useful, and unsentimental winnowing of what's out-of-date.

Learn these skills and become a treasure to your team and your organization.

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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