Words of Wisdom for
Leadership, Learning, and Life in
Exactly 99 Words

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99-Word Stories by ,
Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2013 Brian Remer
Updated August 2013

Boredom Busters
Boosting Engagement in Meetings, Classrooms, and Trainings

September 23, 2013
More Information Here.

99's on the 9th

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





August 2013

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

Deficit or Asset?
Devon is a boy with autism. His biggest problem is that he reads and spells out every road sign on car trips. His parents dreaded driving. They could not abide his annoying habit - until they took a wrong turn onto a back street in Boston. It was Devon who saved them by reciting every street they had driven through.

Who would have thought: a different situation and Devon's deficit became an asset. Now he takes the copilot's seat for every road trip.

Sometimes a person's problem is really a gift if we give them the opportunity.


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.

Shrek: "Now, why don't you go stay with your own friends, hum?"
Donkey: "But, I don't have any friends."

This brief dialogue is between two characters played by Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy in the 2001 movie Shrek. Shrek is a brutish, fearsome ogre accustomed to solitude and "doing things his way." Donkey, just escaped from his master and the king's soldiers, is looking for a safe place to stay. Everyone watching the movie knows exactly why Donkey is not welcome as Shrek's guest. Donkey cannot stop talking. Every thought he has comes burbling out of his mouth without passing through a social politeness filter. His rapid-fire chatter is exhausting and rude. He alternates ingratiating flattery with unrelenting whining in a continuous flood that eventually results in reluctant submission to his wishes. It's easy to see why he doesn't have any friends. In every sense of the word, Donkey is an ass.

Later, Donkey comes nose to nose with a hungry, fire breathing dragon. Instead of becoming the Dragon's dinner, Donkey saves himself by using the same tactics. His non-stop chatter becomes the gift of improvisation. The absence of a politeness filter enables Donkey to state the obvious. His ingratiating flattery and unrelenting whining, come across to the Dragon as charming complements delivered persistently. Donkey's character is completely consistent throughout the film but in this situation with this individual (the Dragon), his annoying traits actually help him become successful.

Fiction provides an entertaining way to identify and address annoying behaviors. Characterizations within a story like Shrek allow us to talk about interpersonal issues without identifying a specific individual and having to negotiate an awkward conversation. But in our day-to-day lives, it's not enough to name "bad" behavior or write it off as an unavoidable "personality difference." We need strategies to change what annoys us. If the problem would go away, or, better yet, become transformed into a valuable asset, we all win.

It's extremely difficult for me to imagine how your annoying behavior might become a valuable asset. But that's because I might be exactly the wrong person meeting you in precisely the wrong situation. I can only experience the world from my own self-absorbed perspective. From this vantage point, I make observations, zero in on a few details, interpret and judge those details, and, finally, take action. My assessment of your behavior originates from a narrow slice of what I observed - leaving a lot of room for interpretation! (A helpful tool for examining one's assumptions is "The Ladder of Inference" discussed in The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook by Peter Senge, Random House, 1994.)

When we see someone whose behavior grates on our nerves it's instructive to remember that there are people who like that person, and love them, for exactly who they are. Our challenge then becomes discovering what is likeable about that person. Is there a context in which the annoyances might become assets?

I'm not suggesting that we excuse all inappropriate behavior. Instead, I am recommending we keep open to the notion that there may be a different way to interpret a person's actions. What they say and do is the best way they know in that moment to get what they need or do what they want. If we can help them achieve that, we all will have received a gift.


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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