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 Mar. 2013

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.

March 2013

Readers Write
"If all else fails, read the directions." Those were my grandfather's favorite words of advice. You can read a clever twist on these life instructions in a 99-Word Story written by reader Michael Clark. Click HERE.


99-Word Story

Being the Crowd
When I walked into the pool for a swim, a small group was just leaving. I overheard them grumbling about how crowded the pool was that day. When I mentioned this to Phil, a swimming buddy, he replied with irony, "They would certainly know about crowds. They brought one with them!"

He was right. When you add four people to this small lap pool it's suddenly very crowded, but the place was nearly empty now.

Some say you are either part of the problem or part of the solution. I say each of us is both.


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.

We were deep in the tropical jungle of Ecuador at the headwaters of the Amazon. I was leading a group of teenagers who were all chattering excitedly about the exotic birds and animals they expected to see as we set out on our hike into the wild. Ernesto, our guide, gathered everyone around. Motioning to the dense undergrowth and looming forest canopy he whispered, "Everyone here is either looking for food or trying to keep from being eaten. If you want to see any creatures, you must be absolutely silent."

The young people tried to be quiet but they were more successful in proving how difficult it is to insert oneself into a situation without creating a problem for someone else!

In the natural environment, we see a common pattern: what is good for one species is a problem for another. A large fox population means bad news for the mice in their territory. But, if the mouse population drops too low, the foxes suffer and die off or leave. Eventually, the mice thrive.

In a suburban supermarket, shoppers enjoy low-priced foods supplied by multi-national agra-giants while small family farming operations have gone out of business. On the other hand, a small organic farm supplies quality food but it is only available locally at a higher price, leaving many consumers frustrated.

In the global energy market, fracking provides oil and badly needed jobs for the local economy. At the same time, the environment and water table suffer while those who over consume energy resources are not encouraged to conserve.

In situations like these, who is the winner, who is the loser? Who causes the problem and who solves it? In fact, the real problem may be our own dualistic thinking. We tend to see problems as black or white, people as good or bad, solutions as right or wrong. Then, when we put ourselves into the positive side of the duality, it becomes crystal clear that the other person caused the problem and has the responsibility to solve it!

In his book, The Opposable Mind, Roger Martin notes that the best solutions come from integrative thinking. With this mindset, we hold onto the tension between ideas that are opposites. We resist the tendency to choose one perspective over the other. Instead, we examine several viewpoints and look for ways to integrate them into a new solution that is better than either of the dualities.

Martin maintains that, with practice, we can learn to overcome our dualistic tendencies. It begins with our mental model or, as he refers to it, our stance. To integrate opposing views and invent the unexpected solution, one begins by recognizing that each point of view gives only a partial glimpse of reality. With this stance, we begin to see that every perspective has some validity. Integrative thinkers consider more features of a problem, look for nonlinear causality, and visualize the whole while working on a discrete part.

When we learn to take the stance that we are both the problem and the solution, we can march into any jungle with eyes open to all the beauty, wonder, danger, peace, insensitivity, humor, and (insert your perspective here).

Learn more about Roger Martin and The Opposable Mind with this review and discussion posted in The Firefly News Flash, June 2011.


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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