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 Oct. 2013

99's on the 9th

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

October 2013

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

Culture Crash
After 2 years of driving in the congested, chaotic traffic of Ecuador, my wife could not adjust to the traffic patterns at home. The high-speed weaving and dodging that was an effective strategy abroad was downright dangerous back in the U.S. Behind the wheel, she found it difficult to change her habits.

Here was a reminder of how easily we adopt the culture we find ourselves in. With enough exposure, nearly any behavior becomes "normal."

Do we make conscious decisions about the cultural elements that surround us? Do we shape organizational culture or let ourselves be shaped?


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.

Habits make us more efficient.

Follow a habit and you don't have to analyze, interpret, and strategize for every move you make. Our brains look for patterns in events, slot information into categories, and build a web of associations for easy reference. This ability of our brains to act quickly has survival value. It has fueled our evolution and set us apart from other creatures, even other primates. It is the basis of learning - perhaps even the definition of learning.

They say old habits die hard. But new habits are formed more easily than we realize. To demonstrate, try this quick activity the next time you are in front of a group.

Explain in your own words that we often learn things quickly and easily without even realizing it. Tell people you will ask a few questions and you'd like everyone to say the answer out loud all together. Ask the first question:

"If I take an acorn, plant it in the ground, the tree that grows is one that we call an…"

You should hear the answer, "oak." Ask everyone to repeat it loudly in unison. Then ask the next question:

"A short, humorous story is called a…"

Listen for the word "joke," and ask everyone to repeat it if the response was lackluster. Ask the next question:

"The sound a frog makes is…"

People will say "croak." Sometimes a person will give some other response. If this happens, simply state the correct answer, "croak," and ask everyone to repeat it. Then without pause ask this question:

"The white of an egg is called the…"

Nearly everyone will say, "yoke." Pause to let the collective answer sink in then point out that the correct answer should be "albumen" or "the white of the egg."

If you ask why so many people gave the wrong answer, you can spark some interesting learning in your group. Typically, participants point out that the rhyming set a pattern. Others say they didn't really think about their decision. Some were caught up as members of the larger group while still others will point out that they were following the directions of a respected leader.

Interestingly, all of these reasons help to explain why old habits are hard to break and new ones can be easy to initiate! Established habits are reinforced and new habits are taught by the same social forces: simple and familiar systems, lack of mental presence, group think, and the modeling of leadership.

New habits, old habits which will you follow? It comes down to what you surround yourself with. So, if new habits are easy to establish, let's make sure we teach each other positive habits so that no one ends up with egg on their face.

For more information:

For more information about the habitual workings of your brain, read Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow, Pantheon Books, New York, 2012, ISBN 978-0-307-37821-7


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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