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

NEW at 99-Word Stories

Talk Quick!
99-Word Stories to Spark Discussion about Common Management Issues
by Brian Remer

Talk Quick! is a collection of group discussion starters designed to inspire meaningful conversations about important management issues.
(12 Discussion Activities, 33 pages, Cross Referenced, $10)

Learn more HERE.

99's On the Go

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99-Word Stories by ,
Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2014 Brian Remer
Updated Feb. 2015

99's on the 9th

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

What can you do with 99 Words? Read the account of an English language teacher who invited his students to write about their experiences in exactly 99 Words. Click Here.

January 2015

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

The Passing Lane
Ahead of me climbing the steep mountain highway, three cars and a very slow truck jockey for dominance. The drivers all know this is the only passing lane for several miles. I can just imagine the tension in those cars as everyone tries to get around the lumbering truck before the passing lane ends. They are bumper to bumper at 60 mph!

Two cars pass the truck. Not me. But at the top of the hill, the truck makes a left turn onto another highway.

Some problems take care of themselves. Some problems we make ourselves.


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.

"You are either part of the problem or part of the solution."

Most of us have probably heard this observation before. Usually it's uttered by someone who thinks we ought to take a more active role in fixing something. Once in a while it is used as a helpful way to reframe a situation and make an answer more obvious. But this binary thinking doesn't necessarily describe the whole situation.

In the 99-Word Story, for example, the slow truck is a part of the problem for the cars behind it. But the cars competing with each other increase the danger for themselves and the truck. The driver of the truck may not even know that cars are trying to pass. And certainly, the drivers of the cars cannot know that the truck is going slowly because it will soon turn. Now we see that everyone is part of the problem and part of the solution.

As the narrator implies, if everyone would back off a bit, perhaps no one would have a problem at all.

So, do we have a problem here? Well, it depends on who you ask. And who you ask will determine how the problem is framed. And framing a problem determines its solution.

Look at public education in the United States. A study may show that US students rank lower than other countries in Math and Science test scores. A teachers' union might say we don't have enough qualified teachers so let's do more training. A group of female business leaders might say there are not enough women studying Science so let's have more scholarships. A sociologist might say the early years are most critical for all education so we need more money for preschool and kindergarten. And an economist might say we don't care how we rank with other countries, our GNP is still the highest so we don't even have a problem!

Each of these viewpoints has some validity but each also has limitations because people are not asking enough questions to flesh out all the dimensions of the issue. To be specific, no one is asking the most critical question often enough. That critical question is Why?

In his book The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, Peter Senge describes an exercise called "The Five Whys." It's simple. You notice a problem and you ask Why. Then you keep asking Why at least five times so that you can uncover dimensions of the situation that are not obvious.

This is important because often we see a problem and immediately try to solve it. When we invent solutions without first agreeing on what the problem is, we may only add to the difficulty of the situation.

Is the truck going too slowly or are we going too fast? Are we in such a hurry to get to our destination that we create a greater problem along the way? Some problems solve themselves because there never was a problem to begin with.


The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook by Peter Senge, Doubleday, 1994, ISBN: 0-385-47256-0


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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