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 June 2015

99's on the 9th

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

June 2015 - Room to Wiggle: Fifty Shades of...

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

Room to Wiggle
The steam room at the "Y" has just one switch: on or off. Flip the switch and wait. Is it really on? Something must be happening deep inside the plumbing guts of the health club but you don't know what until a spray of steam shoots into the small room. That's when you know it's "on."

A binary system is OK for computers, but in real life there is wiggle room. A lot can happen between on and off, left and right, liberal and conservative.

How often do we needlessly confine ourselves to only two options?

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.

Fifty Shades of...
Look at the illustration below: a light square with a dark circle; a dark square with a light circle. In all, four shades of grey.

But wait! The circle in the middle of each square is exactly the same shade of grey! To prove it, take a third identical circle, overlap both squares, and you can easily see that all three circles are the same.

There is no such thing as absolute black or absolute white even though we think of them that way. Sitting indoors, the amount of light reflected from the white space on a newspaper to your eye is less than the light reflected from the black ink when you sit outside in the sunshine. You only see different areas of your newspaper as black or white because of the relative contrast between them.

Similarly, you perceive the circles as different shades of grey because you see each surrounded and contrasted with a different background.

North Americans seem to thrive on dualities and extremes. And there's no better example of this than our news media. Stories are told in black and white terms that highlight the differences between views. Of course, it's good to hear both sides of an issue but we also rarely hear a third or fourth perspective. Depending on the news story or the reporting source, some stories are exaggerated pitting "good" against "evil." Even more rarely does anyone highlight the overlapping ideas and concerns that those with opposite ideas may share.

An article in the January 31, 2011 issue of the Christian Science Monitor titled "Why Most Americans Are Both Liberal and Conservative," offers an example of how nuanced opinions are overlooked by the news media. The article sites polling data that shows most Americans espouse a mixture of conservative and liberal roles for government. The majority of Americans prefer a smaller federal government with local control, a conservative stance. But at the same time, they also prefer broad social programs like Social Security that promote equal opportunities, a liberal point of view. Interestingly, the article points out that this "in between" preference of most Americans has been true throughout much of our history.

This fascination with extremes hampers the ability to use our full creative potential because the most fertile ground for innovation is where unusual ideas overlap. In the book Where Good Ideas Come From, author Steven Johnson writes about liquid networks; the fluid exchange of ideas when different viewpoints intersect. He argues that creative concepts are spawned when unlikely notions converge.

Roger Martin, in his book The Opposable Mind, calls this integrative thinking, which is the ability to face the tension of opposable ideas and, instead of choosing one over the other, create a new idea that contains elements of both yet is better than either.

Integrative thinkers, Martin found, differ from conventional thinkers in four ways: a.) they consider more features of a problem; b.) they consider multidirectional and nonlinear causality; c.) they visualize the whole while working on individual parts; and d.) they search for a creative resolution of tensions.

Referring again at the black and white boxes, the circles seem very different. It's impossible to not be influenced by the background context. But within each of these extremes, there is a shade of gray, a common element, that, when examined closely, overlaps and intersects.

Looking for wiggle room is how we get to Yes. Along the way, it also illuminates new ground for collaboration we never knew existed.




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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