Stories and Analogies to Support Your Speech

Analogies and stories are one of the most powerful speech strategies available to a technical presenter. An analogy or story anchors a complex technical idea to a concept or idea that an audience already understands. When you use an analogy, you are using the audience’s prior knowledge and understandings to explain your technical concept. This is a much deeper form of learning because it is anchored to something that was already in their brain. As a result, the retention of concepts explained with analogies can be much higher because the listener’s brain already has a place to file that information, instead of having to create an entirely new file from scratch.

Stories can be used to illustrate all sorts of themes and lessons, and most stories are extremely flexible.

Use your imagination – in most stories you can find many other themes to suit your own purposes.

(1) The Butcher Story
(business ethics, chickens come home to roost, sins discovered, getting caught out, lying to customers)/span>

(2) The Human Resources Story
(new starter induction, ironic reference to human resources management, keeping promises, employment standards)/span>

(3) The Shepherd Story
(IT consultants, business consultancy, knowing your facts – ironic example)

(4) Letter from College
(communication, money, saying no, words with a different meaning)

(5) A Short Story About Eggs
(habits, choices, assumptions)

(6) Another Short Story About Eggs
(time management, creative thinking and problem-solving)

(7) The Old Lady and the Hearing-Aid Story
(assumptions about weaknesses, underestimating people, tactical advantage)

(8)The Swimming Pool Story
(reviews and asessments, assessing people, things are not always what they seem)

(9) The Negotiation Story
(negotiating, men and women, funny responses)

(10) The “We’ve always done it that way..” Story
(time management, challenging habits and questioning procedures, challenging assumptions and belief systems)

(11) The Cannibals Story
(management, managers, secretaries, initiative, habits, conforming, rules and rule-breaking)

(12) The Microsoft Story
(computers, WYSInotWYG, ironic reference to computer software problems)

(13) The Businessman and the Fisherman Story
(ambition, wealth creation, change for change’s sake, purpose of life, work and fulfilment)

(14) The Aunt Karen Story
(relevance and reliability of lessons, morals and examples)

(15) The Sweet Old Couple Story
(dangers of making assumptions, understand before you intervene)

(16) The Three Engineers Story
(different approaches to problem-solving, modern IT, etc)

(17) The Donkey Story
(positive attitudes, turning problems into opportunities)

(18) The Fish Baking Story
(to challenge belief systems and assumptions, and illustrate pointless routine and the need for questioning)

(19) The Bank Story
(a lesson in customer service, how bad policy encourages poor service)

(20) The Clap and Cheer Story
(positive attitude, taking pride in whatever you do)

(21) The Angry Customer Story
(funny customer service example)

(22) The Old Couple Story
(positive/negative outlook, blame, attitude)

(23) No Exit Story
(different perspectives, viewpoints, how different perspectives cause one thing to appear as two different things)

(24) Performance Evaluation
(theory x shortcomings, management myopia)

(25) The Rowing Competition Story
(identifying and managing performance improvement, establishing cause and accountability, theory x vs theory y, daft executive judgements)

(26) The Sergeant Major’s Rude Parrot Story
(examples of management styles)

(27) The Bed Time Story
(communications, men and women, communications methods, relationships)

(28) The New Employee Story
(importance of induction training for new starters, initiative and lateral thinking, interpretation, delegation, rules, checking and monitoring)

(29) The Stranger and the Gingernuts Story
(making assumptions, think before you act, different perspectives)

(30) The Sales and Marketing Rugby Analogy Story
(for teams, motivation, team-building, departmental cooperation, training, public speaking)

(31) The Blind Golfers Story
(an ironic example of lack of empathy, and different people’s perspectives)

(32) The Gorilla Story
(negotiating, understanding communications, agreeing clear objectives and responsibilities)

(33) The Jesse James Story
(tactics, morality, good and bad in us all)

(34) The Gandhi Shoe Story
(selfless compassion, generosity without strings)

(35) The Biscuit Factory Story
(making assumptions, other people’s perspectives, individual needs and motivations)

(36) The Train Travellers Story
(relationships, assumptions, etc)

(37) The Wrong Guy Interview Story
(interviews, preparation, thinking on your feet, communications)

(38) The God and Eve Story
(gender and sexual discrimination, equality, battle of the sexes debates, after-dinner speaking, etc)

(39) Direct Mail Campaign Clanger Story
(human nature, integrity, delegation and training, and advertising is a funny business…)

(40) The Bath and the Bucket Story
(lateral thinking, making assumptions, dangers of judging people)

(41) The Shoes Story
(positive thinking, negative thinking, attitude, perspective, mindset)

(42) The Blind Man and the Advertsing Story
(communications, perceptions, empathy, connecting with people, advertising, marketing, language meaning, intervention, helping others, expertise, equality, discrimination)

(43) The Man, the Boy and the Hotel Story
(assumptions, customer service, helping others, kindness, humanity)

(44) The Bishop The Priest and the Ladle Story
(assumptions, deceitfulness, dishonesty, creative problem-solving, arrogance, delusion)

(45) The Mechanic and the Surgeon Story
(perceptions, the devil is in the detail, the nature of big differences)

(46) The Jewels Story
(enjoyment, fulfillment, possession, wealth, materialism, greed)

(47) The Mobile Phone Story
(assumptions, authority, control, the risks of modern communications and technology, privacy, security, identity theft, etc)

(48) The Balloon Story
(business, IT, humour, funny business story)

(49) The Rocks in Bucket
(time management, personal change, managing your activities and environment, project management)

(50) The MS Windows Car Story
(the power of PR, clever publicity, using humour for publicity, don’t get mad get even))

(business ethics, chickens come home to roost, sins discovered, getting caught out, lying to customers)

A butcher, who had had a particularly good day, proudly flipped his last chicken on a scale and weighed it.
"That will be £6.35," he told the customer.

"That’s a good price, but it really is a little too small,"said the woman. "Don’t you have anything

Hesitating, but thinking fast, the clerk returned the chicken to the refrigerator, paused a moment, then took it out again.

"This one," he said faintly, "will be £6.65."

The woman paused for a moment, then made her decision…

"I know what," she said, "I’ll take both of them!"

<(new starter induction, ironic reference to human resources management, keeping promises, employment standards)

A highly successful Human Resources Manager was tragically knocked down by a bus and killed. Her soul arrived at the Pearly Gates, where St. Peter welcomed her:

"Before you get settled in," he said, "We have a little problem… you see, we’ve never had a Human Resources Manager make it this far before and we’re not really sure what to do with you."

"Oh, I see," said the woman. "Can’t you just let me in?"

"Well, I’d like to," said St Peter, "But I have higher orders. We’re instructed to let you have a day in hell and a day in heaven, and then you are to choose where you’d like to go for all eternity."

"Actually, I think I’d prefer heaven", said the woman.

"Sorry, we have rules…" at which St. Peter put the HR Manager into the downward bound elevator.

As the doors opened in hell she stepped out onto a beautiful golf course. In the distance was a country club; around her were many friends – past fellow executives, all smartly dressed, happy, and cheering for her. They ran up and kissed her on both cheeks and they talked about old times. They played a perfect round of golf and afterwards went to the country club where she enjoyed a superb steak and lobster dinner. She met the Devil, who was actually rather nice, and she had a wonderful night telling jokes and dancing. Before she knew it, it was time to leave; everyone shook her hand and waved goodbye as she stepped into the elevator. The elevator went back up to heaven where St. Peter was waiting for her.

"Now it’s time to spend a day in heaven," he said.

So she spent the next 24 hours lounging around on clouds and playing the harp and singing, which was almost as enjoyable as her day in hell. At the day’s end St Peter returned.

"So," he said, "You’ve spent a day in hell and you’ve spent a day in heaven. You must choose between the two."

The woman thought for a second and replied, "Well, heaven is certainly lovely, but I actually had a better time in hell. I choose hell."

Accordingly, St. Peter took her to the elevator again and she went back down to hell.

When the doors of the elevator opened she found herself standing in a desolate wasteland covered in garbage and filth. She saw her friends dressed in rags, picking up rubbish and putting it in old sacks. The Devil approached and put his arm around her.

"I don’t understand," stuttered the HR Manager, "Yesterday I was here, and there was a golf course, and a country club, and we ate lobster, and we danced and had a wonderful happy time. Now all there’s just a dirty wasteland of garbage and all my friends look miserable."

The Devil looked at her and smiled. "Yesterday we were recruiting you, today you’re staff."

(IT consultants, business consultancy, knowing your facts – ironic example)

A shepherd was tending his flock in a field, when a new sports car screeched to a stop on the road nearby in a cloud of dust. The driver, a young man in expensive designer clothes and sunglasses, leans out of the window and shouts over to the shepherd, "If I tell you exactly how many sheep you have here, can I take one?"

The shepherd looks up slowly up at the young man, then looks at his peaceful flock, and calmly answers, "Sure, why not?"

The young man steps out of his car holding a state-of-the-art palmtop pda, with which he proceeds to connects to a series of websites, first calling up satellite navigation system to pinpoint his location, then keying in the location to generate an ultra-high resolution picture of the field. After emailing the photo to an image processing facility, the processed data is returned, which he then feeds into an online database, and enters the parameters for a report. Within another few seconds a miniature printer in the car produces a full colour report containing several pages of analysis and results. The young man studies the data for a few more seconds and returns to the shepherd.

"You have exactly one-thousand five-hundred and eighty-six sheep, including three rams, and seven-hundred and twenty-two lambs."

"That’s right," says the shepherd, mildly impressed. "Well, I guess that means you get to take one of my sheep."

The young man makes his choice and loads the animal onto the back seat of his car, at which the shepherd says, almost as an afterthought, "Hey there, if I can tell you what your business is, will you give me back my sheep?"

The young man, feeling confident, agrees.

"You’re a consultant," says the shepherd.

"Wow, that’s right," says the young man, taken aback, "How did you guess that?"

"No guessing required," answers the shepherd, "You showed up here even though nobody called you. You took a fee for giving me an answer that already know, to a question I never asked, and you know nothing about my business. Now give me back my dog."

(communication, money, saying no, words with a different meaning)

Dear Dad,
$chool i$ really great. I am making lot$ of friend$ and $tudying very hard. I $imply can’t think of anything I need, $o if you would like, you can ju$t $end me a card, a$ I would love to hear from you.

Your $on

The Reply:

Dear Son,
I kNOw that astroNOmy, ecoNOmics, and oceaNOgraphy are eNOugh to keep even an hoNOr student busy. Do NOt forget that the pursuit of kNOwledge is a NOble task, and you can never study eNOugh.



Adolescent: A teenager who acts like a baby when you don’t treat him like an adult

Babysitter: Someone you pay to watch your television and eat your food

Boy: A noise with dirt on it

Brat: A child that acts like your own but belongs to someone else

Coffee: Break fluid

Dieting: Mind over platter

Diplomacy: The art of letting other people have your own way

Earthquake: A topographical error

Fairy Tale: A horror story to prepare children for the newspapers

Flashlight: A case for holding dead batteries

Grandparent: A grandchild’s press secretary

Honeymoon: The brief period of time between “I do” and “You’d better!”

Jury: Twelve people who determine which client has the better lawyer

Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math

Millionaire: A billionaire after his taxes are paid

Multitasking: Screwing up several things at once

Nostalgia: Living in the past lane

Shin: A device for finding furniture in the dark

Subdivision: A neighborhood where they cut down all the trees and then name streets after them

Tater-Tots: Children of couch potatoes

Will: A dead giveaway

(habits, choices, assumptions)

A man in a restaurant opened his menu and read: Today’s Special: Tongue of Chicken.
When the waitress walked to his table, he said, “Today’s Special is tongue of chicken? That’s disgusting! I would never consider eating anything that came out of a chicken’s mouth!”

The waitress said, “So what would you like to order?”

“Oh, just bring me some scrambled eggs,” the man replied.

(time management, creative thinking and problem-solving)

A young woman was in her kitchen.

A pan of water was simmering on the stove.

She was making boiled eggs for breakfast.

He walked in.

Their eyes met.

“Make love to me here, now,” she said.

They made love on the kitchen table.

“Couldn’t resist me, huh?” he said.

“The egg timer is broken,” she replied.

Of course this story is a bit far-fetched given that an egg timer lasts for three whole minutes.

(assumptions about weaknesses, underestimating people, tactical advantage)

An old lady had a hearing-aid fitted, hidden underneath her hair.

A week later she returned to the doctor for her check-up.

“It’s wonderful – I can hear everything now,” she reported very happily to the doctor.

“”And is your family pleased too?” asked the doctor.

“Oh I haven’t told them yet,” said the old lady, “And I’ve changed my will twice already..”

(Based on a letter published in the newspaper several years ago, I suspect variations of this story have been told many times elsewhere too.)

(reviews and asessments, assessing people, things are not always what they seem)

Fred and Mabel were both patients in a mental hospital. One day as they both walked beside the swimming pool, Mabel jumped into the deep end and sank to the bottom. Without a thought for his own safety, Fred jumped in after her, brought her to the surface, hauled her out, gave her the kiss of life and saved her.

The next day happened to be Fred’s annual review. He was brought before the hospital board, where the director told him, “Fred, I have some good news and some bad news: the good news is that in light of your heroic act yesterday we consider that you are sane and can be released from this home back into society. The bad news is, I’m afraid, that Mabel, the patient you saved, shortly afterwards hung herself in the bathroom with the belt from her bathrobe. I’m sorry but she’s dead.”

“She didn’t hang herself,” Fred replied, “put her there to dry.”

(negotiating, men and women, funny responses)

A sales-woman is driving home in the rain when she sees a little old lady walking by the roadside, heavily laden with shopping. Being a kindly soul, the sales-woman stops the car and invites the old lady to climb in. During their small talk, the old lady glances surreptitiously at a brown paper bag on the front seat between them. “If you are wondering what’s in the bag,” offers the sales-woman, “It’s a bottle of wine. I got it for my husband.” The little old lady is silent for a while, nods several times, and says …….. “Good trade.”

(time management, challenging habits and questioning procedures, challenging assumptions and belief systems)

Apparently this is based on a true incident. A quality management consultant was visiting a small and somewhat antiquated English manufacturing company, to advise on improving general operating efficiency. The advisor was reviewing a particular daily report which dealt with aspects of productivity, absentee rates, machine failure, down-time, etc. The report was completed manually onto a photocopied proforma that was several generations away from the original master-copy, so its headings and descriptions were quite difficult to understand. The photocopied forms were particularly fuzzy at the top-right corner, where a small box had a heading that was not clear at all.

The advisor was interested to note that the figure ’0′ had been written in every daily report for the past year. On questioning the members of staff who completed the report, they told him that they always put a zero in that box, and when he asked them why they looked at each other blankly. “Hmmm.., I’m not sure about that,” they each said, “I guess we’ve just always done it that way.”

Intrigued, the consultant visited the archives to see if he could find a clearer form, to discover what was originally being reported and whether it actually held any significance. When he found the old reports, he saw that the zero return had continued uninterrupted for as far back as the records extended – at least the past thirty years – but none of the forms was any clearer than those presently in use. A little frustrated, he packed away the old papers and turned to leave the room, but something caught his eye. In another box he noticed a folder, promisingly titled ‘master forms’. Sure enough inside it he found the original daily report proforma master-copy, in pristine condition. In the top right corner was the mysterious box, with the heading clearly shown …… ‘Number of Air Raids Today’.

(management, managers, secretaries, initiative, habits, conforming, rules and rule-breaking)

A big corporation hired several cannibals. “You are all part of our team now,” said the HR manager during the welcome briefing. “You get all the usual benefits and you can go to the cafeteria for something to eat, but please don’t eat any of the other employees.” The cannibals promised they would not.

A few weeks later the cannibals’ boss remarked, “You’re all working very hard, and I’m satisfied with you. However, one of our secretaries has disappeared. Do any of you know what happened to her?” The cannibals all shook their heads, “No,” they said.

After the boss left, the leader of the cannibals said to the others angrily, “Right, which one of you idiots ate the secretary?”

A hand rose hesitantly in admission. “You fool!” said the leader, “For weeks we’ve been eating managers and no one noticed anything, but nooo, you had to go and eat someone important!…”

(computers, WYSInotWYG, ironic reference to computer software problems)

In 2050 A.D. Bill Gates dies in a car accident. He finds himself in the Purgatory waiting room, when God enters…

“Well, Bill,” says God, “I’m confused. I’m not sure whether to send you to Heaven or Hell: you helped society enormously by putting a computer in almost every home in the world, and yet you’ve also created some of the most unearthly frustrations known to mankind. I’m going to do something I’ve never done before: I’m going to let you choose where you want to go.”

Bill replies, “Well, thanks, God. What’s the difference between the two?”

God says, “I’m willing to let you visit both places briefly to help you make your decision.”

“Okay, where should I go first?” asks Bill.

God says, “That’s up to you.”

Bill says, “OK, let’s try Hell first.”

So Bill goes to Hell. It’s a beautiful, clean, sandy beach with clear waters. There are thousands of beautiful women running around, playing in the water, laughing and frolicking about. The sun is shining, the temperature is just right. The whole thing looks perfect, and Bill is very pleased.

“This is great!” he tells God, “If this is Hell, I REALLY want to see Heaven!”

“Fine,” says God, and off they go.

Heaven is a high place in the clouds, with angels drifting about playing harps and singing. It very nice but not as enticing as Hell. Bill thinks for a moment and announces his decision.

“Hmm, I think I prefer Hell.” he tells God.

“Fine,” says God, “As you desire.”

So Bill Gates is taken to Hell.

Two weeks later, God decides to check up on Bill to see how he’s doing in Hell. When God arrives in Hell, he finds Bill shackled to a wall, screaming amongst the hot flames in a dark cave. He’s being burned and tortured by demons.

“How’s everything going, Bill?” God asks.

Bill replies, his voice full of anguish and disappointment, “This is awful, it’s not what I expected at all, I can’t believe it. What happened to that other place with the beaches and the beautiful women playing in the water?”

God smiles and says, “That was the screen saver.”

(ambition, wealth creation, change for change’s sake, purpose of life, work and fulfilment)

A management consultant, on holiday in a African fishing village, watched a little fishing boat dock at the quayside. Noting the quality of the fish, the consultant asked the fisherman how long it had taken to catch them.

“Not very long.” answered the fisherman.

“Then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the consultant.

The fisherman explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The consultant asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, have an afternoon’s rest under a coconut tree. In the evenings, I go into the community hall to see my friends, have a few beers, play the drums, and sing a few songs….. I have a full and happy life.” replied the fisherman.

The consultant ventured, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you…… You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have a large fleet. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to a city here or maybe even in the United Kingdom, from where you can direct your huge enterprise.”

“How long would that take?” asked the fisherman.

“Oh, ten, maybe twenty years.” replied the consultant.

“And after that?” asked the fisherman.

“After that? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the consultant, laughing, “When your business gets really big, you can start selling shares in your company and make millions!”
“Millions? Really? And after that?” pressed the fisherman.

“After that you’ll be able to retire, move out to a small village by the sea, sleep in late every day, spend time with your family, go fishing, take afternoon naps under a coconut tree, and spend relaxing evenings havings drinks with friends…”

(relevance and reliability of lessons, morals and examples)

A teacher told her young class to ask their parents for a family story with a moral at the end of it, and to return the next day to tell their stories.”

In the classroom the next day, Joe gave his example first, “My dad is a farmer and we have chickens. One day we were taking lots of eggs to market in a basket on the front seat of the truck when we hit a big bump in the road; the basket fell off the seat and all the eggs broke. The moral of the story is not to put all your eggs in one basket..”

“Very good,” said the teacher.

Next, Mary said, “We are farmers too. We had twenty eggs waiting to hatch, but when they did we only got ten chicks. The moral of this story is not to count your chickens before they’re hatched..”

“Very good,” said the teacher again, very pleased with the response so far.

Next it was Barney’s turn to tell his story: “My dad told me this story about my Aunt Karen…. Aunt Karen was a flight engineer in the war and her plane got hit. She had to bail out over enemy territory and all she had was a bottle of whisky, a machine gun and a machete.”

“Go on,” said the teacher, intrigued.

“Aunt Karen drank the whisky on the way down to prepare herself; then she landed right in the middle of a hundred enemy soldiers. She killed seventy of them with the machine gun until she ran out of bullets. Then she killed twenty more with the machete till the blade broke. And then she killed the last ten with her bare hands.”

“Good heavens,” said the horrified teacher, “What did your father say was the moral of that
frightening story?”

“Stay away from Aunt Karen when she’s been drinking…”

(dangers of making assumptions, understand before you intervene)

A little old couple walked into a fast food restaurant. The little old man walked up to the counter, ordered the food, paid, and took the tray back to the table where the little old lady sat. On the tray was a hamburger, a small bag of fries and a drink. Carefully the old man cut the hamburger in two, and divided the fries into two neat piles. He sipped the drink and passed it to the little old lady, who took a sip and passed it back.

A young man on a nearby table had watched the old couple and felt sorry for them. He offered to buy them another meal, but the old man politely declined, saying that they were used to sharing everything. The old man began to eat his food, but his wife sat still, not eating. The young continued to watch the couple. He still felt he should be offering to help. As the little old man finished eating, the old lady had still not started on her food. “Ma’am, why aren’t you eating?” asked the young man sympathetically.

The old lady looked up and said politely, “I’m waiting for the teeth..”

(different approaches to problem-solving, modern IT, etc)

A mechanical engineer, a systems engineer, and a software engineer are in a car driving down a steep mountain road when the brakes fail. The driver desperately pumps the brake pedal, trying to control the speeding vehicle around cliff-edge bends, while the passengers do their best not to panic. As the car hurtles towards an impossible corner the driver spots an escape route into a hedge and a haystack beyond, where the car eventually grinds to a surprisingly safe stop. The three engineers all get out, shaken, relieved, and take turns to assess the situation.

“‘Hmm,’ says the mechanical engineer, ‘It looks like a brake line was leaking – let’s repair the split, bleed the brakes, and we should be able to get on our way…”

The systems engineer thinks for a while and says, “Maybe we need to contact the manufacturer and the dealer to confirm exactly what the problem is…”

The software engineer slowly climbs into the driver’s seat and, gesturing for the others to join him, says, ‘How about we get back on the road and see if it happens again?..’

(positive attitudes, turning problems into opportunities)

One day a farmer’s donkey fell into a well. The farmer frantically thought what to do as the stricken animal cried out to be rescued. With no obvious solution, the farmer regretfully concluded that as the donkey was old, and as the well needed to be filled in anyway, he should give up the idea of rescuing the beast, and simply fill in the well. Hopefully the poor animal would not suffer too much, he tried to persuade himself.

The farmer asked his neighbours help, and before long they all began to shovel earth quickly into the well. When the donkey realised what was happening he wailed and struggled, but then, to everyone’s relief, the noise stopped.

After a while the farmer looked down into the well and was astonished by what he saw. The donkey was still alive, and progressing towards the top of the well. The donkey had discovered that by shaking off the dirt instead of letting it cover him, he could keep stepping on top of the earth as the level rose. Soon the donkey was able to step up over the edge of the well, and he happily trotted off.

Life tends to shovel dirt on top of each of us from time to time. The trick is to shake it off and take a step up.

(to challenge belief systems and assumptions, and illustrate pointless routine and the need for questioning service)

A little girl was watching her mother prepare a fish for dinner. Her mother cut the head and tail off the fish and then placed it into a baking pan. The little girl asked her mother why she cut the head and tail off the fish. Her mother thought for a while and then said, “I’ve always done it that way – that’s how babicka (Czech for grandma) did it.”

Not satisfied with the answer, the little girl went to visit her grandma to find out why she cut the head and tail off the fish before baking it.

Grandma thought for a while and replied, “I don’t know. My mother always did it that way. ”

So the little girl and the grandma went to visit great grandma to find ask if she knew the answer.

Great grandma thought for a while and said, “Because my baking pan was too small to fit in the whole fish “.

(a lesson in customer service, how bad policy encourages poor service)

I am assured this is a true story from a UK bank. The bank concerned had introduced a charge to be levied when people paid in money to be credited to an account held by a different bank. The charge was 50p and had been in force for about 6 months or so. A well to do, upper-class lady enters the bank and presents the cashier a cheque (check) which she asks to be paid into an account held by a different bank. The cashier duly tells the lady that there will be a charge of 50p. Indignantly, she tells him, “I wasn’t charged the last time.”

To which the cashier immediately replies, “Well that will be a pound then…”

(positive attitude, taking pride in whatever you do)

A small boy was auditioning with his classmates for a school play. His mother knew that he’d set his heart on being in the play – just like all the other children hoped too – and she feared how he would react if he was not chosen. On the day the parts were awarded, the little boy’s mother went to the school gates to collect her son. The little lad rushed up to her, eyes shining with pride and excitement. “Guess what Mum,” he shouted, and then said the words that provide a lesson to us all, “I’ve been chosen to clap and cheer.”

(funny customer service example)

Allegedly a true story from the old airport in Denver: a major airline had cancelled a very busy flight and a lone check-in agent is busy trying to sort out all the displaced passengers. A very angry and aggressive man barges his way to the front of the queue to confront her. He says says that he is flying first class and demands to go on the flight.

The agent politely explains the situation and asks that people take their place in the queue. The man bellows at her, “Do you know who I am?” – at which the agent calmly picks up the microphone for the PA system, and announces to the airport, “This is (airline name) desk 64; we have a gentleman here who does not know who he is. If anyone can come and identify him please do so.” The man, now purple with rage, yells at her, “Well f**k you..” – to which the agent replies, “And you’ll have to stand in line for that as well, Sir.”

(positive/negative outlook, blame, attitude)

An elderly couple, married for sixty years, took a rare vacation. They were not well-off but were in good health, perhaps because the wife had insisted on a strict diet of healthy foods, no alcohol, no smoking, and lots of gym exercise for most of their lives. Sadly their plane crashed however, and duly they both entered heaven, where St Peter escorted them through the Pearly Gates, and into a waiting limousine. Driving through beautiful countryside they drew up at a beautiful mansion and were shown inside. It was furnished in gold and fine silks, with a splendid kitchen and a sumptuous lounge stocked with wonderful food and drink – there was even a waterfall in the master bathroom. A maid was hanging beautiful designer clothes in the walk-in wardrobes. They gasped in astonishment when St Peter said, “Welcome to heaven. This will be your home now.”

The old man asked Peter how much all this was going to cost. “Nothing,” Peter replied, “this is your
heavenly reward.”

The old man looked out of the window and saw a magnificent championship golf course.

“What are the green fees?” he asked suspiciously.

“This is heaven,” St Peter replied, “You can play for free whenever you wish.”

Next they went to the clubhouse and saw the lavish buffet lunch, with every imaginable cuisine laid out before them.

Anticipating the old man’s next question, St Peter said, “Don’t ask, this is heaven, it is all free for you
to enjoy.”

The old man looked around and glanced nervously at his wife. “Well, where are the low fat and low cholesterol foods, and the decaffeinated tea?” he asked.

“This is heaven. You can eat and drink as much as you like, and you will never get fat or sick.”

“I don’t need to go to the gym?” the old man pressed.

“Not unless you want to,” St Peter replied.

“No testing my sugar or blood pressure or…”

“Never again. All you do here is enjoy yourself.”

The old man glared at his wife, “You and your bloody bran muffins. We could have been here ten years ago!”

(different perspectives, viewpoints, how different perspectives cause one thing to appear as two different things)

A man checked into a hotel for the first time in his life, and goes up to his room.

Five minutes later he called the reception desk and said: “You’ve given me a room with no exit. How do I leave?”

The desk clerk said, “Sir, that’s absurd. Have you looked for the door?”

The man said, “Well, there’s one door that leads to the bathroom. There’s a second door that goes into the closet. And there’s a door I haven’t tried, but it has a ‘do not disturb’ sign on it.”

(theory x shortcomings, management myopia)

Following a poor first-half year performance the board of Company X tasked a senior manager to investigate what was happening on the factory floor, since the directors believed poor productivity was at the root of the problem. While walking around the plant, the investigating manager came upon a large warehouse area where a man stood next to a pillar. The manager introduced himself as the person investigating performance on the factory floor, appointed by the board, and then asked the man by the pillar what he was doing. “It’s my job,” replied the man, “I was told to stand by this pillar.”

The investigator thanked the man for his cooperation and encouraged him to keep up the good work. The investigator next walked into a large packing area, where he saw another man standing next to a pillar. The investigator again introduced himself and asked the man what he was doing. “I’ve been told to stand by this pillar, so that’s what I do.” said the man.

Two weeks later the investigator completed his report and duly presented his findings to the board, who held a brief meeting to decide remedial action. The board called the investigator back into the room, thanked him for his work, and then instructed him to sack one of the men he’d found standing by pillars, since obviously this was a duplication of effort.


(identifying and managing performance improvement, establishing cause and accountability, theory x vs theory y, daft executive judgements)

The boards of the two fiercely competitive companies decided to organize a rowing match to challenge each other’s organisational and sporting abilities. The first company was strongly ‘theory X’: ruthless, autocratic, zero staff empowerment, etc. The second company was more ‘theory y’: a culture of developing people, devolved responsibility and decision-making.

Race day arrived. The Y company’s boat appeared from the boat-house first, with its crew: eight rowers and a helmsman (the cox). Next followed the X company boat and its crew – eight helmsmen and a single rower.

Not surprisingly the Y company’s boat won an easy victory.

The next day the X company board of directors held an inquest with the crew, to review what had been learned from the embarrassing defeat, which might be of benefit to the organization as a whole, and any future re-match.

After a long and wearing meeting the X company board finally came came to their decision. They concluded that the rower should be replaced immediately because clearly he had not listened well enough to the instructions he’d been given.


(examples of management styles)

A retired sergeant major inherited a talking parrot from a recently departed relative who had run a busy dockside pub. For the first few days in his new home the normally talkative parrot was distinctly shy. The old major, despite his stern and disciplined ways, felt sorry for the bird, and gently encouraged it with soft words and pieces of fruit. After a week or so the parrot began to find its voice – a little at first – and then more so.

Responding to the kind treatment, the parrot’s vocabulary continued to recover, including particularly the many colourful expressions it had been taught in the dockside pub.
The old sergeant major began to be quite irritated by the parrot’s incessant rudeness, and after a few more days of worsening profanities, decided action was required to bring the bird under control. The sergeant major tried at first to incentivise the parrot with the promise of reward for good behaviour, but to no avail. He next tried to teach the bird a lesson by withdrawing its privileges, again to no avail; the parrot remained stubbornly rude.

Finally the old major flipped into battleground management mode;
he grabbed the bird, clamped his hands around its beak, and thrust the struggling, swearing parrot, into the top drawer of the freezer, slamming the door tightly shut. The swearing and struggling noises continued inside the freezer for a few seconds and then abruptly stopped. The sergeant major listened for a while and then, concerned that the parrot’s shock might have been terminal, carefully opened the freezer door and opened the drawer to look. The parrot slowly clambered out of the drawer and perched on its edge.

“I must apologise for my rude and disrespectful behaviour,” said the parrot, “I promise never to use bad language again. And by the way, what did the turkey do?”


(communications, men and women, communications methods, relationships)

A man and his wife had been arguing all night, and as bedtime approached neither was speaking to the other. It was not unusual for the pair to continue this war of silence for two or three days, however, on this occasion the man was concerned; he needed to be awake at 4:30am the next morning to catch an important flight, and being a very heavy sleeper he normally relied on his wife to wake him. Cleverly, so he thought, while his wife was in the bathroom, he wrote on a piece of paper: ‘Please wake me at 4:30am – I have an important flight to catch’. He put the note on his wife’s pillow, then turned over and went to sleep.

The man awoke the next morning and looked at the clock. It was 8:00am. Enraged that he’d missed his flight, he was about to go in search of his errant wife to give her a piece of his mind, when he spotted a hand-written note on his bedside cabinet.

The note said: ‘It’s 4:30am – get up.’


(importance of induction training for new starters, initiative and lateral thinking, interpretation, delegation, rules, checking and monitoring)

These (allegedly true) short stories provide amusing examples of lateral thinking and initiative, and staff training (or lack of) at the workplace. It is better to train people properly rather than assume that new starters have the necessary initiative to work out for themselves what they should be doing..

The new bus driver story

While transporting some unfortunate mental patients from one secure place to another, the newly appointed bus driver stopped at a roadside restaurant for natural break. On his return to the bus, all twenty patients were gone. Being a resourceful fellow and fearing the consequences of his negligence, he drove to the next bus stop, where he claimed to be a replacement for the usual service. Allowing twenty people aboard, the driver made straight for his destination, where he warned staff at the gates that the ‘patients’ were deluded and extremely volatile. The angry ‘patients’ were duly removed, sedated and incarcerated, and remained in detention for three days, until staff were able to check the records and confirm their true identities. The actual patients were never found.

The new elevator cleaner story

A new hotel employee was asked to clean the elevators and report back to the supervisor when the task was completed. When the employee failed to appear at the end of the day the supervisor assumed that like many others he had simply not liked the job and left. However, after four days the supervisor bumped into the new employee. He was cleaning in one of the elevators.

“You surely haven’t been cleaning these elevators for four days, have you?” asked the supervisor, accusingly.
“Yes sir,” said the employee, “This is a big job and I’ve not finished yet – do you realise there are over forty of them, two on each floor, and sometimes they are not even there..”

(making assumptions, think before you act, different perspectives)

At the airport after a tiring business trip a lady’s return flight was delayed. She went to the airport shop, bought a book, a coffee and a small packet containing five gingernut biscuits. The airport was crowded and she found a seat in the lounge, next to a stranger. After a few minutes’ reading she became absorbed in her book. She took a biscuit from the packet and began to drink her coffee.

To her great surprise, the stranger in the next seat calmly took one of the biscuits and ate it. Stunned, she couldn’t bring herself to say anything, nor even to look at the stranger. Nervously she continued reading. After a few minutes she slowly picked up and ate the third biscuit. Incredibly, the stranger took the fourth gingernut and ate it, then to the woman’s amazement, he picked up the packet and offered her the last biscuit.

This being too much to tolerate, the lady angrily picked up her belongings, gave the stranger an indignant scowl and marched off to the boarding gate, where her flight was now ready. Flustered and enraged, she reached inside her bag for her boarding ticket, and found her unopened packet of gingernuts…

(Apparently the story appears in a variety of urban legends dating from at least 30 years ago, and is also described in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, book four, 1984, ‘So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish’.

(for teams, motivation, team-building, departmental cooperation, training, public speaking)

I am assured this is a true story. A consultant was asked to give a talk at a sales conference. The CEO asks him to focus on the importance of cooperation and teamwork between the sales and marketing teams, since neither group has a particularly high regard for the other, and the lack of cohesion and goodwill is hampering effectiveness and morale. The marketing staff constantly moan about the sales people ‘doing their own thing’ and ‘failing to follow central strategy’; and the sales people say that the marketing people are all ‘idle theorists who waste their time at exhibitions and agency lunches’ and have ‘never done a decent day’s work in their lives’.

Being a lover of rugby, the consultant decides to use the analogy of a rugby team’s forwards and backs working together to achieve the best team performance:

“……So, just as in the game of rugby, the forwards, like the marketing department, do the initial work to create the platform and to make the opportunities, and then pass the ball out to the backs, the sales department, who then use their skills and energy to score the tries. The forwards and the backs, just like marketing and sales, are each good at what they do: and they work together so that the team wins…” said the consultant, finishing his talk.

The audience seemed to respond positively, and the conference broke for lunch. At the bar the consultant asked one of the top sales-people what he’d thought of the analogy – had it given him food for thought?

“Yes, I see what you mean,” said the salesman, “It does make sense. The sales people – the backs, yes? – the backs need the marketing department – the forwards, yes? – to make the opportunities for us, so that we, the backs, can go and score the tries – to win the business. We work together as a team – each playing our own part – working as a team.”

The consultant beamed and nodded enthusiastically, only to be utterly dashed when the salesman added as an afterthought, “I still think our forwards are a bunch of wankers…”

(an ironic example of lack of empathy, and different people’s perspectives)

Warning: This story contains language and a potentially ‘offensive stereotype’ of visually impaired person that certain audiences may find objectionable. At the same time, the main message and purpose of the story is to highlight tendencies of some people to show poor or no regard for the misfortunes or disabilities of others, and in this context the story has a value if used carefully. Neverthess be very cautious how you use this story. Alter the language appropriately where warranted, and if in doubt do not use the story at all.

A clergyman, a doctor and a business consultant were playing golf together one day and were waiting for a particularly slow group ahead. The business consultant exclaimed, “What’s with these people? We’ve been waiting over half and hour! It’s a complete disgrace. The doctor agreed, “They’re hopeless, I’ve never seen such a rabble on a golf course.” The clergyman spotted the approaching greenkeeper and asked him what was going on, “What’s happening with that group ahead of us? They’re surely too slow and useless to be playing, aren’t they?”

The greenkeeper replied, “Oh, yes, that’s a group of blind (visually impaired) fire-fighters. They lost their sight saving our clubhouse from a fire last year, so we always let them play for free anytime.” The three golfers fell silent for a moment. The clergyman said, “Oh dear, that’s so sad. I shall say some special prayers for them tonight.” The doctor added, rather meekly, “That’s a good thought. I’ll get in touch with an ophthalmic surgeon friend of mine to see if there’s anything that can be done for them.”

After pondering the situation for a few seconds, the business consultant turned to the greenkeeper and asked, “Why can’t they play at night?”

(Other job-titles can be substituted instead of business consultant to suit the purpose of the story, for example, government advisor, venture capitalist, engineer, project manager, accountant, finance director, quality manager, etc)

(negotiating, understanding communications, agreeing clear objectives and responsibilities)

A zoo had among its animals a female gorilla, whose mood was becoming increasingly difficult. The vet concluded that she was on heat and that a mate should be found. The vet contacted some other nearby zoos to find a partner for the broody female, but to no avail. The female gorilla’s behaviour continued to worsen, but the vet noticed that she grew calmer, and strangely responsive, whenever a particularly well-built and none-too-handsome keeper entered the enclosure. Being an unprincipled and adventurous fellow, the vet put an outrageous proposition to the keeper: For a fee of five hundred dollars would the keeper consider spending a little ‘quality time’ with the gorilla, purely in the interests of research of course?….

The keeper, also an unprincipled and adventurous fellow, pondered the suggestion, and after a few minutes agreed to the offer, subject to three conditions. The vet, intrigued, listened to the keeper’s demands:

“First,” the keeper said, “No kissing.”

“Fine,” said the vet.

“Second, no-one must ever know – if this gets out I’ll kill you.”

“You have my word,” said the vet, “And your final condition?”

“It’s just,” said the keeper a little awkwardly, “Can I have a couple of weeks to raise the five hundred quid?”

(With acknowledgements to vets and zoo-keepers everywhere.)

(tactics, morality, good and bad in us all)

The notorious American Wild West bank robber Jesse James (1847-82) was hunted and demonised by the authorities, but was held in high regard by many ordinary folk. Here’s an example of why:

The story goes that Jesse James and his gang had taken refuge for a few days in ramshackle farmhouse after one of their raids.
The old widow who lived there fed the men, and apologised for her modest offerings and the poor state of the accommodation. While the gang laid low, they learned from the widow that she faced eviction from her landlord and was expecting a visit from his debt collector any day. Taking pity on the old lady, as they left, the gang gave her some of the spoils of their robbery to settle her debt – several hundred dollars, which was a small fortune in those days. The gang moved on, but only to a nearby copse, where for a couple more days they watched and waited for the arrival – and departure – of the debt collector, whom they promptly held up and robbed.

Of course robbing anyone is bad, but if you’ve got to rob someone…

(selfless compassion, generosity without strings)

Mohandas [Mahatma] Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), the great Indian statesman and spiritual leader is noted for his unusual humanity and selflessness, which this story epitomises. Gandhi was boarding a train one day with a number of companions and followers, when his shoe fell from his foot and disappeared in the gap between the train and platform. Unable to retrieve it, he took off his other shoe and threw it down by the first. Responding to the puzzlement of his fellow travellers, Gandhi explained that a poor person who finds a single shoe is no better off – what’s really helpful is finding a pair.

Separately, Gandhi was once asked what he thought of Western Civilisation. Gandhi replied: “I think that it would be a very good idea.”

The notion still applies.

(making assumptions, other people’s perspectives, individual needs and motivations)

This is a true story. Some years ago the following exchange was broadcast on an Open University sociology TV programme.

An interviewer was talking to a female production-line worker in a biscuit factory. The dialogue went like this: .

Interviewer: How long have you worked here? .

Production Lady: Since I left school (probably about 15 years)..

Interviewer: What do you do? .

Production Lady: I take packets of biscuits off the conveyor belt and put them into cardboard boxes. .

Interviewer: Have you always done the same job? .

Production Lady: Yes..

Interviewer: Do you enjoy it? .

Production Lady: Oooh Yes, it’s great, everyone is so nice and friendly, we have a good laugh.

Interviewer (with a hint of disbelief): Really? Don’t you find it a bit boring?

Production Lady: Oh no, sometimes they change the biscuits…

Lesson from this:

Do not impose your own needs and ambitions on to other people who may not share them.
Don’t assume that things that motivate you will motivate someone else.
Recognise that sources of happiness may vary widely between people.

(relationships, assumptions, etc)

A wealthy businessman who is used to getting his own way finds himself sharing a sleeper compartment with a beautiful young woman as they travel to Brussells on the train. It is winter and the heating is not working so the compartment is cold.

The two settle down to sleep.

“Two strangers, on a train…” says the businessman.

“Yes,” says the woman.

“A man and a woman – away from home – probably never meet again..” Says the businessman.

“Yes,” says the woman.

“It’s cold, isn’t it?” says the businessman.

“Yes,” says the woman.

“Could you pass me another blanket?” says the businessman, “… Or maybe we could pretend to be man and wife for tonight?..”

“Yes, that would be good,” says the woman, “Get your own bloody blanket.”

(interviews, preparation, thinking on your feet, communications)

This is a true story. It concerned Guy Goma, a lovely cuddly business graduate from the Congo, who on 8th May 2006 attended the BBC building in West London for an interview for an IT job. At the same time, the BBC News 24 TV channel was expecting a Guy Kewney (now sadly deceased), editor of the website, for a live 10.30am studio interview about the Apple court case judgement. (Apple Corps, owned by surviving Beatles McCartney and Starr, lost their case against Apple Computers, in which they sought to prevent the Apple name being used in relation to iTunes music downloads.)

Due to failed communications, entirely the BBC’s fault (both Guys were blameless in this), the BBC News 24 staff grabbed the wrong Guy (waiting in a different reception to Guy Kewney), who, being an unassuming, foreign and extremely polite fellow, dutifully took his place in the studio, and after declining make-up (really), was introduced on live TV to viewers as Guy Kewney, editor of the technology ebsite ‘Newswireless’, and then asked three questions by the BBC News 24 business presenter Karen Bowerman about the Apple judgements and its implications for internet music downloading.

Meanwhile the real Guy Kewney sat and watched ‘himself’ on the monitor in the BBC reception. See the ‘wrong Guy’ interview. At some stage in the future the link to the BBC interview clip might cease working – I don’t know how long they keep these things. Let me know when and if you can no longer see the video clip and I’ll try to source it elsewhere. As at June 2010 – thanks Joe – it seems that the clip is not so easy to play as it once was, although the video is still available via the BBC’s ‘Launch in stand alone player’ link for the ‘wrong Guy’ item.

What’s so utterly fascinating about this story and the supporting video, is:

Guy Goma initially expresses surprise about the interview situation, but, largely due to his broken English and heavy French accent the interviewer interprets and leads Mr Goma’s response to mean that he is surprised about the court judgement. If you listen carefully Guy Goma does actually mention his ‘interview’ in his first answer. See the transcript below. However the pressure of the situation is too great and he has little option other than to play out the role that the fates have created for him. He actually does quite well, given that he knows little about the subject. Subsequent media reports that Guy Goma was a taxi driver are false – he’s a business graduate. He later attended his IT job interview but regrettably was unsuccessful.

You can read what Guy Kewney thought of it all on his own blog at (there are several entries – read them all to see the full picture).

As mentioned, sadly Guy Kewney has since died, on 8 Apr 2010. His blog as at Sep 2010 still stands. Please let me know if it ceases to be available. On hearing of Guy Kewney’s passing (thanks D Guy – another different Guy..) I considered whether to remove or retain this item and obviously I decided to retain it. I never met Guy Kewney. From what I understand he seems to have been a lovely man. The opportunity to say this is part of my decision.

the wrong guy interview transcript

Karen Bowerman: …Well, Guy Kewney is editor of the technology website Newswireless.
[Camera switches to Guy Goma's face, portraying a mixture of shock, disbelief and impending disaster.]

KB: Hello, good morning to you.

Guy Goma: Good morning.

KB: Were you surprised by this verdict today?

GG: I am very surprised to see… this verdict, to come on me because I was not expecting that. When I came they told me something else and I am coming. Got an interview… [another word, impossible to discern] …. a big surprise anyway.

KB: A big surprise, yes, yes. [seeming a little anxious]

GG: Exactly. [growing in confidence]

KB: With regard to the costs involved do you think now more people will be downloading online?

GG: Actually, if you go everywhere you are gonna see a lot of people downloading to internet and the website everything they want. But I think, is much better for development and to empower people what they want and to get on the easy way and so faster if they are looking for.

KB: This does really seem the way the music industry’s progressing now, that people want to go onto the website and download music.

GG: Exactly. You can go everywhere on the cyber cafe and you can take [maybe 'check'?], you can go easy. It’s going to be very easy way for everyone to get something to the internet.

KB: Thank you [actually sounds more like 'Thank Kewney' - as if Ms Bowerman was a little distracted, no wonder]. Thanks very much indeed.

Lessons from this:

Good clear communications are essential when managing any sort of interview.
Pressure situations can easily lead people (especially interviewees) to give false impressions, which are no help to anyone.

The behaviours demonstrated in this incident illustrate the power of suggestion, and NLP, albeit used mostly inadvertently in this case; the point is that all communications involve a hell of a lot more than just words. The power of the media to interpret just about anything for their own journalistic purposes is bloody frightening.

(gender and sexual discrimination, equality, battle of the sexes debates, after-dinner speaking, etc)

“God, I’ve been thinking..” says Eve one day.

“What’s on your mind Eve?” says God.

“Well, I know that you created me and this beautiful garden and all of these wonderful creatures, but lately I’ve been feeling that maybe there’s more to life.”

“Go on…” says God.

“Sometimes I get a bit bored – I fancy a bit of fun. And I get a bit fed up with all the heaving lifting and carrying, and warding off the mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers, not to mention that bloody snake. This garden can be dangerous place.”

“I see,” says God, pausing for thought.

“Eve, I have a cunning plan,” says God, “I shall create Man for you.”

“Man?” asks Eve, “What is Man?”

“Man…” says God, “Is a flawed creature. He will have many weaknesses and disgusting habits. Man will lie, cheat and behave like an idiot – in fact mostly he’ll be a complete pain in the backside. But on the plus side he’ll be big and strong, and will be able to protect you, and hunt and kill things, which might be handy sometimes. He will tend to lose control of mind and body when aroused, but with a bit training can reach an acceptable standard in the bedroom department, if you know what I mean.”

“Hmm,” says Eve, “Seems like this Man idea might be worth a try, but tell me God, is there anything else I need to know?”

“Just this,” says God, “Man comes with one condition… In keeping with his arrogant, deluded, self-important character, Man will naturally believe that he was made first, and frankly we all have better things to do than argue, so you must keep all this a secret between us, if that’s okay with you. You know, woman to woman..”

(human nature, integrity, delegation and training, and advertising is a funny business…)

This is a true story. Some years ago a client engaged a consultant to help with a small postal mailing to the purchasing departments of blue chip corporations. The consultant sourced the list (which was provided on MSExcel) and drafted the letter. Thereafter the client was keen to take control of the project, ie., to run the mail-merge and the fulfilment (basically printing, envelope-stuffing and mailing).

The consultant discovered some weeks later that a junior member of the client’s marketing department had sorted the list (changed the order of the listed organisations in the spreadsheet), but had sorted the company name column only, instead of all columns, with the result that every letter (about 500) was addressed and sent to a blue chip corporation at another entirely different corporation’s address.

Interestingly the mailing produced a particularly high response, which when investigated seemed to stem from the fact that an unusually high percentage of letters were opened and read, due apparently to the irresistible temptation of reading another corporation’s mail…

(lateral thinking, making assumptions, dangers of judging people)

Given the title (on the subject of buckets..) and its quick simple message, this story is a good partner analogy to the rocks in a bucket time management story.

The story illustrates lateral thinking, narrow-mindedness, the risks of making assumptions, and judging people and situations:

A party of suppliers was being given a tour of a mental hospital.

One of the visitors had made some very insulting remarks about the patients.

After the tour the visitors were introduced to various members of staff in the canteen.

The rude visitor chatted to one of the security staff, Bill, a kindly and wise ex-policeman.

"Are they all raving loonies in here then?" said the rude man.

"Only the ones who fail the test," said Bill.

"What’s the test?" said the man.

"Well, we show them a bath full of water, a bucket, a jug and an egg-cup, and we ask them what’s the quickest way to empty the bath," said Bill.

"Oh I see, simple – the normal ones know it’s the bucket, right?"

"No actually," said Bill, "The normal ones say pull out the plug. Should I check when there’s a bed free for you?"

(positive thinking, negative thinking, attitude, perspective, mindset)

You will perhaps have heard this very old story illustrating the difference between positive thinking and negative thinking:

Many years ago two salesmen were sent by a British shoe manufacturer to Africa to investigate and report back on market potential.

The first salesman reported back, "There is no potential here – nobody wears shoes."

The second salesman reported back, "There is massive potential here – nobody wears shoes."

This simple short story provides one of the best examples of how a single situation may be viewed in two quite different ways – negatively or positively.

We could explain this also in terms of seeing a situation’s problems and disadvantages, instead of its opportunities and benefits.

When telling this story its impact is increased by using exactly the same form of words (e.g., "nobody wears shoes") in each salesman’s report. This emphasises that two quite different interpretations are made of a single situation.

(Adapted from a story sent to me by A Smith. If you know the origins of this story please tell me.)

(communications, perceptions, empathy, connecting with people, advertising, marketing, language meaning, intervention, helping others, expertise, equality, discrimination)

Warning: This story contains language and a potentially ‘offensive stereotype’ of a visually impaired person that certain audiences may find objectionable. At the same time the story carries a powerful main message, is culturally/historically significant, and is useful in debating equality/disability, aside from its obvious ‘different perceptions’ theme. So be careful how you use this story. Alter the language appropriately where warranted, position it carefully, and if in doubt do not use the story at all. This story is not recommended for education/sharing unless you are very sure of how to use it safely.

The blind man and the advertising story

An old blind man was sitting on a busy street corner in the rush-hour begging for money. On a cardboard sign, next to an empty tin cup, he had written: ‘Blind – Please help’.

No-one was giving him any money.

A young advertising writer walked past and saw the blind man with his sign and empty cup, and also saw the many people passing by completely unmoved, let alone stopping to give money.

The advertising writer took a thick marker-pen from her pocket, turned the cardboard sheet back-to-front, and re-wrote the sign, then went on her way.

Immediately, people began putting money into the tin cup.

After a while, when the cup was overflowing, the blind man asked a stranger to tell him what the sign now said.

"It says," said the stranger, "’It’s a beautiful day. You can see it. I cannot.’ "

This story illustrates in a timeless way how important choice of words and language is when we want to truly connect with and move other people. The story can also be used to explore issues of disability, equality, discrimination and political correctness, for example, what is it that makes this story offensive to some people?, and given the valuable main message, is there a way to adapt this story so that it cannot cause offence to anyone?

(assumptions, customer service, helping others, kindness, humanity)

This story is frequently told to be true. Whether true or not, it is certainly powerful.

A man and a young teenage boy checked in to a hotel and were shown to their room. The two receptionists noted the quiet manner of the guests, and the pale appearance of the boy. Later the man and boy ate dinner in the hotel restaurant. The staff again noticed that the two guests were very quiet, and that the boy seemed disinterested in his food. After eating, the boy went to his room and the man went to reception and asked to see the manager. The receptionist initially asked if there was a problem with the service or the room, and offered to fix things, but the man said that there was no problem of that sort, and repeated his request. The manager was called and duly appeared. The man asked to speak privately and was taken into the manager’s office.

The man explained that he was spending the night in the hotel with his fourteen-year-old son, who was seriously ill, probably terminally so. The boy was very soon to undergo therapy, which would cause him to lose his hair. They had come to the hotel to have a break together, and also because the boy planned to shave his head, that night, rather than feel that the illness was beating him. The father said that he would be shaving his own head too, in support of his son. He asked that staff be respectful when the two of them came to breakfast with their shaved heads. The manager assured the father that he would inform all staff and that they would behave appropriately.

The following morning the father and son entered the restaurant for breakfast.

There they saw the four male restaurant staff attending to their duties, perfectly normally, all with shaved heads.

(assumptions, deceitfulness, dishonesty, creative problem-solving, arrogance, delusion)

This wonderful story was circulated by email several years ago. Here is an adapted version which can be used to illustrate several different themes.

A bishop invited a young priest to dinner. During the meal, the priest noticed some signs of intimacy between the bishop and his housekeeper. As the priest was leaving, the bishop said to him quietly, "I can guess what you are thinking, but really our relationship is strictly proper." A few days later the housekeeper remarked to the bishop that a valuable antique solid silver soup ladle was missing – since the young priest’s visit – and so she wondered if he might have taken it. "I doubt it, but I will ask him," said the bishop.

So the bishop wrote to the priest: "Dear Father, I am not saying that ‘you did’ take a solid silver ladle from my house, and I am not saying that ‘you did not’ take a solid silver ladle from my house, but the fact is that the ladle has been missing since your visit.."”

Duly, the bishop received the young priest’s reply, which read: "Your Excellency, I’m not saying that ‘you do’ sleep with your housekeeper, and I’m not saying that ‘you do not’ sleep with your housekeeper, but the fact is that if you were sleeping in your own bed, you would by now have found the ladle."

(perceptions, the devil is in the detail, the nature of big differences)

A heart surgeon took his car to his local garage for a regular service, where he usually exchanged a little friendly banter with the owner, a skilled but not especially wealthy mechanic.

"So tell me," says the mechanic, "I’ve been wondering about what we both do for a living, and how much more you get paid than me.."

"Yes?.." says the surgeon.

"Well look at this," says the mechanic, as he worked on a big complicated engine, "I check how it’s running, open it up, fix the valves, and put it all back together so it works good as new.. We basically do the same job don’t we? And yet you are paid ten times what I am – how do you explain that?"

The surgeon thought for a moment, and smiling gently, replied,"Try it with the engine running.."

(enjoyment, fulfillment, possession, wealth, materialism, greed)

Once there was a very rich and greedy man. He loved and hoarded jewels.

One day a visitor asked to see them.

So the jewels were brought out, amid much expensive security, and the two men gazed at the wonderful stones.

As the visitor was leaving he said, "Thank you for sharing your jewels with me."

"I didn’t give them to you," exclaimed the rich man, "They belong to me."

"Yes of course," replied the visitor, "And while we enjoyed the jewels just the same, the real difference between us is your trouble and expense of buying and protecting them."

(assumptions, authority, control, the risks of modern communications and technology, privacy, security, identity theft, etc)

Several men were in a golf club locker room.

A mobile phone rings.

"Yes I can talk," says the man answering the call, "You’re shopping are you? That’s nice."

The listening men smile to each other.

"You want to order those new carpets? Okay.. And they’ll include the curtains for an extra five thousand?.. Sure, why not?"

More smiles among the listeners.

"You want to book that week on Necker Island?.. They’re holding the price at twenty-two thousand?.. Sounds a bargain.. You want a fortnight?.. If that’s what you want honey, okay by me."

Smiles turn to expressions of mild envy.

"And you want to give the builder the go-ahead for the new conservatory? Seventy-five thousand if we say yes today? Sounds fair.. sure, that’s fine."

The listeners exchange glances of amazement.

"Okay sugar, see you later.. Yes, love you too," says the man, ending the call.

He looks at the other men and says, "Whose phone is this anyhow?.."

(business, IT, humour, funny business story)

A man in a hot air balloon is lost. He sees a man on the ground and reduces height to speak to him.

"Excuse me, can you tell me where I am?"

"You’re in a hot air balloon hovering thirty feet above this field," comes the reply.

"You must work in Information Technology," says the balloonist.

"I do," says the man, "How did you know?"

"Well," says the balloonist, "Everything you told me is technically correct, but it’s no use to anyone."

"You must be in business,"says the man.

"I am," says the balloonist, "How did you know?"

"Well," says the man, "You don’t know where you are, you don’t know where you’re going, but you expect me to be able to help.
You’re in the same position you were before we met, but now it’s my fault."

(You can of course substitute other professions as appropriate.)

(time management, personal change, managing your activities and environment, project management)

Use this time management story to show how planning is the key to time management.

Start with a bucket, some big rocks enough to fill it, some small stones, some sand and water.

Put the big rocks in the bucket – is it full?

Put the small stones in around the big rocks – is it full?

Put the sand in and give it a shake – is it full?

Put the water in. Now it’s full.

The point is: unless you put the big rocks in first, you won’t get them in at all.

In other words: Plan time-slots for your big issues before anything else, or the inevitable sand and water issues will fill up your days and you won’t fit the big issues in (a big issue doesn’t necessarily have to be a work task – it could be your child’s sports-day, or a holiday).

ROCKS IN THE BUCKET STORY (alternative funny version)

A lecturer at a university is giving a pre-exam lecture on time management. On his desk is a bag of sand, a bag of pebbles, some big rocks and bucket. He asks for a volunteer to put all three grades of stone into the bucket, and a keen student duly steps up to carry out the task, starting with the sand, then the pebbles, then the rocks, which do not all fit in the bucket.

"The is an analogy of poor time management," trills the lecturer, "If you’d have put the rocks in first, then the pebbles, then the sand, all three would have fit. This is much like time management, in that by completing your biggest tasks first, you leave room to complete your medium tasks, then your smaller ones. By completing your smallest tasks first you spend so much time on them you leave yourself unable to complete either medium of large tasks satisfactorily. Let me show you.."

And the lecturer re-fills the bucket, big rocks first, then pebbles, then sand, shaking the bucket between each so that everything fits.

"But Sir," says one student, slouched at the back of the theatre, "You’ve forgotten one thing.."

At which the student approaches the bucket, produces a can of lager, opens it and pours into the bucket. "No matter how busy you are,"quips the student with a smile, "There’s always time for a quick beer."

(the power of PR, clever publicity, using humour for publicity, don’t get mad get even)

You may have seen this before as it’s been widely circulated over the internet. Whether it’s true or not, it’s a great example of the risks of arrogant PR, and then in response, fantastic PR that’s utterly in tune with the mood of the moment. Despite all this though, a supremely powerful supplier can, while they remain supremely powerful, re-write the rules of customer service.

At a computer expo (COMDEX) around 1997/98, Bill Gates of Microsoft was reported to have compared the computer and automotive industries, saying that "If General Motors had kept up with technology like the computer industry does, we would all be driving around in twenty-five dollar cars that go 1,000 miles to the gallon."

In response to this alleged outburst, GM are supposed to have issued a press release along the following lines, stating:

If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics -

1.For no reason at all your car would crash twice a day, and you would have not a single clue as to the cause.

2.Every time they re-painted the lines on the road you would have to buy a new car.

3.Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason, and you would just accept this, re-start and drive on.

4.Occasionally, executing a manoeuvre such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to re-start, in which case you would have to re-install the engine.

5.Only one person at a time could use the car, unless you bought ‘Car95′ or ‘CarNT’, but then you’d have to buy more seats.

6.(Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, reliable, five times as fast, and twice as easy to drive, but it would only run on five percent of the roads. The Macintosh car owners would have to buy expensive GM upgrades for their cars which would make them run much slower.)

7.The oil, water temperature and alternator warning lights would be replaced by a ‘general car default’ warning light.

8.The car’s new seats would force everyone to have the same size butt.

9.The airbag system would say ‘Are you sure?’ before activating.

10.Occasionally for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key, and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

11.GM would require all car buyers to additionally purchase a deluxe set of Rand McNally road maps (which would be a GM subsidiary) even though the customer neither needed nor wanted them. Attempting to do without these extras would immediately cause the car’s performance to diminish by fifty percent or more. Moreover, GM would become a target for investigation under the anti-trust laws by the Justice Department.

12.Every time GM introduced a new model, car buyers would have to learn to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as in the previous car.

13.And you’d need to press the ‘Start’ button to shut off the engine.