Tuesday, 30 September 2014

50 Stories & Snippets Extract 6

Here's the latest extract from my new ebook publication for speakers and trainers in the Almost Free series, available on Kindle and Nook:50 Stories & Snippets for Conference & Workshop Presentations. 

Eight Proverbs

 
Four things come not back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, the neglected opportunity.
Saudi Arabian proverb
 
Seize opportunity by the beard, for it is bald behind.
Bulgarian proverb
 
Between saying and doing many a pair of shoes is worn out.
Italian proverb
 
If you want a thing done, go. If not, send. The shortest answer is doing.
English proverb
 
Thinking well is wise; planning well, wiser; but doing well is wisest and best of all.
Persian proverb
 
A journey of a thousand miles starts in front of your feet.
Chinese proverb
 
The beginning is the half of every action.
Greek proverb
 
Abundance is from activity.
Turkish proverb
 

Using the proverbs

 
The old management truism has it that you must 'walk the walk' not just 'talk the talk'. A cliché, but it's true. An individual or an organization may be brimming with ideas, may be ambitious for success, but will never become truly effective unless properly organised for action. The world (as demonstrated by the international breadth of the sources above) is full of 'would haves', 'could haves' that go no further because of a failure to act, to act first, or to be organized for the opportunities that emerge from the creative process.
 
Use these eight proverbs from around the world to underline memorably how important it is to act as well as talk about what you are going to do.
 

Famous Failures




From artists to sports stars to world leaders some of the most successful people in history have been labelled at an early stage as failures or no-hopers; here are just a few of them.

Fred Astaire made a screen test for MGM in 1933. The memo from the testing director to the studio read: 'Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.' After he made it in movies the Hollywood star kept that memo over the fireplace in his plush Beverly Hills home.

Lucille Ball was told by the head tutor of the John Murray Anderson Drama School, where she started studying in 1927: 'Try any other profession.'

The Beatles were turned down for a recording contract by Decca Records in 1962, weeks before their first hit with EMI's Parlophone. Decca's evaluation: 'We don’t like their sound. Groups of guitars are on their way out... The Beatles have no future in show business.'

Michael Caine heard his headmaster confidently predict: 'You will be a labourer all your life.'

Winston Churchill was rebellious by nature and had a poor academic record, attracting censure and punishment at three different independent schools that he attended. He also had to overcome a speech impediment. Nevertheless he became Britain's most celebrated Prime Minister whose stirring public speeches galvanised the war effort. One of his most famous included the words: 'Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.'

Charles Darwin earned the disapproval of his father when he gave up his medical career. He told his son: 'You care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat catching.' In his autobiography, Darwin wrote: 'I was considered by all my masters, and my father, a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect.'

Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because he 'lacked imagination and had no good ideas.' Many of his early business ventures failed and he was bankrupted more than once. His proposal for a theme park (Disneyland) was rejected by the city of Anaheim on the grounds that it would only attract riffraff.

Albert Einstein did not talk until the age of four and could not read until he was seven. His parents considered him 'sub-normal' and he was described by a teacher as 'mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams.' He was expelled from school and refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. He made up later for his slow start.

Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting during his life - this was to the sister of one of his friends, for which she paid only 400 francs. Despite his commercial failure he completed over 800 paintings, many of which are now regarded as the most valuable in the world of art, worth many millions.

Abraham Lincoln was several times unemployed in his early working life and failed as both a businessman and a lawyer before he turned to politics. He was defeated in his first attempt for the legislature, defeated in his first attempt to be nominated for Congress, defeated in his application to be Commissioner of the General Land Office, defeated in the senatorial election of 1854, defeated in his efforts for the vice-presidency in 1856, and defeated in the senatorial election of 1858. He did, however, become the sixteenth President of the USA and is one of the four great statesmen commemorated by having their faces carved from rock at Mount Rushmore.

Louis Pasteur as an undergraduate student was regarded as mediocre at best, ranking fifteenth out of twenty-two students in chemistry.

Elvis Presley was fired after only one performance at the Grand Old Opry. The venue manager Jim Denny told Elvis: 'You ain’t going nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck.'

Babe Ruth became baseball's most famous player for his home run record, but for years he also held the record for strikeouts. He hit 714 home runs and struck out 1,330 times in his career. Babe was philosophical about this: 'Every strikeout brings me closer to the next home run,' he said.

Stan Smith was rejected as a ball boy for a Davis Cup tennis match because he was 'too awkward and clumsy'. He went on to win Wimbledon and the US Open as well as eight Davis Cup Finals.

Frank Winfield Woolworth was not permitted to serve customers when he worked in a dry goods store because, his boss said: 'he didn’t have enough sense.'

 

Using the stories


 
Advice from others can be crucial in forging a career, but negative opinion can be destructive. Fortunately what all of the people above demonstrated in abundance was a self-belief together with a determination to progress along their chosen path.

Use these examples both as a reminder that 'expert opinion' should not always be taken at face value and, more importantly, that success rarely comes easy but opportunities are available where talent and focused dedication unite.

More extracts to come, but if you can't wait or you want them all in one published collection you can download the book to your Kindle or Nook. 

 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

50 Stories & Snippets Extract 5

Here's the latest extract from my new ebook publication for speakers and trainers in the Almost Free series, available on Kindle and Nook:50 Stories & Snippets for Conference & Workshop Presentations. 

Charlie's Dream

 

It would certainly have been no surprise if the poor English boy Charlie Chaplin, who grew up to be the great silent movie actor and producer, had instead become in real life the little tramp he portrayed many times on screen. His childhood was desperately poor. Charlie's mother was eventually committed to an asylum and Charlie himself was twice sent to the workhouse before the age of nine. Yet throughout this time of hardship he was sustained by a dream.
 
'You have to believe in yourself, that's the secret. Even when I was in the orphanage, when I was roaming the street trying to find enough to eat, even then I thought of myself as the greatest actor in the world. I had to feel the exuberance that comes from utter confidence in yourself. Without it, you go down to defeat.'
Charlie Chaplin, actor, filmmaker, writer (1889-1977)

Using the story

 
Charlie Chaplin's is the archetypal rags-to-riches story and the actor is a role model of triumph over adversity. His is an example of determination fuelled by a personal vision and the self-confidence to reach his long-term goal.
 
Use this story to show how a clear vision can be as important to individuals as to organizations. Dreams can be a motivational force, a springboard to successful action, even when the odds seem stacked against.
 

The Child Within You

 


50 Stories & Snippets author David Williams and his wife Paula were collecting their thoughts after a lively training workshop which involved adults making models and collages as they envisioned the future. A couple of cleaners came into the room to tidy up. Surveying the scene they innocently asked, 'Have you been running a nursery class in here today?'
 

'What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant intelligence of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult.'

Sigmund Freud, Austrian founder of psychoanalysis (1856-1939)

 

'Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.'

Pablo Picasso, Spanish painter (1881-1973)

 

Using the story

 

A dynamic organization will be constantly searching for imaginative approaches, different encounters and new ways of thinking.
 
A creative environment keeps us fresh and imaginative. It encourages metaphoric thinking, stimulates all the senses, values fun and humour, tolerates (even embraces) risk-taking and avoids the stultifying influence of 'business as usual' habits and practice. Sometimes it helps to think like a child.
 
Use this story and accompanying quotations to show how we sometimes need to throw off the assumptions of our adulthood to find fresh ideas. You may like to precede or follow up the story with a participative exercise in creativity such as the one briefly described above.
 
More extracts to come, but if you can't wait or you want them all in one published collection you can download the book to your Kindle or Nook. 

 

Monday, 15 September 2014

50 Stories & Snippets Extract 4

Here's the latest extract from my new ebook publication for speakers and trainers in the Almost Free series, available on Kindle and Nook:50 Stories & Snippets for Conference & Workshop Presentations. 

Breaking Through



The watching crowd marvelled and clapped as the karate black belt instructor sliced through bricks with his bare right hand. At the end of the performance several people came up to ask the master how he achieved the feat. The instructor said: 'If you want to put your hand through a brick, you cannot do it by aiming at the surface of the brick. You have to aim at a point well beyond the brick. That way you ensure that you strike through a surface that your body would naturally flinch from. Reach beyond your target and you will make that target.'
 
'It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at the goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it.'
Arnold Toynbee British economist, reformer (1852-1883)
 

Using the story

 
Though much maligned, targets provide the impetus for improvement and an object of focus for action. Problems occur when targets are either too easy to achieve, thus representing no challenge, or are impossibly difficult, leading to frustration and a feeling of failure. The story of the karate instructor provides an interesting angle on the notion of a target that is more like a vision, an imagined picture of the ideal that inspires an effort to reach just beyond what is actually needed to ensure the effort is fully made.
 
Use this story and quotation to reinforce the importance of creating challenging targets, beyond what you may need to achieve in practice but not plainly out of reach.
 

Changing Times



Soon after taking over the role of Chief Executive at IBM in 1993 Lou Gerstner made a company address and said: 'The last thing IBM needs is a vision.'
 
Two years later, as the computer manufacturer was trying to survive turbulent times, Lou Gerstner declared: 'What IBM needs right now is a vision.'
 

Using the story

 
An organization without a clear vision in times of turbulence and change is like a boat without a rudder. Lou Gerstner's first statement may have been a pot-shot at the 1990s fashion for management consultancy and the often hollow management-speak that emerged from it, but he eventually realized that, stripped of verbiage, a well-articulated vision can indeed be a driver of progress.
 
Use this story to show how good leaders come to recognize the importance of vision, even if it sometimes takes them a little while to get there.
 
More extracts to come, but if you can't wait or you want them all in one published collection you can download the book to your Kindle or Nook. 

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

50 Stories & Snippets Extract 3

Here's the latest extract from my new ebook publication for speakers and trainers in the Almost Free series, available on Kindle and Nook:
50 Stories & Snippets for Conference & Workshop Presentations. 


The Blind Men and the Elephant



It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind)
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
 
The First approached the Elephant
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side
At once began to bawl:
'God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!'
 
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, 'Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!'
 
The Third approached the animal
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands
Thus boldly up and spake:
'I see,' quoth he, 'the Elephant
Is very like a SNAKE!'
 
The Fourth reached out an eager hand
And felt about the knee.
'What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,' quoth he:
''Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!'
 
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: 'E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a FAN!'
 
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
'I see,' quoth he, 'the Elephant
Is very like a ROPE!'
 
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right
And all were in the wrong!
 
John Godfrey Saxe, US poet (1816-1887)

 

Using the poem

 


This classic poem and various prose adaptations of the underlying parable have been used metaphorically in a wide range of situations - from illustrating the difficulties presented in medical diagnosis to discussing comparative religion - but the common theme is a search for truth.
 
Use this poem to show how limited observation, a particular experience, partial knowledge of a situation, or a conditioned perspective can all affect one's viewpoint and possibly lead to miscommunication, misunderstanding, misinterpretation or mistrust. Promote discussion among your group by asking what the blind men of Indostan might have done to resolve their dispute and reach a common understanding. What may come out is the importance of seeing the bigger picture, of weighing all the evidence before coming to a conclusion, and perhaps seeking objective advice from an expert witness. The discussion may even widen to an exploration of the nature of truth itself. Thus this simple witty verse lends itself both to modest ends and, if you should wish, profound philosophical debate.

The Boulder

 
 
Noam in ancient times was a desperately poor kingdom. People there blamed the king, comparing him to his grandfather who, they said, ran everything so much more smoothly than this lax ruler. Everything, it seemed, was better in the old days. In truth the young king tried his best, but the day-to-day problems were more than he could handle alone. He could not command support, and so the kingdom became poorer year by year.
 
One morning a huge boulder appeared in the middle of the road leading to the gates of the capital. Rich merchants and fashionable courtiers grumbled as they walked around the rock, cursing the king for failing to keep the roads clear and causing them to trail their cloaks in the ditch.
 
A peasant came along on his way to market with a heavy sack of produce on his back. Seeing the boulder he set down his burden and tried to move the rock to the side of the road. He strained and struggled for over an hour under the hot midday sun. Townsfolk mocked as they squeezed by the sweating peasant. Finally he succeeded and his red face broke into a smile of relief and pride as the great rock rolled into the ditch.
 
Stepping back into the road to retrieve his sack the peasant noticed a leather purse lying where the boulder had been. Inside the purse he found a dozen gold coins and a note from the king explaining that here was a reward for the person who cleared the rock from the roadway.
 
As the peasant gazed in wonder the royal coach appeared, travelling towards the city gates. The coach stopped and the king himself opened the door. He invited the peasant to join him, and they rode through a throng of staring citizens to the palace where they talked into the night of ways to save the kingdom.
 
 
'The block of granite, which is an obstacle in the pathway of the weak, becomes a stepping-stone in the pathway of the strong.'
Thomas Carlyle, Scottish essayist, historian (1795-1881)
 

Using the story

 

'It was much better in the old days' is a common refrain in organizations and communities. The tendency to hark back to some mythical golden age goes hand in hand with the urge to blame someone for the present state of things, usually the people seen as running the show.
 
Use this story to remind everyone listening that they need to take responsibility for problems and challenges if they are to make progress, rather than waiting for some higher authority to come along with a solution. The story works well when used together with the quotation from Thomas Carlyle as it reinforces the notion that every problem comes with a gift in its hand, the opportunity for transformation.
 
More extracts to come, but if you can't wait or you want them all in one published collection you can download the book to your Kindle or Nook. 



50 Stories & Snippets Extract 2

Here's the latest extract from my new ebook publication for speakers and trainers in the Almost Free series, available on Kindle and Nook:
50 Stories & Snippets for Conference & Workshop Presentations. 


The Artist Inventor



As a creative genius, the Italian artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci was always attuned to possibility wherever he happened to be. Just one example shows how new ideas can come from accident, from being attuned to nature, and from combining unlikely elements to create something entirely new.

Taking a walk in the open air, Leonardo was idly throwing stones in a well, watching the ripples moving out from the centre of the splash, when he heard a church bell ringing in the distance. Leonardo was struck by an association between what he was seeing and what he heard.

He later wrote in his journal: 'The stone where it strikes the surface of the water causes circles around it which spread until they are lost; and in the same the air, struck by a voice, also has a circular motion, so he who is nearest hears the best and he who is most distant cannot hear it.'

For Leonardo, a breakthrough occurred the moment he realised that sound travels in waves, like the ripples spreading out from the stone. 

Using the story 


Dynamic individuals and organizations will be constantly searching for imaginative approaches, different encounters and new ways of thinking. They know that a creative environment keeps their work fresh and imaginative. Changing that environment often, seeking out new ways of looking at things, being open to possibility, being ready to make unexpected associations - all help the creative process and encourage innovation.

Use this story to show how creative ideas can come from observations and connections you may make with the world around you.


The Big Black Door

 
A much-feared general in the revolutionary war had the unsettling custom of giving condemned criminals a choice between the firing squad and 'the big black door'. Most people chose the firing squad and died in a hail of bullets. What lay beyond the big, black door?
Freedom.
 
But only a few people were brave enough to take the risk and choose the big, black door.
 
Our best opportunities may stand behind the scary-looking door of the great unknown.
 
'When you get to the end of all the light you know and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.'
Edward Teller, Hungarian/US nuclear physicist (b.1908)

 Using the story

 
When change is proposed or a new venture is contemplated a typical response is resistance. This may come from vested interests, a fear of the unknown, or may simply emerge from a natural reluctance to disturb the status quo. All change means movement, and movement creates friction.
 
Use this story to show how people often miss opportunities because they fear the unknown. The key to overcoming resistance is often to recognize the horrors people are imagining behind 'the big black door' of change, listen carefully to those fears, work on allaying them, and offer an alternative scenario of fresh possibility beyond the threshold.
 
More extracts to come, but if you can't wait or you want them all in one published collection you can download the book to your Kindle or Nook. 

 


Friday, 15 August 2014

50 Stories & Snippets: Intro and Extract 1

In addition to my creative writing (new novel coming soon) I publish, in ebook form only, a series of mini books for trainers, facilitators and speakers that I call my Almost Free series as they are on offer for a ridiculously cheap price.

I'd like to introduce the latest publication in this series, available on Kindle and Nook:
50 Stories & Snippets for Conference & Workshop Presentations. 
 
 
 

This mini-book features stories, snippets, clippings and examples that I have found useful over the years while presenting conferences and workshops to a wide range of organizations. It's a companion to my compilation 1000 Great Quotations for Business, Management & Training, also available in this Almost Free series.
 
You will find in the book a motley selection, presented alphabetically by title, but to help focus your thoughts I have included under each entry a brief commentary and some suggestions for appropriate use, and at the back of the book you will find a Category Index with click-through links to relevant stories. These are for guidance only - the usefulness of this material is limited only by your imagination.
 
If you are a trainer or facilitator use these stories and quotes to enliven your sessions and underline the learning with examples and points to ponder from a wide range of sources.
 
To whet your appetite I'm going to publish a series of extracts over the next month or two of blog posts. Here are the first couple.
 

Aborigine

 

 

In Australia an earnest and dedicated social worker visited a run-down aboriginal settlement to see if there was any way she could help.

The old Aborigine leader stood watching her as she approached his shanty. She was about to introduce herself when he raised his hand in a gesture that commanded her silence.

He spoke imperiously: 'If you have come here to do something for me, you are wasting your time. If you have come here because your transformation is directly involved with mine, let’s get to work.'
 

Using the story

 

Attempts at partnership or collaboration (whether inside organizations or across communities) are often undermined by the failure of members to appreciate that they do not have a monopoly of the truth. As painful as it may be, the ability and willingness to listen carefully to the views of the people involved (including those you may not agree with) are fundamental to success.

A true partnership is one that accommodates diversity and assimilates all shades of views and opinions in pursuit of a common truth.

In discussing this story you may also find it interesting to consider the use of the words 'aborigine', 'aboriginal' and associated terms such as 'indigenous'. Finding appropriate language, avoiding offence while remaining aware that a 'tick-box' politically correct mentality can itself be patronising - these are tricky issues in many areas of communication, collaboration and culture.
 

The Artist

 
 
 
 
 
The great Italian artist Michelangelo sculpted many beautiful works, such as the breathtaking marble statue of David. Whenever he was about to start a new sculpture Michelangelo would stand before the shapeless mass of stone, lost in contemplation. He would stare into, not at, the stone and eventually, he said, he could see the figure trapped inside. All he had to do then was chip away, and chip away … until the statue was fully revealed.
 
'I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.'
Michelangelo, Italian artist (1475-1564)
 

Using the story

 
A vision, whether individual or corporate, begins with a dream. The vision is effectively an imagined picture of a desired outcome, just as Michelangelo conjured when he stood in front of the shapeless rock, preparing to work on a new sculpture.
 
Use this story to underline how important it is to visualise the outcome from the start. The story also makes the point that it still requires a great deal of painstaking work (‘chipping away’) to ensure that the dream is realised.
 
More extracts to come, but if you can't wait or you want them all in one published collection you can download the book to your Kindle or Nook.