The Tigers and the Strawberry– Story

August 29, 2006

Another open ended story. This one is a well known Zen story. For those reading an open ended story here for the first time, the introductory comments are attached:

An open-ended story is an invitation to see your own situation from a fresh perspective. Unlike conventional stories, there is no specific point or moral or lesson to take away. It can be enjoyed for itself, or converted figuratively to help interpret an actual situation in a new way. In this sense, it is not an intellectual exercise, rather just an opportunity to see if any ideas resonate.

It can be interpreted in an individual way. Further, as time and conditions change, an individual may see a different aspect from one reading to the next. And if this type of thing doesn’t interest you or nothing resonates, just pass on by.

The Tigers and the Strawberry

There was a man walking across an open field, when suddenly a tiger appeared and began to give chase.The man began to run, but the tiger was closing in.As he approached a cliff at the edge of the field, the man grabbed a vine and jumped over the cliff.Holding on as tight as he could, he looked up and saw the angry tiger prowling out of range ten feet above him.He looked down.In the gully below, there were two tigers also angry and prowling.He had to wait it out.He looked up again and saw that two mice, one white, the other black, had come out of the bushes and had begun gnawing on the vine, his lifeline.As they chewed the vine thinner and thinner, he knew that he could break at any time.Then, he saw a single strawberry growing just an arms length away.Holding the vine with one hand, he reached out, picked the strawberry, and put it in his mouth. It was delicious.

Additional Stories

This is a link to a Collection of Zen Stories     (


There is often a desire to complete the story, to find a way out of this predicament or that dilemma.It is easy to forget that within the limitations of the moment, there is freedom.In this story, it’s the experience of the fresh taste of the strawberry.It is different in each case.Not every day can be an easy day for anyone. The freedom of the moment is always available, even when circumstances are grim.

Children’s Bedtime Stories–Making up a good one every night

August 27, 2006

At some point, every young child gets tired of the same canned bedtime stories and says to the parent “Make up one for me.” For some parents, the mind goes blank. There is no story to be had, or a weak variation of a familiar one comes out.

There is no time at this point in life to study the fine points of storytelling. But still, the child can have a good story and it can be great fun to make them up. It is a lot easier a few points are kept in mind. The first plots will take a few days to get into, but after that, the stories have a life of their own, to the delight of both child and parent.

Outline Example—Wikulus the rabbit


There was a young rabbit named Wikulus who lived with his mother. Whenever Wikulus found a four leaf clover, he could make a wish to visit anywhere in the world and he would be immediately transported there for the afternoon. A subplot is the initial search for the four-leaf clover so that the main adventure can begin.


This type of opening leads to many possibilities for different stories. As examples:


Wikulus may visit Santa Claus on a seasonal basis and find that Santa is well behind in toy production. How to help.


He may visit the desert, find out about the conditions there, and not have sufficient supplies.


The young rabbit may go to Africa and be introduced to other animals with different skills, some friendly, others unfriendly.


These are starting points for the complication of the plot and later resolution.


By the end of the day, Wikulus is home, and of course, his mother does not believe his adventures really happened.


The Key Points


For the first few nights, try different characters. For younger children (2-4), different animals (who, of course can speak) are a good start. Each character should be given a distinctive name, often chosen together with the child. The first character may not catch on, but pretty soon, the child will make a connection and a favorite star will be born.

Another theme variation that is popular is to give normally inanimate objects, the ability to play tricks on people. For example, cars that take control and choose the destination, wall pint that changes color, tables that shake things off. The stories center on the comical reactions of the adults. What could be more delightful than seeing an adult being fooled by an inanimate object.

For older children, people have a more prominent role, particularly from olden times.

After one main character has been established, add at least two or three additional regular or rotating characters. These extra guys provide flexibility and range of interactions needed for a wide variety of plots. Since the same characters can be used for a number of stories, the child is familiar with them and you can put your energy into making an engaging story.


Nothing like it! Just a few elements of magic add a good twist. Not too much though. The magic property can be used to get into predicaments. The character has to resolve them by his own ingenuity. Even a child is not satisfied when the character is suddenly beamed out of trouble.


Plot—This is the most fun!


Once the story is begun, there is no stopping to “figure out the next part”. Make it up as you tell it out loud. It is a reality show for both the child and the parent. The real time aspect adds energy and interest for everyone.

As the first half of the story is being told, add layer upon layer to the difficulty that the main character encounters. This adds excitement. The real key for the storyteller is that the difficulty is added as fast as it comes to mind—there is no known way for the character to resolve it. At the end of this section of plot development, the storyteller should have no idea how the character is going to settle this one.

Now for the best part–As the plot moves toward resolution, the storyteller has his work cut out. As the story is told out loud, you must also figure out a way to get the character out of the predicament. This approach really energizes the storyteller and this energy is picked up by the child. If the child seeks assurance that it will end OK, be sure to give it so he can enjoy the excitement more fully. Then figure out how to make it end OK—no need to stop to figure it out, this is stream of consciousness telling.

Plot Conclusion

Each story has to be complete,, beginning, middle and end, in one telling. No cliff hangers like on television. The purpose is to entertain and then go to sleep, so that all of the energy of the story has to be dissipated.

Give it a try. Parents using these tips have been amazed and pleased at their own creativity!




Getting and Giving Directions–Listening for Consequences (3)

August 24, 2006

Directions Example: Finding the Restaurant

A group of men approached me during a walk in the neighborhood last weekend and asked for directions to College Place. They were frustrated. They had asked at least a half a dozen people for directions with no success. I’ve lived here a long time and knew there was no street of that name.

But really, the men were on their way to a location not the street itself. I asked them where they were really trying to go. They were looking for a bar called the Cedar Tavern. The Cedar Tavern is well known and is on University Place.

Colleges, universities, sometimes a small distinction, but for this time it made a large difference!

Questions seem to demand direct answers. The first six people responded to the men’s questions at face value and to the best of their knowledge. However, it is likely that some of them did know the location of the Cedar, and would have been happy to provide it, but they did not see the full intent of the question.

This example brings up a useful technique to increase information in both home and business situations called “Consequential Listening”. It can be stated in one easily remembered sentence:

You can better understand what people are telling you when you also think about the consequences of what they are saying.

This response goes one step beyond responding to a direct question. Just the increased awareness of the listener increases the likelihood of getting a better result or a smarter decision.

Asking Better Questions

When it’s time to get information by asking questions, thinking about “Consequential Listening” from the questioner’s perspective can help you to formulate questions so that the answers have a better chance of providing high quality information.

In many cases, the opening question is often hit or miss. However, by considering the first answer, together with your own view of the desired outcome, follow-up questions can be guided to be more specific.

In the Cedar Tavern example above, the men, by considering the negative answers together with their goal, could have realized that the bar was more well known than the street and changed the question on their own.

One other point: Listening for Consequences differs from the technique known as active listing. Active listening focuses attention on the content speaker, with interactions to ensure understanding. Here, the listening exercise is to go beyond understanding and make the effort to synthesize or extrapolate the information into a more useful form.

An Index

August 22, 2006

Academic Survival–The First College Semester

Always looking for a teacher. Sometimes asking for a boss.

Another Lousy Presentation at Work

Baby Sitters and an Emergency–Guiding the Response

Balancing Management and Technical Priorities-Recognize Problems before Projects Fail

The Blue Sky Bird–Story

The Boat Story

The Centipede Story

Chasing the Ball into the Street

Child Sleeping Problems–3 Parent Activities to Reduce Frustration

Dealing with Contractors–“Working Theories”

Deciding to Let a Child Travel Alone

Digging Deeper for Ideas–Stealing from Hegel

Disrupting the Cycle of Inefficient Meetings

Elephants, Blind Men, and the Vision of a Manager (Story)

Employee Performance Appraisal Ranking Methods–Lessons about Flaws from “Arrows Paradox”

Finding Things–Lost Your Flash Drive

Frog School of Management

Get a Better Deal–Quantitative Decisionmaking

Getting and Giving Directions–Listening for Consequences

Getting Ideas into the Discussion

Getting Off Academic Probation–Looking Further for Success

Great Ideas Going Nowhere–Getting Projects Launched

Independent Yet Connected–Story

Intuitive Decisions–Allowing a child more responsibility

Office Backstabbing 101

Prepared by Not Ready–Story

Preventing Common Household Accidents-Swiss Cheese Model

Put Aside the First Idea–Increase Perception by Learning from the Oulipians

Slacking Off Without Consequences–Practical Risk Management
Stuck at the Airport

Stacking Cups for Imagination–A Great Baby Toy Not Found at (Many) Stores

Teaching Problem Solving to Students–Tools and Resources

Teaching Problem Solving to Students–Goals and Strategy

Teaching Problem Solving to Students–Cycle of Confusion/Resourcefulness/Confidence

The Tigers and the Strawberry

Using Micromanagers to Sharpen Skills–Prepare to Implement Solutions@Lowest Valued Added Cost


What was I Thinking? I Knew That! Reduce Mental Errors

When Things Go Wrong–Initial Responses

Frog School of Management–Story

August 21, 2006

Watch how a frog conducts his business.

The frog sits on a rock, usually in the sun, and appears almost motionless. The frog appears to be asleep, or at least not conscious of the environment. But when a fly goes by, the tongue flashes out in an instant, the meal is had. The frog was not asleep, but awake to his goal and took swift action at the appropriate moment.

Consider the key management activities of the frog:


Clearly defined, but not broadcast to the competition.

Economy of resources

No wasted activity. No need for busy work.

Alert to Opportunity

Even though it may be a while before conditions are right, the moment is recognized.

Rapid Action

When it is time to act, the response is fast and effective. No time for discussions and meetings!

The tuition charge from the frog is much less than a training program!

Two other interesting facts about frogs:

In some parts of the world, statues of frogs represent being awake.

However, in scientific circles, there is animated debate about frog consciousness.

Dealing with Contractors–“Working Theories” to Increase Perception (2)

August 20, 2006

The first post about increasing perception and reducing mental errors, including the background, can be found at Increase Perceptions (1).

This example shows the use of working theories applied to the evaluation of a physical renovation project done an outside contractor. The example is followed by a more general description of observation and working theories in order to apply the method to other situations.

At both work and home, we periodically contract people to do perform services. At home, it may be to remodel the kitchen, landscape, repair windows etc. The arrangements may be either formal or informal. There has to be a natural tension in the relationship since you want a quality product and the contractor needs to make a profit.


John has hired a contractor to remodel his kitchen. He is not be an expert in renovation, but he does have a clear idea of the appearance and function of the finished kitchen. However, if he inspects the job at the end and is not satisfied , there are few options still available to correct earlier errors or poor workmanship.

So, at regular intervals during the project, he can inspect the work. His attitude and preparation for these inspections are important factors for eventually getting the kitchen he expects. It is important that he does not view the inspection as a tour.

Think about the tours you may have gone on at a museusm or in a new city. The tour director is a wealth of information and is paid to give out the story. It really doesn’t matter if the details are accurate. There may be a few questions from the tourists, but since much of the information is new to the tourists, the director has ready answers.

At home, an inspection trip with a contractor who recounts the details of the job and its special problems is equivalent to a tour. The observed facts and explanations do not have a readily available reference standard. These one-sided inspections have marginal value in ensuring the quality of the work. Just looking at the job from the perspective of the contractor is like being on tour. John is at the mercy of the contractor and will get what he deserves.

It doesn’t matter that John is not an expert in the underlying details of the construction. If John has taken the time to develop a working theory to sharpen his perspective, he can be more fully engaged during the inspection with the contractor.

For example: Where does he expect the electrical outlets to be? What does he expect the plumbing to be made out of? When should the cabinets be installed to meet the schedule? John’s own answers to these types of questions are the basis of his working model for the kitchen inspection.

Armed with this information, when he does inspect the job, he has a basis to evaluate and discuss the observed facts and comments of the contractor.

Continuing the example, if John expected to see the cabinets installed and the cabinets are not even in the house, John can then probe further to determine if the job is behind schedule (a problem) or if he did not understand the construction order (an education).

The use of the working model has allowed him to be more fully engaged. Rather than wait until later to learn that the project is behind schedule, John’s use of a working model forced that information to surface sooner. On the other hand, if he were on a tour, the observation may be simply that the kitchen cabinets were not installed.

Working Theories

A working theory is quite simply your idea of what you expect to see when before you observe a physical situation. It provides a mental reference against which you can evaluate the actual situation. It is not essential that you working theory be accurate. It is the process of making and using it as a reference that allows you to focus your perception.

Perceptive Observation

Observation is taking in the facts of the situation to form a mental picture. Perceptive observation requires more than seeing. It requires identifying the differences between the observed facts and your own working theory. Once the differences are identified, you can really focus on understanding the reason for them and work to improve the project.

Application to other projects

Once you get into the habit of having your own mental picture for any project and then using it, the using working theories becomes second nature. Your baseline performance has been increased.. However, as noted, it can be used in areas in which you do not have experience!

Sometimes though, its fun to take a tour and see things without a reference point, like to experience art for example. Everything has its place.

Academic Survival–The First College Semester

August 13, 2006

There is nothing like the first few weeks of college. It has an almost idyllic quality about it—freedom, new friends and experiences, and much less academic oversight. Then the new reality sets in. A few tests and assignments come with poor results. Then, a second round follows with the same dismal results. What to do? Each individual has his or her own response. All too often, the response is to pull back, to let the hole get deeper, until late in the semester when there are few options left. A set of failures result. For some, it’s the end of school. For others, it means a reduction in confidence and lowered expectations that take time to resolve. The first semester story does not have to play out this way.

Let’s not be simplistic about this situation. The reasons for the initial failures are individual. Some students just don’t want to do the work. However many of the others– students who are less prepared academically, students who never learned to work, those who don’t understand the requirements of college work, those who had a personal crisis at the time—can survive this initial period and go on to solid academic achievement if they recognize the problem and take appropriate action early enough.

The first semester is a like a timed reality show. It typically lasts 13-14 weeks and once it starts, there are no pauses or time-outs. During the first 3-4 weeks, there is information going in, but few milestone tests or major projects. Then at the 3 or 4 week mark, an examination or major paper provides a measure of performance. The second major performance measure comes after the midterm results, at least 7 weeks into the course by the time the grades come back.

Similar to a reality show, the stakes ramp up as the time into the term progresses. The semester work increases during the term much faster than any new student realizes. This increase in work load is even more oppressive if the student gets off to a poor start and has work to make up from earlier in the term.

For example, if a student has to make up the work from the first quarter of the semester, he has 9 weeks to do so. However, if he waits until the end of the first half of the semester, he has to make up twice as much work to make up in only 6 weeks. The intensity of the load increases by a factor of 3 required if you wait until the midterm to remediate! That’s why they call it the end of semester crunch!

Three points to help recover from a poor start:

1. Recognize that the first poor performance defines the trend. The tendency is to believe that the first result is not representative and to expect improvement in the mid-term. This belief, which is reasonable in other situations, leads to serious trouble for the first semester student.

In other situations, a trend requires at least two results in order to determine the direction that performance is moving. Only one result is needed for the new student. There is enough experience with first year college students to indicate that a poor initial performance, with only vague intentions to do better, does not lead to improvement. Continuing the same course of action and expecting an improvement just uses up some of the ticking clock of the semester. Remember the above illustration that shows how quickly the workload increases when needed remediation is put off to the end of the semester.

2. Make the effort to identify a cause of the poor performance and begin to act immediately.

The first step in addressing the problem is to have a clear statement of the cause. It is not enough to say the problem is the poor performance. The performance is the symptom. This cause of the poor performance may not be obvious initially. However, it is essential to make an effort to understand this in a more detailed way. Parents and friends can have a very helpful role in helping to specify the problem.

The most appropriate action is determined by the cause. The cause may be academic or personal. As examples, course work deficiency may mean clarifying the content and performance with the instructor; personal crisis may require contact with the counseling center; poor preparation and habits can be helped by work with an academic advisor or learning assistance programs. Further, by using available resources early, the student will also find that these resources are far more accessible before everyone else realizes the severity of their own situation.

3. The first poor result has only a minor affect on the ultimate performance outcome.

There is no need to panic or be embarrassed by a poor performance. By acting early, there is plenty of time to make the effort and get on track if you begin early. The timing details are shown below.

In a typical college course approximately one-half of the course evaluation and grade occurs in the last 4 weeks (Weeks 9-13) of the semester. The trick is to be operating at the required skill well before the last 4 weeks. Consider the two scenarios:

1) Initial poor result at Week 4. If the student begins to identify the specific cause, and takes the necessary academic or personal actions, he has 5 weeks to prepare for the critical end of term period. You can make some real changes in 5 weeks!

2) Initial poor result at Week 4. No change in plan. A second poor result at midterm Week 7. In this case, the student has only 2 weeks to take the actions to prepare for the critical period. It is much more difficult to make these changes in only 2 weeks. It’s worse than this since there is an increased work to be made up. This end of the semester crunch was discussed earlier.

So, if first semester reality hits hard, stay in the game. Taking positive control of the situation is the first step. By beginning to identify and take action as soon as a problem surfaces, the odds of resolving it are significantly increased.

If the semester did not go well, a related post is: Getting Off Academic Probation–Looking Further for Success