Tuesday, June 3, 2008

What's Your Story?

Yesterday, I took a few minutes to look for a story I had once read from an article by Peter Senge about building a shared vision. I didn't find the precise reference, but essentially, it's about someone walking up to two stonecutters and asking, "What are you doing?" The first stonecutter replied, "I'm cutting stone." What's it look like I'm doing? The second exclaimed, "I'm building a great cathedral."

Of course during this pursuit, I discovered that in the original version there were three stonecutters. But apparently, given our ever decreasing attention span, one of our other stonecutters either quit or was let go.

While the stonecutter story inspires us to take a broader view of the significance of our respective vocations, I actually found another tale that you're going to love called the hole story:

A man looks out his window and sees two men with shovels, one walking behind the other. The first man digs a hole and moves down the street about 20 yards. Meanwhile, the second man fills up the first man’s hole. Then the whole process is repeated, again and again: the first man digs a hole, the second fills it up. Puzzled the onlooker yells out to the first man, “Why are you doing this?” The man replies, “Oh. We’re part of a three person team. The third guy is sick today. He plants the tree.”

My first thought was that metaphorically speaking I use to work for that company - or at least it seemed like it. Lots of work, no tangible results, and always a man or woman short.

You want to provide great client service? Keep your eye on the big picture and make sure you have everyone on the team you need to be successful!

Now share your favorite story!


  1. Here's one.

    In the dot-com boom, I was struck by the fact that people would quit for no other reason than having a bad day. In those days, anyone who could fog a mirror could get a PR job anyway. (I now note that most of those people are no longer in the industry.)

    Anyway... One of them was telling me her tale of woe (*cough*bullshit*cough). She was having a bad day and was already interviewing. One company was all too happy to pick her up. I was inspired to relay this story.

    One sunny day, a sparrow was happily flying. Then unseasonably bad weather hit. The sparrow's wings froze and it fell to the ground. Sparrow said "I'm done for."

    Then, a cow came by and took a shit on the sparrow. "Oh, great!" the sparrow said. "To add insult to injury, I'm going to freeze to death *and* I'm covered in shit."

    On the contrary, the cowshit warmed the little sparrow's wings. Stinky, though thankfully unfrozen, the sparrow starting tweeting happily. The sun started to come out. Everything was now right with the world.

    A hawk, flying overhead, heard the happy sparrow's tweeting, swooped down, and promptly ate him.

    The moral of the story:

    - Not everyone who shits on you is your enemy.

    - Not everyone who gets you out of shit is your friend.

    - And if you're warm and happy in a pile of shit, it's often best to keep your mouth shut!

  2. Great stories, Leo. Haven't we all, at times, felt like we worked in such environments?

    Now, a story I found recently on the Recruiting Edge @ http://tinyurl.com/6omh4r

    From "Five lessons about the way we treat people":

    Pickup in the Rain.

    One night, at 11:30 p.m., an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rain storm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car. A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict-filled 1960's. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxicab.

    She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him. Seven days went by and a knock came on the man's door. To his surprise, a giant console TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached.

    It read:

    "Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband's bedside just before he passed away ... God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others."

    Mrs. Nat King Cole

    Moral of the story?

    The Golden Rule, isn't it? Treat others as you wish to be treated. The reward at the end really isn't important, is it? The true reward was the help offered to another.

    I remember once taking a group of Auburn students to a NACA conference in Nashville. On the way, we passed a large Cadillac (one of those old land yachts) on the side of the road with a flat tire.

    Inside, we saw four elderly ladies. On the back of the car, there was a very large and loud "Roll Tide" sticker. Alabama is Auburn's arch rival. The rivalry can be quite testy, to put it mildly. As we passed, I looked at the students and asked, "What should we do?"

    Unanimous consent. "Turn around." We did and fixed their flat tire. Afterwards, they tried so hard to shove money at us. Literally. One student just said, "Remember that with all the animosity between our schools, we're still people and need to be friends." True story.

    Those students made me very happy and proud. They always do. There is a shared vision in their actions, too.

  3. By the way, I'm a little skeptical of the Mrs. Nat King Cole story. He passed away on February 15, 1965, in Santa Monica, California. The date fits, but the distance ... well, I don't know. Could be true, but the sentiment is still there.

  4. Great stories! Thank you both! Robert, I'm not sure we should get too worried about sharing apocryphal stories if they teach the right lessons. Just because Phil's story was true doesn't mean you should feel self conscious in any way ;-)

  5. Love the stories and comments so far, Leo. Here's mine - an oldie but goodie. It's the one about a man walking along a beach strewn with hundreds of starfish that have been abandoned by the tide. They'll die in the hot sun, but a little boy is walking along and tossing them, one by one, back into the ocean.

    The man says "Don't you see, it's useless, you can't possibly save them all, why bother? It won't make a difference." And the little boy picks up a starfish, walks it down to the ocean, throws it in and says "Sure made a difference to that one, didn't it."

    Okay I'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea. Love that - have always held it close to me.

  6. I can see why. In some respects its message is similar to this story: President John Kennedy once asked his press secretary Pierre Salinger to take ownership of a special project set to begin the following day. Salinger, overwhelmed by the scope of the task, complained that he couldn’t finish the assignment even if he had two full terms with which to work. Kennedy replied, “Then you should start this afternoon.” Thanks for sharing your story Lara.



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