Standing on the words of Giants

By Keith Coats  

The Problem:

Our team conversations have grown stale. We are in a state of ‘death by agenda’ and there is no spark, zip or animated discussion anymore. What can I do?

The Solution:

Borrow something from a ‘literary Master’. Find a paragraph or some dialogue from a great novel that you introduce as a springboard to discuss at your next team meeting. Let me give you an example from something I read from one of my favourite authors, the late Terry Pratchett. This particular excerpt is from his wonderful novel, Nation that concerns itself with the end of the world.

“I will not be trapped in a shell again, because…yes, there has to be a because…because…any shell will be too small. I want to know why. Why everything. I don’t know the answers, but a few days ago I didn’t know there were questions.
Pilu was watching him carefully, as if uncertain whether he should run or not.
He’s frightened of me, Mau thought. I haven’t hit him or even raised my hand. I’ve just tried to make him think differently, and now he’s scared. Of thinking. It’s magic. (Nation, page 174/5)

From this (edited) excerpt there would multiple questions to seed further reflection and conversation. Questions such as:

  • What might our ‘trap’ or ‘shell’ be?
  • How do we use ‘because’ to kill inquiry or discovery – or justify certain responses and actions?
  • How does ‘thinking differently’ scare us?
  • How might we learn to ‘think differently’?


  1. As you read look out for useable extracts. Get the ‘Readers’ in your team to do the same.
  2. You might need to provide a little context to the extract used but this doesn’t mean explaining the entire plot!
  3. The questions posed could be predetermined the first time you do this exercise but allow the team to shape the questions / discussion as you practice this exercise going forward.
  4. The ‘best’ sources could well be from sci-fiction and even comic books and children’s stories (Think Dr. Seuss or Winnie the Pooh!)
  5. Have fun and keep an open mind. Learning is not limited to serious business books and formal research!

Sign up for 3 free lessons to further develop your skills for Curiosity and Storytelling

  • Curiosity didn’t kill the cat: Why curiosity is so important
  • Quick win: Dramatically improve your next presentation by telling a better story
  • Video: Give people time