Words of Wisdom for
Leadership, Learning, and Life in
Exactly 99 Words

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Talk Quick!
99-Word Stories to Spark Discussion about Common Management Issues
by Brian Remer

Talk Quick! is a collection of group discussion starters designed to inspire meaningful conversations about important management issues.
(12 Discussion Activities, 33 pages, Cross Referenced, $10)

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99's On the Go

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99-Word Stories by ,
Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2017 Brian Remer
Updated July 2017

99's on the 9th

Ideas based on 99-Word Stories that
come to you on the 9th of every month.

June 2017
Trick Perceptions: Under the Influence of Emotions

We know that emotions are a factor in our decisions, actions, and beliefs. But we seldom consider exactly how great that influence is. New research in brain science indicates that on a certain level we are controlled primarily by our emotions - no matter how much we may think otherwise. Lead your group in a discussion of how emotions impact team effectiveness in this issue of 99's on the 9th.

Readers React to this Issue

Trick Perceptions

It was a foggy November night and Janna was driving a narrow country road home. Out of the woods a shaggy shadow dashed toward her car. She couldn't stop. Frantically she called her friend Nancy.

"You've got to help me. I've just hit a llama!"

What? How could this be? There aren't any llamas on the back roads of Vermont. Deer, yes, but what could Janna be talking about? Yet Janna insisted it was true.

Nancy was completely confused until she remembered that llamas are very common in Janna's home of Uruguay.

Experience plus emotion shapes perceptions.


You can build upon the theme of this 99-Word Story by using some of the following questions for your own reflection or to spark a discussion within your team or organization.

There are many ways to understand this story as the discussion questions suggest. If you or your group would like to compare or contrast your interpretation with an outside viewpoint, consider this analysis.

Affective Realism
Seeing is believing.

But wait, not so fast. That old adage may be ready for the dumpster!

New research as reported by Lisa Feldman Barrett and Jolie Wormwood in a New York Times article titled "When a Gun Is Not a Gun" challenges our typical notions of perception. Barrett and Wormwood share research that brings to light the emotional connections between sight and certainty.

The tendency of our feelings to determine what we see is called "affective realism". It turns out that our emotions, our affect, don't just color our perceptions of reality. Feelings influence the content of our perceptions.

We assume that our brain reacts to the physical stimuli gathered by our senses. We see or hear something and react to it. However, our brains really spend most of their energy getting ready for what will happen next. In the authors' words, "The brain is a predictive organ. A majority of your brain activity consists of predictions about the world - thousands of them at a time - based on your past experience… [making] unconscious anticipations of every sight, sound and other sensation you might encounter in every instant."

A network of neurons nestled in the emotion-processing areas of the brain is the source of these predictions. The authors state that the neural networks "drive sensory neurons to fire before sights, sounds and other sensory information arrive from the world." Afterward, our brain does the fact checking to decide whether its prediction was correct.

In other words, depending on the circumstances, you might be predisposed to see a llama instead of a deer or someone holding a gun when all they really have is a cellphone. This may be one explanation for the accidents and deaths that have occurred when police have fired on unarmed individuals. Prejudice and racial bias would only add to the likelihood of the phenomenon of affective realism.

The credibility of eye witness accounts may become a casualty of this research on affective realism. As the authors state, "What we do know is that the brain is wired for prediction, and you predict most of the sights, sounds and other sensations in your life. You are, in large measure, the architect of your own experience."

With these new insights about perception, it's easy to see how team decision-making, especially under stressful conditions, is not as straightforward as we tend to think. We are always under the influence of our emotions.

Read the full article:
"When a Gun Is Not a Gun" by Lisa Feldman Barrett and Jolie Wormwood, New York Times, April 19, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/opinion/sunday/when-a-gun-is-not-a-gun.html?_r=0

For More Information:
For additional insight on this topic and to learn about a group activity related to it, read the Firefly News Flash for May 2015.


Readers React:

I just finished reading your 99 words and the some of the linked information on affective realism. It brought to mind something I heard somewhere that I think might be related. My daughter is very afraid of spiders. She is in her 30's and frequently tells us about the "huge" spider she saw somewhere. I believe I read or heard that for people with this aversion, the vision is actually magnified. They do "see" a huge spider while if I looked at the same spider I would see a much smaller one.

This seems to suggest the same phenomenon. I'll have to read the book referenced in your piece and see if I'm interpreting the concepts correctly. I'll also have to see if there is any way to prepare her to see them in their normal size. Thanks again for your great pieces! - Stephen Schumann


Did you use this 99-Word Story and the discussion questions or interpretation in your work or personal life? If so, about your experience! If you would like help using 99-Word Stories in your organization, please me.

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