Douglas Adam’s Cookies

I recently read a funny story by Douglas Adams called “Cookies“.

Here is a summary.

Douglas arrives early for a train, and buys a cup of coffee, a newspaper and a packet of cookies. He takes a seat at a table, opposite of a businessman. After a while, the guy leans forward grabs the packet of cookies, tears it open and eats one. In his story, Douglas explains how he – as an Englishman – is not at all able to cope with this situation, so he just takes a cookie himself. A minute later, the guy takes another cookie and so does Adams. This procedure repeats until the packet is empty. Finally, the guy leaves – they both exchange “meaningful looks”. When the train arrives, Adams gets up, takes his newspaper and discovers underneath it – his packet of cookies! Douglas ends the story by saying that “The thing I like particularly about this story is the sensation that somewhere in England there has been wandering around for the last quarter-century a perfectly ordinary guy who’s had the same exact story, only he doesn’t have the punch line.”

A very funny story, indeed…

After my giggling had settled, I couldn’t stop pondering about it. Doesn’t this seemingly improbable story happen all the time, only slightly differently? How often do we think somebody is plain wrong or is unfair to us, when in fact it is exactly the other way around? How often do engineers, salespeople and managers talk at cross purposes? Isn’t this a terrible good example of a paradigm shift, a total change in one’s perspective?

Douglas picked up the newspaper, which triggered the paradigm shift. If he hadn’t picked up the newspaper, he would have walked around for the rest of his life believing that the other guy was pretty weird. So what is the lesson to be learned? Whenever we think we are treated badly or others are plain wrong, we should try hard to find the newspaper — and pick it up.

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