Anecdote circles and yak shaving

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —March 20, 2005
Filed in Communication

Seth Godin believes ‘Yak Shaving’ is the single best phrase he’s learned this year. It describes those situations when you are extremely sidetracked when trying to get something done. Here is the yak shaving incident described by Seth:


Yak Shaving is the last step of a series of steps that occurs when you find something you need to do. “I want to wax the car today.”

“Oops, the hose is still broken from the winter. I’ll need to buy a new one at Home Depot.”

“But Home Depot is on the other side of the Tappan Zee bridge and getting there without my EZPass is miserable because of the tolls.”

“But, wait! I could borrow my neighbor’s EZPass…”

“Bob won’t lend me his EZPass until I return the mooshi pillow my son borrowed, though.”

“And we haven’t returned it because some of the stuffing fell out and we need to get some yak hair to restuff it.”

And the next thing you know, you’re at the zoo, shaving a yak, all so you can wax your car.


I find it interesting that in Seth’s post, and also others such as BL Ochman, the advice is, avoid shaving the yak! While I agree you can waste heaps of time on such sidetracks, there is a time and place for yak shaving; you can discover many useful things on these journeys. Who would have known that pillows can be stuffed with yak hair!

Anecdote circles encourage yak shaving and this is their strength. Each anecdote told triggers memories of past events which, in many cases, haven’t been thought about for years. The stories, in turn, reveal the values of the tellers and through them the organisation they work in. Yak shaving turns our to be the essential process.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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