Fruit, Postcard, Keyring

'Fruit, Postcard, Keyring'

8 May 2023
Effective Storytelling - Podcast
Short stories with key learning points for personal development and professional development. Often to make you smile, and always to make you think.
How three physical props, acting as metaphors, can significantly encourage and support individual development and change, and at the same time challenge and test commitment, honesty, teamwork and leadership

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We often finish any time management programme with this activity.

We ask the participants to choose, and write down, three objectives arising from the work we’ve done on the programme. The first should be a short-term objective - something that could be completed say in the next 7 working days.

The second objective should be medium term – something that can be achieved within two months.

The third objective should be a life change – something profound and permanent, that the individual wants to change about their life and in particular, how they use time in their life.

Examples of each might be:

  • Short term objective: start and maintain a ‘to do’ list on Outlook
  • Medium term objective: design and deliver a project according to the principles discussed on the programme
  • Permanent, for life: stop blaming time as an excuse for not doing something

Once these three objectives have been chosen, the participant then is offered the chance of reinforcing these by being given, respectively, a fruit (eg orange, banana), a post card, and a key ring.

The fruit will symbolise time passing. The deal is this: if the participant takes the fruit, they undertake to put it on their desk, and not remove it until their short-term objective has been met.

The post card encourages signing off an assignment, within a specified and agreed time. If the participant takes the post card, they have to write their medium-term objective on it, and keep it visible on their desk. They then have to get it signed off when the objective is completed and send it back to me by no later than 1 month from the day of this programme. If two-thirds of those taking the post card return their cards by the agreed date, we offer an additional half day programme, for free, for those participants.

The key ring is a permanent, daily reminder of the change they are committed to making. Any participant taking the key ring must attach it to their regular bunch of keys, and as they do, associate the key ring with their life-changing commitment. The idea is that every time they see the key ring (at least twice a day) they will recall the commitment to change they are making. Once the commitment is embedded, to the extent that they no longer need the key ring, then they should do one of three things with it: throw it away; pass it on to someone else who can use it in the same way; or return it to us – we have a sweets jar of key rings returned in this way.

Each object is a very powerful reminder of an obligation made

Once all this has been explained, each participant has then the choice as to whether they take a fruit, post card or key ring away. We make it very clear that there is no requirement to take any of the three objects – but if they do, they are committing to the deal implied.

Saying it is one thing, but if you really want to make a difference, you have to persist, persevere, and stick at it.

There are several take-aways from this story:

  • Metaphors and props
  • Taking ownership
  • Honesty
  • Incentives
  • Priorities
  • Urgent and important
  • Leadership

Metaphors and props

Fruit: The use of fruit as a metaphor for time passing really works – especially if you choose a fruit that has a reasonably quick – and visible – decay time. And it also acts as a physical prop – something real (which a metaphor isn’t) and visible. So the combination of metaphor and prop work really well to bring home that time is always running out, and in that sense, never on your side – especially if you are prone to delay and prevarication.

Postcard: another physical prop that can be placed anywhere visible to its owner. It’s also a metaphor for communication – a postcard implies something that contains a message to send to someone else.

Keyring: another physical prop, to be used every day – usually at least twice a day – forever…until…So there’s no avoiding it; like the fruit, it’s a permanent reminder, a memory and action jogger. And in terms of metaphor, then the word ‘key’ can imply particularly powerful meanings: key as in significant; key as in something that unlocks (or locks).

Taking ownership

Together, the fruit, postcard and keyring are associated with taking personal ownership:

Will you take ownership of any or all of the short, medium and permanent changes offered?

Will you take ownership of the three props provided?

Will you use them as described?

Will you own your commitments, keep your promise, and honour your word?


The activity makes it clear that there is absolutely no need for anyone to take up any of the three challenges. So it’s ok to leave the fruit, postcard or keyring. Though this is mentioned lightly in passing, it is actually a test of the individual’s honesty and integrity – of a part of their value system. Perhaps some will take the objects, because they think “it looks better if I do” or “it will please the trainer”. All of this is for the individual to decide…their actual motive for taking or leaving any of the objects is for them privately to decide…


Most of those taking part are attracted by the idea of a free half-day programme. So of course, to claim this, two-thirds of those taking the card (not the whole group) have to meet the requirement. So there is more of a public commitment, and to the group, by taking the card. So those taking the card are perhaps not only incentivised by the free half day, but also by contributing to a group benefit.


We do not know how many people eat the fruit or achieve a permanent ‘key ring’ change (though some do let us know). But we do know that most of the groups taking the post card fail to meet the requirement. We are fairly sure that, at the point of taking the card, the individuals are fully committed, and intend to meet the challenge set. So what happens? We think the best answer to that is ‘priorities change’. At the point of decision to take the card, the mindset is that it ought to be completely achievable. And, coming at the end of (hopefully) a successful course, people are primed with enthusiasm and positivity. But as we suspect you all know, this doesn’t always last – reality does. Other things – other priorities – get in the way; and the initial enthusiasm and positivity wanes, particularly as new priorities have either more appeal or more significance…

Urgent and important

…or more urgency. At the time, those taking the postcard thought it important enough to do so – because it would help them personally, or help the group, or both. But, perhaps sadly, urgency usually demotes importance in the priority ladder. The importance of the card may well be displaced by a succession of more urgent tasks.


The few groups who return enough postcards to get the free half-day have one thing in common: leadership. Someone within the group contacts the rest of the group; finds out if they took a card; asks if they’ve sent it in; and nudges them to do so before the deadline (reminding them the group and free half day depend on it!). And in one case, we know someone asked everyone to send their cards directly to them first, so they would be collectively passed on, and this leader would know whose cards were missing, and could chase. Such leaders were not appointed; they were never the most senior or experienced member of the group. So they are an excellent example of what we call ‘leadership is not in the title’; people do not have to have a position of leadership in order to demonstrate leadership.

Though commitments are easily made at the end of the programme, they are not so easy to deliver.
Effective Storytelling - Podcast
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