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The jokes and stories included here were originally developed for presentations and workshops. Some of these jokes are old recycled ones in which we made minor changes. Some are totally original. The latest entries are always first so that readers can check easily to see if things have been updated. Enjoy!

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November 3, 2000, Why did the chicken cross the road? This joke was sent to us via e-mail. We don't know who originated it, or how many times it has been transformed in the process. We added a couple of our lines.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

BILL CLINTON: I did not cross the road with THAT chicken. What do you mean by "chicken"? Could you define "chicken" please?

GEORGE W. BUSH: I don't think I should have to answer that question. It happened back in my drinking days.

STROM THURMOND: In my day, we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road. Someone told us that the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough.

AL GORE: I did not know that chicken was going to give me campaign donations.

PAT BUCHANAN: To steal a job from a decent hardworking American.

RALPH NADER: I don't know why, but I bet it had something to do with escaping corporate control.

JOHN McCAIN: If there was finance reform, the chicken never would have been forced to cross the road.

KARL MARX: It was historical inevitability.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

SADDAM HUSSEIN: This was an unprovoked act of rebellion, and we were quite justified in dropping 50 tons of nerve gas on it.

NRA: It is our constitutional right to shoot chickens crossing the road.

CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK: To boldly go where no chicken has gone before.

SIGMOND FREUD: The fact that you are concerned that the chicken crossed the road explalns your underlying sexual tendency to vote the way you do.

ALBERT EINSTEIN: Did the chicken cross the road, or did the road move beneath the chicken?

Did the chicken cross the road?
Did it cross it with a toad?
Yes! The chicken crossed the road,
But why it crossed, I've not been told.

BILL GATES: I have just released echicken2000, which will not only cross roads, but will lay e-eggs, file your important documents, and keep track of how many times you visit different internet sites. echicken2000 cannot be separated from Windows 2000, no matter how hard we try.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

ERNEST HEMINGWAY: To die. In the rain.

ARISTOTLE: It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: I envision a world where all chickens are free to cross the road without having their motives called into question.

JERRY FALWELL: Because the chicken was gay! Isn't it obvious? Can't you people see the plain truth in front of your faces? The chicken was going to the "other" side. That's why "they" call it the "other" side. Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay. And if you let it cross the road, then you too will become gay. That's why we need the freedom to keep chickens from living around the rest of us.

THE BIBLE: And God came down from the heavens and said unto the chicken, "Thou shalt cross the road." And the chicken crossed the road, and there was much rejoicing.

COLONEL SANDERS: I missed one?


April 4, 2000, LEADERSHIP Four executives went duck hunting. A single bird kept circling the group. The first executive looked as if she was about to shoot, then put her gun down. "What's the matter?" one of her friends asked.

"I wasn't sure it was a duck, and I don't shoot something until I'm sure."

"Engineers," the V.P. of Human Relations grumbled, "Let me take the next shot." He aimed his gun at the bird. Blinking his eyes as if to clear them, he looked up from the gun, then down, and then up again. "I'm not sure if it's a duck either. I need to ask it if it thinks it's a duck."

The third executive was the CEO. She pointed her gun and fired. The duck fell into the pond. She said to the VP of Inspection next to her, "Go get it and come tell us, 'It was a duck.'" This was a joke about physicians told on Prarie Home Companion last Saturday. I changed the occupations to executives.


March 31, 2000, PIGS AND PARADIGM SHIFTS A young woman was driving her new sports car very fast down a mountain road. The top of the car was down, and she was enjoying the wind through her hair. As she drove, she thought resentfully of her parents who had told her she was reckless in a car and would get killed one day if she wasn't careful.

Suddenly as she came up to a curve, an SUV with a male driver and six kids appeared in her lane. She swerved onto the shoulder and stopped, barely missing the SUV. The driver yelled at her through his open window, "Pig!" Thinking quickly, she yelled back, "Bull!"

As the SUV disappeared from sight, she at least felt contented that she had been able to respond to his insult. She stepped on the accelerator, and squeeled her tires at she went around the curve. She crashed into the very large pig which was standing in the middle of the road.

Joel Barker used to tell a version of this joke in his workshops on paradigm shifts. The joke brings home how difficult it is to change how we react to different situations.


August 12, 1999, A TEXAN IN MAINE I don't know who wrote this, but a friend from rural Maine sent it to me. This is one reason we enjoy living at the "ends of the Earth."

A member of the Bush family was in Maine to visit the family homestead. Along the way, he became lost, and started grumbling to himself that he had never seen so many trees in his life. They were making him feel claustrophobic and yearn for the open vistas of the west. After hours of not seeing a soul, he at last came to an open area where a farmer was using a tractor to pull up tree stumps. Several acres of land had been cleared. The Bush nephew stepped out of his Cadillac, and waved at the farmer. After a stump pulled free with a shower of dirt and stones, the farmer shut off the tractor, and walked over to the road. The Bush said, "Howdy, sure looks like a nice spread you got here."


"How big is your place?"

"It goes from the road here up to the trees on that hill. The trees on the left are the west boundary, and the trees on the right are the east boundary."

The Bush smiled. "I've got a place down in Texas. If you start driving on the east when the sun rises, you won't reach the west boundary until the sun sets. What do you think about that?"

The farmer looked at the Caddie. "I had a car like that once."


April 9, 1999, WHAT THE PROFESSOR REALLY MEANS Original by J. Timothy Petersik from the Chronicle of Higher Education, 1998; Edited and add-ons by Ron Turner (with apologies to Dr. Petersik)

College Teacher says College Teacher means
"You'll be using one of the leading textbooks in the field." "I've been using this same book for ten years."
"As long as you are willing to study, you should have no trouble in this course." "As long as you don't need any sleep, you'll get at least a 'C' in this course."
"The gist of what the author is saying is what's most important. Don't worry about memorizing all the details." "I don't understand the details either, but I'll still ask for short essays on them."
"Good question. Why don't you see me during my office hours so we can discuss this in depth?" "I don't know."
"This is a complicated issue that will take time for you to understand. For the time being, just take me on faith." "I really don't know."
"That should be obvious." "I don't know what it means either, but there will be a question about it on the test."
"The test will be an easy 50 questions, multiple choice, over the last unit." "The test will be 60 questions, multiple guess over picky details from the text and from lecture. No one will score above 55%."
"The test scores were generally good, but some of you could have done better." "Some of you managed a C+, but everyone else flunked."
"Before we begin the class, are there any questions about previous materials?" "Has anyone opened the book yet?"
"The reason you have to learn this material is that our advisory board has strongly recommended that all graduates be competent in this area." "The advisory board said that if they had to suffer through this, then by God so should you."



I learned from the Republicans:

  1. Democrats keep lying even when the evidence is overwhelming.
  2. It's okay to lie about U-2 spy missions, the Vietnam War, aid to the Contras, and doing anything to Castro. If you lie about sex, though, you better quit.
  3. Republican parents can no longer say to their children, "Lying under oath is worse than general day-to-day lying." Now they will have to say, "Whatever you do, don't get caught."

I learned from Democrats:

  1. Lying is not impeachable unless the liar is a Republican.
  2. It's okay to lie about sex, drugs, donations from Buddhist nuns, and where you were last Saturday night.
  3. Democratic parents can no longer say to their children, "Be like the President." Now they have to say, "Be like the President's spouse."

TQM Lesson: Garbage in, garbage out.


January 13, 1999, THE DANGER OF BEING A CHANGE AGENT: The President of an organization had watched the rest of the business world gradually overtake him and outstrip his performance. Every year he would latch onto the latest management fad, but the fad always seemed to be a year or two late. None of the changes seemed to grab hold. The company wasn't just treading water. It was starting to drown.

The President called a massive meeting in the company auditorium where 300 V.P.'s, Executive Directors, and Bureau chiefs were called together on short notice, each wondering what management bestseller the President had just finished reading. "We've tried itsy bitsy kaizen changes. We've tried poka yoke prevention efforts. We re-engineered. We turned ourselves into a learning organization. We paid consultants to audit us, analyze us, and tell us how to become great. We benchmarked, we set stretch targets, and we empowered our workforce. Do you know what all of this has gotten us?" He kept his voice quiet for a moment. "Nada! It has gotten us nada!"

Two burly security guards wheeled a guillotine to the front of the stage. "Who should we blame?" Three of the Senior Vice-Presidents were escorted by armed guards, each to special seats on a stage at the front of the auditorium.

The Vice-President of Sales was the first executive called forward and forced to place her head upon the chopping block. The President pulled the chain of the guillotine. Nothing happened; the blade stayed in place. The Vice-President stood up with a shaky grin. "Speech," the crowd yelled, "Speech." The Vice-President turned and looked at the guillotine and then said in her strongest voice, "Thank God for defects!"

The next Vice-President was the V.P. of Operations. He was a cantanerous old tyrant very opposed to new ideas. Grumpily, he shook off the handholds of the security officers and placed his head on the chopping block. The President pulled the chain of the guillotine. Again, nothing happened. The old grouch stood and looked at the guillotine. He then shouted at the top of his lungs, "Who bought this piece of junk?"

The last person to step up to the guillotine was the V.P. of Total Quality, who was the company's quality guru. As she walked up to the chopping block, she studied the guillotine blade. "Oh, that's why it's not working. It's jammed." She reached up and removed the blockage.

After her head was chopped off, the President said, "Give us the past!" The 300 executives in the room all joined enthusiastically in the chant, "Give us the past! Give us the past! Give us the past!"

I heard a version of this joke on National Public Radio in the spring of 1998, but I'm embarrassed to admit I can't remember who told it. In the version I heard, instead of a TQM advocate, it was instead a scientist/lawyer who made the mistake of "fixing" the guillotine. In the original, the two V.P.'s were a priest and a politician facing the guillotine during the French Revolution.


August 24, 1998, IS THE GLASS HALF-FULL? It is common for pessimists to be described as the people who see the glass as being "half-empty" while optimists are described as people who see the same glass as being "half-full" . An engineer-friend of mine told me that such a glass is really "half-capacity" meaning that "marketing really screwed up" or perhaps the glass is "only half-used because high taxes keep people from buying the water they really want."

I asked myself how a TQM advocate would perceive the glass and came up with the following:


May 4, 1998, THE RON PRINCIPLE: "People will rise to their level of bad luck." W. Edward Deming among others have talked about the need for supervisors to understand the significance of variation. One of Deming's favorite stories was about a conversation held between the physicist Enrico Fermi and General Leslie Groves during World War II. Out of the Crisis (1986, page 394)

I don't know the details of this conversation, but it's not difficult to imagine. Fermi and Groves were working on the Manhattan Project, the super-secret building of the atomic bomb. They were trapped together with other bomb-makers for months on the deserts around Los Alamos, New Mexico. It was no doubt hot and sweaty, being in the days prior to air conditioning. Envision them drinking beers and trying to find something to talk about every night after a long day of bomb-making.

One night the subject of "great generals" came up. Groves, not unreasonably, described a "great general" as being an individual who had won several major battles. After being pressed for a more concrete definition, Groves said that, "Five major battles in a row had to be won in order for a general to be called great."

This doesn't sound far fetched. Most of us define "greatness" by results. Great salepersons sell more than their peers. Great surgeons have fewer people die on the table. Great teachers produce more students who do well on tests. Great coaches have teams that win many games.

"How many generals are actually great?" Fermi asked, and he was told, "About three percent." Again, this is in keeping with common sense. "Greatness" should be a rare quality.

Fermi was a physicist and well versed in the nature of variation. The first time I read this story, I admit that I saw nothing wrong in what Groves had said. Intuitively I thought Groves had nailed "greatness" on the head.

Fermi asked if a major battle got counted when the winning army was ten times the size of the losing army. That didn't count because it wouldn't have been generalship responsible for the victory. Groves agreed that the major battles should be counted only when the opposing armies were roughly evenly matched. The only difference would be the generals on each side.

Fermi pointed out that if two generals are equal in ability and their opposing armies are roughly equal in ability, then the chances of winning any given battle would be 50/50 or . He asked General Groves to humor him for the moment and compare the results of "great" generals to what would have happened from sheer luck. The odds of winning two battles in a row are 1/4. This is because half of the original generals would win the first battle, and then half of these would win the second. Half of the 1/4 of generals who won two battles would win three leaving us with 1/8. Half of these would be 1/16. And finally half of the 1/16 would win a fifth battle in a row, or about 1/32 (three in a hundred). The definition of "greatness" (3%) used by General Groves was really the definition of "expected luck" (1/32.) The contrary would also be true. About 3% of average generals would lose five major battles in a row simply due to bad luck. General Groves would no doubt have called these poor unlucky souls, "terrible" generals and would have had them stripped of rank.

It is, of course, possible to have truly "great" generals. If 10% of our generals won five major battles in a row, then clearly they as a group did better than luck. Notice though that in that 10%, about a third would be there due to luck. This is true of any pool of outstanding performers (and of their opposites, those bad-luck people who lost five major battles in a row.)

General Colin Powell never talked about which generals were great. But in his auto-biography, Powell explained how the commanding officer could kill the careers of subordinates. It is vital for an officer with career ambitions to "please" the boss. Powell steadily rose in the ranks until he finally got his first star and became a general. His luck ran out at that point, and he was assigned to work under a two-star general who eventually wrote up a bad report on Powell. To Powell's surprise, his career didn't end at this point, but rather continued because apparently generals get treated better than colonels. If the same report had been written on him earlier in his career, then he would have become a civilian instead of eventually becoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Peter Principle tells us that bureaucrats rise to their level of incompetence. The Ron Principle tells us that people rise to their level of bad luck. We sometimes confuse bad luck with incompetence, and so lose "good" people along the way and reward "average" people by mistake. Promotions keep coming until bad luck blocks our progress forward.


April 13, 1998, CYNICS AND THEIR WONDERFUL VIEW OF THE WORLD: Often problems develop because people "hear" what they expect to hear rather than what was really said. Of course sometimes people hear the true reality of what was meant. Either way, we can all get a good laugh by looking at things from a cynic's perspective. The following looks at things first from the perspective of the Cynical Worker and then from the perspective of the Cynical Boss.




"We believe in working as a team.
We're all in this together."

"We're all in this together.
You do the work, and we make the profits."

"Our first step is to drive out fear.
We can't survive without trusting each other."

"Trust us. Work long hard hours, keep your wage demands down, stop griping, and then we have a bridge in Arizona we want to sell you."

"Employee morale is critical to our success.
Tell me what you need from me."

"What you all really need is a
good swift kick in the butt."

"We're going to empower the work force to make far more decisions than in the past. Your jobs will be more interesting and more fulfilling"

"Not only will we empower you, but you get to do it for the same fair wage you get right now."

"We'll all make more money by working together. "

"We'll all make more money, but my 'more' will be bigger than your 'more.'"




"We believe in working as a team.
We're all in this together."

"We're all in this together.
You bring the money, and we'll spend it for you."

"Bosses need to start trusting the work force."

"Trust us. We'll work hard and do what's best for the stock holders. Then we have this bridge you sold us that we want to sell back to you."

"Supervisor bonuses should depend upon worker morale."

"Once we control supervisor bonuses, then the next step is to have direct election of supervisors by the workers. Give us an inch and we'll take over the company."

"Use committees including us to make decisions."

"If you think the camel is a poorly designed horse, just wait until we show you what we have in mind for the executive parking lot."

"Stockholders will make more money by sharing the wealth with the workers."

"We also want the keys to the Executive Dining Room."


March 31, 1998, LIGHTBULBS WANTED: About the only unifying force in America today is that everyone can laugh at lawyer and doctor jokes.

"How many lawyers does it take to change a lightbulb?"

"How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?" "None." Lawyers don't change light bulbs, but no one else will any longer change light bulbs without a lawyer in the background.

Think about what that means to our society. As a social system, we have so much distrust and fear that we can't do hardly anything without a bevy of lawyers standing in the background. That's a tremendous increased cost to the system.

The reason why we need so many lawyers is NOT because lawyers are greedy vindictive ambulance chasers. (Notice I didn't say they aren't greedy vindictive ambulance chasers.) The truth is that lawyers are no different today than in the past, and they are no different in the US than elsewhere.

What's different is the level of fear and distrust in society.

Let's pick on the second favorite brunt of jokes in America: doctors.

"How many doctors does it take to change a light bulb?"

The insurance company will require all the doctors to explain in quadruplicate why and what they did. Unless the patient called and got prior approval, the insurance company will refuse to pay.

Let's see: it looks like we have four doctors and an insurance company. And of course everyone has to have a lawyer.

The health care system today is in a mess. It has specialized every function so that many more people are needed than in the past even for simple procedures. Insurance companies are so distrustful that they have piled a huge inspection burden in the form of massive required paperwork. Sometimes it starts to feel like the real purpose of the paperwork is to make it so complicated that the insurance companies in the end won't have to pay anything.

My attitude is starting to sound like I need a lawyer.

"How many people does it take to change a light bulb?" was presented at the New England Regional Quality Academy by Ron Turner in 1996. They go with the April, 1998, "story" originally on the Ends of the Earth Home Page.


March 30, 1998,DICTATORS WANTED: A family farm watched with growing dismay as one by one neighboring farms were taken over by a giant agribusiness based in New York City, which had recently renamed itself Nature's Protector. The new "hired hands" on these neigboring farms began wearing "chemical protection suits" which made them look more like astronauts than people who were in touch with nature.

Eventually the day came when the family farm became the last hold-out in the community. Surrounding them on all sides was Nature's Protector complete with bill boards promising to produce the food that Americans would need in the 21st century. The family farm had been founded 150 years ago and handed down from generation to generation. The farmer took her husband out into the fields to look at it one last time. "Well Harold," Eloise said, "I think it's time to admit we can't stay here any longer. Life has passed us by."

Harold held out a tray of cookies for his wife which he had made when she was out feeding the goats and chickens. "Are you sure? Your family has had its roots here a long time."

"I know, but I don't see what choice we have. Every year the taxes get higher and higher. I'm ready to give up."

As luck would have it, the CEO of Nature's Protector came to the house that day with yet another offer to purchase the land. The CEO was a big man, handsome, well dressed with manicured nails. "My family has been in farming since the Mayflower first landed," the CEO said, "I know what it means to have farming in the blood."

"What's your offer?" Eloise said. Her husband brought in coffee for everyone. He sat next to his wife and held her hand supportively. He was dressed in a casual cotten shirt which nicely complemented his freshly ironed blue jeans. Eloise was wearing blue work pants and a flannel shirt.

"We'll pay you a fair price," the CEO said, "What I want to know, though, is if you would be willing to stay on and run the farm for us? We would like to make your few little acres here a museum of past farming and living practices. In fact, we would like you to use mules and draft horses like a hundred years ago and give up the use of all machinery."

"Why do you want to do that?"

"I think of it as giving back to the land some of the harvest it has so helped me reap."

Eloise and Harold read over the contract. The money was more than they ever expected. In exchange for continuing the organic farming, they had to also agree to permit visitors to come and see how they lived. "Looks good to me," Eloise said as she signed the contract. The only disturbing part of the agreement was that Eloise would have to act like a nineteenth century housewife, and Harold would have to do the "man's role" and plow their fields using a mule.

It seemed odd that any Fortune 500 firm would pay so much money for someone to farm in a primitive manner. Eventually though, Nature's Protector's motives became clear. Ads started running on television talking about how much Nature's Protector cared about the environment. They showcased the little organic farm as proof that pesticides and chemicals don't pollute surrounding land. A young woman who worked as a chemist developing new fertilizers that would cause the "earth to blossom" talked about all the opportunities that Nature's Protector gave to women, unlike the "good old days" when women were confined to the house. The ad showed Eloise baking cookies and canning preserves.

The CEO of Nature's Protector decided to come visit one day along with a dozen news reporters and other invited guests. The entourage arrived in stretch limousines that parked in the free spaces between the barn and house. Eloise and Harold had been forewarned of the visit in order to insure they were dressed for their parts. Eloise wore an old gingham dress she had found in a second hand clothing store. Harold wore an old straw hat and jammed a corn cob pipe between his teeth.

The CEO greeted them by their first names. They called him "Mr. White" and showed the deference that farm hands supposedly showed their bosses at one time. "You know, Mr. White, Harold has this stubborn mule that I thought you might be able to help him with. After all, you're used to running a billion dollar organization. What's one little mule going to be to you?"

The CEO was flattered. "I'm sure I can help. Take me to this mule."

The mule was a typical onery cranky stubborn mule. The only way anyone could get the mule out of doors was if the mule wanted to go outside. Otherwise it would sit down and snap at anyone who tried to get near. Harold offered some carrots, but the mule ignored him and looked sideways at the reporters and the CEO. "You're being too gentle," White said, "Mules won't do anything unless they are afraid of you." White picked up a short piece of wood and proceeded to whack the mule on its backside. Instead of running away from him, the mule turned around and kicked White in the head. To everyone's horror, the CEO was killed instantly.

At the funeral three days later, the Human Resources Director noticed that Harold and Ellie were standing near the casket. People from within the company would come up and murmer something, but then both Ellie and Harold would shake their heads no. Finally the Human Resources director approached the two and asked what people had been saying to them.

Ellie answered, "They would say something like, 'What a horrible thing to happen,' and we'd say, 'It was a real trajedy.'" Harold then added, "Then they would ask if they could rent that mule, and we'd tell them, 'Nope, he's already rented out for the next year.'"

This is a rather old joke which we have heard in differing forms, the most common of which is to have a tyrannical mother-in-law in place of the CEO. Any dictator will do for that critical part.


March 28, 1998,KEEPING THE END IN MIND: The Administrator at a large hospital made Stephen Covey's book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People required reading for her entire staff. In particular, she told people she wanted them to always bear in mind the "end purpose" of the business, which was to make money. "Whenever people do anything, I want them to ask themselves, 'How will I add value to the customer and generate income?'"

As is the nature of modern hospitals, the Administrator was usually at war with the physicians on staff. One physician in particular liked to rebut the Administrator whenever she brought up Stephen Covey by saying, "The end purpose of a hospital is to make people healthy, not make money."

"If we don't make money, we'll go out of business and you'll have to return your Porsch to the dealer."

"If we don't help people, you won't have anyone paying the bills."

"If we don't make money, we won't downsize just the nurses, but we'll lay off the entire staff."

"If we don't help people, then you administrators will have to go back to flipping hamburgers."

One day in the midst of an exchange of opinions, the physician grasped her left arm and dropped over dead. Even though she was in the hospital, help couldn't be provided quickly enough. Ironically as the Administrator attempted to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, she too had a heart attack and died.

The now dead physician found herself just outside of heaven looking through the pearly gates of paradise. In order to get there, she had to stand in line while people were processed The line appeared to be over a mile long. Walt Disney was an angel who was directing people to stand in a winding line that zipped back and forth in very efficient fashion. Walt smiled amiably at the physician. "Welcome Doctor. I hope you enjoy your stay in Heaven."

"Mr. Disney? I didn't expect to see you here," the physician stammered, then blushed at the implication of her statement, "I didn't mean you should have gone to hell. I just meant, I didn't expect you to be working as an angel."

"That's quite alright. Many people say that." He looked at his clipboard. "Your initial stay will be for three weeks. I hope you reach the front of the line by then."

"I don't understand. Isn't heaven forever?"

"We don't have enough room for everyone so we have to take turns."

"How can that be? God can make heaven as big as is needed."

Disney shrugged, "God isn't magic. The only way to make heaven bigger is to make hell smaller. Besides, people need a taste of hell every once in a while."

"That's so unfair. How can God do that?"

"I personally thought we should keep out all long haired hippies, but God wouldn't go along."

The line slowly moved forward. The physician looked at her wrist to check the time, but her watch was gone. "This line feels like it is going on forever," she quietly said to herself. She then saw the Administrator of her hospital take cuts at the front of the line.

"That isn't right," the physician complained loudly. She waved at Walt to come over. He slowly made his way back, all the while smiling and touching people who were pleased to see their childhood hero in heaven.

"That woman just took cuts. Aren't you going to do something?"

Walt looked at the head of the line. "Oh that's God. Sometimes she thinks she's a hospital administrator."

This joke originally appeared in Readers Digest many years ago. The original had a male God pretending to be a doctor. We changed it slightly to take into account the diminishing status of the physician in these HMO times.

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