(Editor’s note: Lou Hoffman is CEO of The Hoffman Agency. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)
Peter Guber has enjoyed an eclectic career, learning a thing or two about new ventures along the way.
After heading Columbia Pictures (now Sony Pictures Entertainment), he launched Mandalay Entertainment, the name behind (among other films) “Seven Years in Tibet.” More recently, another set of business challenges has surfaced as he and partner Joe Lacob try to remake the Golden State Warriors, no easy task for the team that traded Robert Parish for Joe Barry Carroll and selected Chris Washburn with the third pick in the 1986 draft (but I’m not bitter).
Here’s the punch line: Whether navigating the waters between Hollywood and his Sony bosses in Tokyo or trying to convince Fidel Castro to allow his crew to film in Havana Bay, Guber always had a secret weapon at his side: the ability to tell a story.
In “Tell To Win” (due out March 1), Guber articulates how storytelling can become part of any executive’s leadership arsenal, by channeling his own experiences as well as the knowledge of colleagues.
Among the tales:
- We learn how then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton used the movie “High Noon” as the stage setter to tin cup for $90K to keep his campaign alive after losing the New Hampshire primary.
- We learn Famous Amos liked the cookie business better than the agent business.
- We learn Guber went on the movie set to tell Dean Martin to shape up only to have Frank Sinatra intervene with a “Who the hell are you?” before physically pushing him out the door.
Guber focuses on oral storytelling, a key point in the book. If you need to win someone over to your way of thinking, don’t get on the phone or send an e-mail or draft a 140-character plea on Twitter. Get face-to-face with the person.
With this as the backdrop, I found three takeaways that frame the book.
First, recognize that emotions play just as an important role as intellect in how people make decisions. Stories – not facts, figures and spreadsheets – tap the heart. This concept can be difficult to grasp for those coming from technical orientations. Engineers in particular tend to view anecdotes as fluff, not fodder, for bolstering one’s communications.
The book also explains the importance of personalizing your story with a hero.
There’s simplicity in the definition of a hero that comes from basketball coach and executive Pat Riley: “In every story there’s one person who can make the difference. That’s your hero.”
And finally, storytelling offers a means to show vulnerability, a quality for building trust. According to Keith Ferrazzi, author of “Never Eat Alone” and one of Guber’s resources: “Vulnerability is one of the most underappreciated assets in business today. Everyone has something in common with every other person. And you don’t find those similarities if you don’t open up and expose your interests and concerns, allowing others to do likewise.”
Putting the double negative aside, it’s an excellent point.
For those who favor their geek side, Guber also tackles the cognitive part of storytelling. I especially liked the thoughts of Jerome Bruner, a cognitive psychologist, who said “Narrative emerges from violations to expectations.”
And neuroscientist Dan Siegel explains that “You have expectations in your head; I have expectations in my head. We sit down to breakfast. I tell you, ‘I got up this morning, I went to the bathroom and picked up my toothbrush and put toothpaste on it, blah, blah, blah.’ Our expectations are totally in sync. There’s no violation of them. It’s boring. It’s not memorable.”
Allow me to simplify the equation: Violation = Attention.
It’s not a perfect book, though. I could have done without some of the pop psychology lessons, but these aren’t major flaws. The entertainment value in “Tell To Win” allows the storytelling medicine to go down nice and easy – and for those who like their lessons bulletized, every chapter ends with “aHHa!” moments.
If you’re looking to explore and apply the persuasive qualities of storytelling, “Tell To Win” makes for a good starting point.
At a glance:
Title: Tell to Win
Authors: Peter Guber
Publisher: Crown Business
Length: 272 pages
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