The world’s greatest leaders tell great stories. You’ve probably known or suspected this for years (especially as a reader of this blog). If you examine the biography of successful public figures, you’ll discover that many carry a deep discernment about the role of storytelling. Things happen based on the stories you tell.
Which is why I was very excited to read an advance copy of Peter Guber’s new book: Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story, in stores March 1, 2011. If Peter’s name sounds familiar, it’s because Peter is a Hollywood impresario – former chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures, and producer of infamous flicks like Rain Man, The Color Purple, and Gorillas in the Midst. Today, Peter is head of Mandalay Entertainment Group and co-owner of the Golden State Warriors NBA team. And still, the avid storyteller and deal-maker.
His book delivers in a manner few in the storytelling genre have before. While the book teaches key storytelling concepts, it’s also fun and accessible. You want to keep reading because of the passion and energy that Peter brings to the subject. There’s a unique set-up that comes from (1) Peter’s storied career, and (2) the all-star cast of friends he interviews regarding their relationship to storytelling. Throughout the book, you hear from icons such as Magic Johnson, Deepak Chopra, Ariana Huffington, Bill Clinton, and Keith Ferrazzi, on how they think about storytelling. Peter also shares moments from his own professional life: the ups and downs of Hollywood deal-making and how he came to realize it was “the story”, not the facts and figures, that ultimately determined whether a project was green lit or not.
Tell to Win is full of epic anecdotes. Some of my favorites included how Magic Johnson funded his breakthrough chain of movie theaters using a parable from the world of anthropology. Or why David Copperfield weaves a deeply personal and intimate portrait of his grandfather into his magic show. You also learn how the MySpace investment by Rupert Murdoch, a $650 million deal, was essentially hatched in a single sit-down meeting. In example after example, you learn how many of our culture’s leading figures used a carefully constructed story to convey their message and close the deal.
I just wish that Peter had better addressed the shadow side of being the ultimate pitch-man. The core premise and wisdom of the book – how to use stories to sell your idea – leaves itself open to misinterpretation. As the cliche goes in Hollywood: the goal is to “make the pitch and close the deal”. Less attention is focused on what happens in the rest of the story. The title of the book, Tell to Win – suggests a zero-sum game and dogfight to the top, which feels a bit flat in today’s age of relationship, collaboration and co-creation. If you’re the winner, then who’s the loser? Storytelling is not just the latest management technique for how to manipulate your audience or beat the competition. In Tell to Win, there is a genuine search for meaning and authenticity even amidst the pressures and demands of doing business. When you tell a story that others can identify with as their own — then the need to persuade, convince, or sell people on anything disappears. Peter Guber clearly identifies with the creative tension that is the Zen Koan at the heart of storytelling.
Whether you’re new to the subject, or a seasoned story professional, Tell to Win is a book you want in your library. Peter Guber is a master evangelist for the transformative power of story. If you can look past the title, you will find great insights and parables on the ever present influence of storytelling on our lives.