Friday, December 21, 2007

Story time

The Harvard Business Review is not the first place you’d go to for advice on telling stories, but that is exactly where I found a great article by Peter Guber. Guber is a long-time movie producer whose credits range from Flashdance to Rainman, Batman Returns to Tango & Cash, so he’s not exactly your usual HBR management geek. As an executive producer, he’s someone who's had to make the call on whether a story works or doesn’t, so his article struck a chord with me. His ideas aren’t based on abstract theory, but on whether real live people are going to shell out cash for your story.

Guber’s article is behind a subscription wall, but I think his four truths about what makes a great story are useful whether you are pitching an idea for a website, reporting results to the Board or inspiring staff to work up to the next level.

  1. Truth to the teller. Yes, authenticity again. Show and share who you are with an open heart.
  2. Truth to the audience. It’s Value for Time. They give you their time on the understanding that you will give them emotional value and personal insight.

  3. Truth to the moment. Be prepared and then – improvise. The preparation will ensure you don’t lose focus. The improvisation will make sure you don’t lose your audience!

  4. Truth to the mission. Don’t even try to inspire people to do something you don’t believe in yourself. They won’t believe in it either.
In my book, sisomo: The Future on Screen, I wrote a chapter on stories and storytelling. The status of stories is transforming. Their ability to inspire people and connect with consumers is putting them at the heart of business. I’ve often quoted Rolf Jensen of the Dream Company that “The highest-paid person in the first half of the next century will be the ‘storyteller’.” That’s a prediction to make people pay attention!

In sisomo, I had 12 ideas about what makes a great story.
  1. Great stories touch us. They connect with our own desires and experiences and what we care about.
  2. Great stories are contagious. The itch to pass on a great story is almost unbearable. Stories have to be shared.

  3. Great stories are cloaked in credibility. They make practical sense, intuitive sense, emotional sense.

  4. Great stories connect with the emotions. Genuine, compelling emotion drives every story.

  5. Great stories surprise and delight. They are infinitely capable of the unexpected. It’s not just about novelty and revelations but also creativity and emotional truth.

  6. Great stories have context. Whether it’s a fairy tale or a business lesson, stories weave facts and events together so we understand their larger meanings.

  7. Great stories are fast workers. They get in ahead of our rationalizations and logic with their own compelling truth.

  8. Great stories are crafted. We all like stories to be recounted with skill and effort.

  9. Great stories make us laugh. Humor disarms us and opens us up to new ideas.

  10. Great stories teach us to be smart. Through great stories we learn to spot disinformation in an instant. Shoddy stories reinforce prejudice and hide the truth.

  11. Great stories introduce us to great characters; people we want to spend time with.

  12. Great stories open us up to other worlds. Welcome to the world of the imagination, to new geographies, to new realities.
Merry Christmas and have a great 2008. KR


Susan Plunkett said...

How about just:

authenticity, credibility, believability in a context of aesthetic delivery

Bada bing. :)

Have a safe Christmas everyone. This year I adopted - anonymously - an elderly woman who has no family at all and shouted her her Christmas (groceries, toiletries and two gifts). It felt great and I felt excited wrapping the presents and simply writing "to a special lady"..

I think it important to let people know their lives mean something to others.

And I think this principle is also recognised within 'good' marketing.

Peter Durand said...

Thanks for emphasizing the necessity of "truth" in our storytelling, even when it refers to the truth revealed by the results of creative license.

When Bill Moyers was describing his experience interviewing the great Joseph Campbell, he said: "Campbell began his answer to my question as he often did, with a story."

In the modern age, we tend to endure presentations, but as members of the human tribe, we experience stories. And when they are done right--with grace, drama, humor or candor--we are moved by emotion, and then, with a little luck, to action.

Susan Plunkett said...


Thus you enter the arena of social change and the potentials of a 'therapeutic' [meant in the broader sense] dynamic.

Truth is, of course, subjective and comes back I believe to the qualities I spoke of in the context of the aesthetics you list. Grace and candor are so valuable and I'm glad you listed them.

A few years ago I marked several undergrad creative stories that were environmental themed. The most successful of the lot didn't try and push the reader towards any moral view at all. It developed understanding and insights by drawing a comparative tale between pre human intervention and post.

Very impressive and you remember those tales because their sincerity and ability to open your eyes hits home to you.

I also believe most adults still like to feel a little surprised by a tale. That aha moment which can take many forms.