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Telling purposeful stories: an organization's most under-utilized competency.

"Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts," Sergeant Joe Friday famously said in the TV series Dragnet. Unfortunately, many professionals in organizations today try to persuade other folks to join their parade, adopt their mission or cause, or turn a "no" into a "yes" by using the same communication skills as Sgt. Friday--facts, figures and information. Not only do these individuals typically fail to get others to act on their goal, but they often feel frustrated, impotent and not heard.

Facts, figures, information, PowerPoint slides and data rarely catalyze, excite or incite action, much less motivate others to own and viral market your offering for you--your ultimate goal. But embed them in a purposeful story--a story with a clear call to action--that you preferably tell face to face and in the same room, and through the emotional transportation of the story you tell, you will experience a game-changer.

Magic happens when you narrate otherwise soulless data into emotional nodes that render an experience to an audience--and a single listener is an audience--that makes the information inside the story memorable, resonant and actionable. In trying or triumphant times, an individual in any organization can tell purposeful stories, connecting through state-of-the-heart-technology, to propel a business outcome.

A well-told story can drive change, inspire innovation, stimulate more sales, foster collaboration, re-brand a company, incite viral advocacy for a mission or cause, generate more effective management and help overcome resistance. As Harvard University professor, Howard Gardner once said, "Stories are the single most powerful weapon in a leader's arsenal."

The question then is why isn't everyone in business telling purposeful stories to propel their goals? I believe two misperceptions lie as root causes for this resistance. The first is the belief that the stories are soft, fluff and are best told at bedtime to children.

To this, I would argue based on my own considerable successes in entertainment, sports and new media, that when I was successful, I was persuading others through the stories I told. When I failed, in retrospect, it was because I was firing PowerPoint bullets. No wonder I was shooting blanks?

However, my own personal experience wasn't sufficient social proof to me that telling purposeful stories was a true game-changer. So in writing my new book, "Tell to Win--Connect, Persuade and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story," I sought to validate my own experiences. I reached out to people I knew personally who are at the pinnacle of their careers spanning diverse industries (not just storytellers and entertainment) to see if and how they used stories to drive their success. From President Clinton, to Chad Hurley, cofounder and CEO of YouTube, to Lynda Resnick, the marketing genius behind POM Wonderful, Fiji Water and Franklin Mint, to Pat Riley, famed basketball coach and motivational speaker, Deepak Chopra, Muhammad Ali, Wally "Famous" Amos, and COO, JWT North America, Rob Quish, their answers were a resounding "yes" supporting that they did, indeed, tell purposeful stories to drive their successes. These folks are just a few of the more than 90 "voices" in "Tell To Win" who not only validate the telling of purposeful stories, but reveal how they told to win.

I believe the second root cause of resistance to telling stories is the misperception among many business professionals that they are not natural storytellers. We're all storytellers, story listeners and story advocates--we're designed that way. It's in our DNA. We are filled with stories. Think of your life. The only thing you have is stories as memories, not information. In fact, if it wasn't for our ancestors' ability to tell stories, you and I wouldn't be here.

About 10,000 years ago, humans were prey and the predators were winning. We weren't more ferocious than a tiger, faster than a cheetah or bigger than a rhinoceros. So we had to outsmart them. To compete, we developed language, giving us the ability to communicate complex thoughts and socially organize through oral stories told around the campfire, which bound and passed down our tribes beliefs, rules, values and lessons learned. And in so doing, we turned from prey to predator. This telling magic is still in us today and working to propel organizational success, like in the case of performance gear manufacturer, Under Armour.

At 23, Kevin Plank put his life savings into developing a prototype undershirt made of women's lingerie that had superior moisture wicking technology that would soak up the buckets of perspiration that slowed him and his fellow football players down on the field. He called his label Under Armour. Over a decade later, Kevin came to my office to leverage some of my sports entertainment relationships. His challenge with Under Armour, he told me, was to broaden its appeal to reach a larger population. Success required that he find, create and craft a story to tell his employees/sales team that they could retell to their customers to incite and excite them to purchase Under Armour.

Kevin told them to tell an aspirational story, and the aspiration was whatever goal their customers had. "We didn't just say, 'How may I help you?'" he explained. "We asked, 'What do you want to be? Do you want to play varsity? Be the best? Lose 20 pounds? Whatever it is, you'll get there with Under Armour."

The Under Armour sales team understood the theme of their story was to always make the customers the hero. Every Under Armour product helped the customer perform like a pro. Under Armour would provide the physical assist and the emotional propulsion, but it was the customer who would break higher and higher personal records. And telling this authentic and passionate story internally to his employees struck an emotional chord resulting in them successfully retelling the "customer as hero story" that proved to be the game changer for his company.

Today Under Armour is worth nearly $1 billion, and Plank makes sure that every one of his 2,400 employees tells a version of this story every day to consumers, retailers, media and athletes.

By Peter Guber, author of "Tell to Win"

Peter Guber is chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment. Films he personally produced have earned more than $3 billion worldwide and include the box office hits "The Color Purple," "Midnight Express," "Batman" and "Flashdance." Guber's films have been honored with more than 50 Academy Award nominations, including winning Best Picture for "Rain Man." In 2011, Mandalay's "The Kids Are All Right" won the Golden Globe's Best Motion Picture and is nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture. Guber is a full professor at UCLA and is the owner and co-executive chairman of the NBA franchise the Golden State Warriors. His new book, "Tell to Win," is available from Crown/ Random House.
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Author:Guber, Peter
Publication:People & Strategy
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2011
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