A Hollywood Producer's Master Class on Business Storytelling

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by: John Caddell

Following on to yesterday’s post on political storytelling–in the December Harvard Business Review, Peter Guber, best described, I guess, as a Hollywood mogul (former head of Columbia Pictures, producer of "Batman" and "Rain Man," among others), writes about "Four Truths of the Storyteller" (link – $$).

It’s an excellent article, and encapsulates in seven pages most of what it takes "Made to Stick" 200 pages to describe. Appropriately, he starts with a story, about charming Fidel Castro into allowing his team to shoot a documentary in Havana harbor. But he goes much further, to illustrate why storytelling is important in business–"for the leader, story-telling is action-oriented – a force for turning dreams into goals and then into results."

Guber’s four truths are as follows:

  1. Truth to the Teller – in other words, authenticity, via candor and revealing of emotion. One of the biggest assets stories bring is the light they shine on the teller herself. (One frequent criticism I’ve heard in story workshops–"this reveals more about the author than the characters"–isn’t all bad.)
  2. Truth to the Audience – Guber defines this as "the promise that the expectations of the listener, once aroused, will be fulfilled." As one of my writing teachers once put it, "a good ending is both surprising and inevitable."
  3. Truth to the Moment – a good story adapts to the context in which it is told. This does not mean that it is synthetic, but that it absorbs the energy and atmosphere of its surroundings. Perhaps a detail that was not important in one telling becomes vital in another. This is one way in which a good story differs from a bad story–a good story can be retold many times without becoming trite or cliched. Guber emphasizes the need for preparation–a story is like an iceberg: some information is revealed, but far more information lies beneath the surface. And the storyteller must know all of it.
  4. Truth to the Mission – finally, the story must be bigger than the storyteller. As Guber puts it, "mission is embodied in his stories, which capture and express values that he believes in and wants others to adopt as their own." He mentions as an example Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, whose storytelling ability helped grow a modest idea, microfinance, into a worldwide phenomenon. (Here’s a Yunus story that was particularly inspiring to me.)

In his introductory column, HBR editor Thomas Stewart wrote, "’Four Truths of the Storyteller’ [is] one of the smartest leadership articles you’ll have read in some time." I agree.

Original Post: http://shoptalkmarketing.blogspot.com/2007/11/hollywood-producers-master-class-on.html