The Story Factor : A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: August 24th, 2011 by bobmorris

The Story Factor (2nd Revised Edition)
Annette Simmons
Basic Books (2006)

As Simmons explains in her Introduction, “This book [shares] what I have learned over the last eight years about story and about the power of story to persuade and influence. My personal story is to learn, share everything I have learned, and earn the right to learn more. You will find here [inThe Story Factor] everything I know about using story to influence others.” Who were history’s greatest leaders? (My own list includes Alexander, Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Mohandas Gandhi.) What do all of them share in common? Each was a great storyteller. Each used one or more of the six types of stories that Simmons brilliantly explains in her book:

Who I Am
Why I Am Here
The Vision
Teaching
Values-in-Action
I Know What You Are Thinking

To these six I presume to add I Know What You Care About. My point is, great leaders have a clear identity as well as a clear purpose and a compelling vision, use relevant information effectively to educate others and use a narrative effectively to anchor a necessary course of action within a human context because they thoroughly understand the given audience. As Simmons correctly asserts, persuasion must begin with trust and immediately fails without it. Hence the importance of credibility. Persuasion then requires that the “message” resonate with what is of greatest importance to the given audience. Hence the imperative need for relevance as when Roosevelt (during his “fireside chats”) and Churchill (during his speeches in Parliament) told their listeners what they must understand, not necessarily what they wanted to hear.

Throughout her brilliant book, Simmons rigorously examines the basic components of effective storytelling. She explains what a story is and what it can do that facts alone cannot. She suggests how to tell “a good story,” in process explaining the psychology of an effective story’s influence. She offers excellent advice on how to influence the unwilling, the unconcerned, and the unmotivated. Simmons also devotes an entire chapter to “Storylistening as a Tool of Influence,” then in the next chapter identifies a number of storyteller Dos and Don’ts. She concludes her book with insights have their greatest value only if considered within the context created by the previous chapters.

What I also appreciate about Simmons’ approach throughout this book is the conversational tone she establishes and then sustains. There is a refreshing absence of preaching. She is convinced (and I totally agree) that each person has her or his own “story” to tell. It remains for each person to select the most appropriate style was well as the most effective tools to tell that story well. Who are you? Why are you here? What do you REALLY care about? It remains for each reader to answer questions such as these and, obviously, the answers will vary significantly. Whatever the answers may be at any given time, Simmons urges that they be celebrated…and cherished.

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