Tell to Win: A book review by Bob Morris

Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story
Peter Guber
Crown Business (2011)


How and why “a purposeful story, well told, is the greatest tool for business”

Others have their own reasons for praising Peter Guber’s book. Here are three of mine. First, I really appreciate the scope and depth as well as the variety of the personal and professional experiences that he shares. Who doesn’t he know? What hasn’t he done, or at least attempted to do? He can thus draw upon an abundance of real-world situations within which to insert observations and lessons-to-be-learned about how to “connect, persuade, and triumph with the hidden power of story.” His unofficial mentors (“voices”) include Muhammad Ali, David Begelman, Jack Canfield, Deepak Chopra, David Copperfield, Steve Denning, Al Giddings, Oscar Goodman, Adolph Hitler, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Jackson, Ervin (“Magic”) Johnson, Kirk Kerkorian, T.H. Lawrence (of Arabia), George Lopez, Nelson Mandela, Dean Martin, John McCain, Mike Milken, Dennis Miller, Rupert Murdoch…and that’s only those whose last names are A-M.

I also appreciate how specific Guber is when explaining how to get listeners’ attention with an unexpected challenge, then how to give them an emotional experience by narrating the struggle to overcome that challenge or to find the answer to the opening question, and finally, how to galvanize listeners’ response with an eye-opening resolution that calls [begin italics] them [end italics] to action. Drawing upon all his sources as well as his own extensive experience, Guber shares what he has learned about what could be characterized as the strategies for “dramatic persuasion”: seize attention, establish tension with conflict or uncertainty, introduce setting (context, frame-of-reference, background) and the “players” who populate it, establish dominant themes, develop the plot (i.e. story, narrative, journey, progression or regression), and increase tension (with perils, complications, revelations, etc.) until the (pay-off, climax, denouement, etc.) occurs. He also has much of value to say about back-stories, understanding the given audience and how best to frame the material for it, and “leveraging” the senses to maximize emotional involvement. Guber claims, and I agree, that people may think about a decision but, more often than not, their feelings determine what it will be.

Finally, there are dozens (hundreds?) of memorable anecdotes that are both entertaining and informative. For example, soon after Guber became the young studio head at Columbia Pictures, he met with Jack Warner (founder and former chairman of Warner Bros.) and confided that he felt “overwhelmed” by his responsibilities. Warner replied, “Let me tell you a story. Don’t be confused. You’re only renting that office. You don’t own it. It’s a zoo. You’re the zookeeper, and every single person that comes in the office comes with a monkey. That monkey is their problem. They’re trying to leave it with you. Your job is to discover where the monkey is. They’ll hide it, or dress it up, but remember you’re the zookeeper. You’ve got to keep the place clean. So make sure when you walk them to the door, they’re got the monkey by the hand. Don’t let them leave without it. Don’t let them come back until it’s trained and they have solutions to their problem. Otherwise at the end of the day, you’ll have an office full of screaming, jumping animals, and monkeys shit all over the floor.”


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