Recently I found myself in an airport bookstore looking for something to read as I was about to board a plane for a five hour trip to the east coast. Typically I avoid the rotating volumes of business advice that are part and parcel of all airport bookstores, but this day my attention was captured by a row of a recently released publication professing the “hidden power of story.”As someone with a counseling and consulting practice centered on narrative and narrative inquiry, I bought the book.
Peter Gruber’s new book Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story argues that purposeful stories can lead to purposeful action. Gruber spends a good portion of the book giving examples of how story has played out in his quite successful business career, and he gives plenty of examples of how many other well known entrepreneurs, CEO’s, and politicians have used meaningful story to reach high levels of success. Gruber believes that story with meaning is the missing link in business and these kinds of stories are the building blocks of personal connections which can lead to the emotional reactions that will drive word of mouth or help close the deal.
I was also happy to see that that Gruber, unlike many authors, spent some time in his book taking on hidden backstories and their potential to be ticking time bombs. Although Gruber comes at it from the perspective of what a negative story can do to the audiences impression of you or your product or business, he does show how the psychological narrative has effects that need to be recognized so that you may avoid sabotage and instead use this backstory as a powerful ally leading to professional advantage.
In my work a guiding belief is that if people can change the stories they tell about their lives, change in their actual lives can happen. This idea of backstory was interesting to me because I am always curious about what is not said by the people that consult with me. Most business books frustrate me because they seem to be more interested in cheerleading, and supplanting negative stories, rather than recognizing that often coexisting with a success story is a problem story that has derailed many careers, and caused business failures because it has not been attended to appropriately.
I am excited to see that storytelling and the power of narrative are now beginning to gain wider attention in the business and professional development community. Gruber’s book directs our attention to the art and function of storytelling in an entertaining fashion and I believe it to be worth the time. But I am still waiting for that business or professional development book that takes on the problem story and how it’s produced in so many of the people I meet.