The Power of Your Story: Tips for CEO / Company Builders and Job Candidates

TCHO Chocolate Flavor Wheel

TCHO Chocolate Flavor Wheel: Image by Laughing Squid via Flickr

Everyone loves a good story.

And it turns out that being thoughtful about how you tell your story – whether you’re a startup, job candidate, or an established company – can make all the difference between success and something closer to failure.

Peter Gruber should know. Gruber is the highly successful former chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment who along the way ran Columbia Pictures at age 30, produced Batman, and taught for decades at UCLA. Gruber’s Mandalay Entertainment Group recently became the owner of the Golden State Warriors professional basketball team. At age 68 you get the impression Gruber has decades of interesting things to accomplish ahead of him.

Gruber’s secret to his success? He succeeded, he says, “by telling many purposeful stories, face-to-face, over the course of a long career.

Why? According the the NY Times, “Mr. Guber theorizes that we respond to story — an aspiring executive’s self-description in a job interview, a digital entrepreneur’s pitch to a potential backer, a team owner’s plea for a city-financed stadium — because we can’t help it. Eons of genetic and cultural programming compel us toward a narrative form with beginnings, endings and moral lessons, whether or not those are in sync with the random ways of the universe.”

Gruber’s book “Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade and Triumph With the Hidden Power of Story,” comes out on Tuesday. A video with him via HBR is here.

The importance of story and narrative is similar to the message the Chip and Dan Heath deliver in their first book, Made to Stick. The Heath research demonstrates that things that stick – whether it’s the story of a startup, product or what makes a candidate memorable – have these following elements:

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional

THCO chocolate (San Francisco office and factory at Pier 17) gives you a chance to see how this power of narrative applies to startups and would-be big companies. While the business is nominally chocolate, THCO has distilled the narrative in terms of who they are, what they do, and how they do it that easily distinguishes them from any other North American chocolate competitors.

While the easy thought is to say “It’s only chocolate,” the factor the matter is that companies like TCHO faces the same challenge any company or job candidate faces; how do you stay authentic and be remarkable. The fact that TCHO extends their story by the thoughtful use of consistent branding and marketing material makes it even more memorable. Even their flavor wheel – pictured above – fits in tightly with the way the firm tells their product story. (BTW – free tours twice a day, seven days a week by reservation – includes chocolate tasting.)

Good story telling takes thought, distillation, and authenticity. The result is like Gruber’s stories or TCHO’s products – favorably memorable.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.