Storytelling key to success, film executive says

April 18, 2012, 2:05 a.m.

Film executive and bestselling author Peter Guber called storytelling the “one-size-fits-all” secret to success Tuesday night during a talk at CEMEX Auditorium. According to Guber, “The ability that you have to tell a purposeful story to move someone to action” is the shared quality among “all great leaders.”

“Story, narrative, gives meaning to everything,” he added. “It emotionalizes all the facts…and] we are emotional creatures first.”

Focusing more on delivery than on content, Guber described the five key elements of storytelling, what he called “Motivating your Audience to your Goal with Interactive Content,” or M.A.G.I.C. for short.

Guber, currently CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, has produced five films that have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, including “The Color Purple,” “Midnight Express” and “The Kids Are All Right.” He is also the author of a New York Times bestselling book entitled “Tell to Win.” In addition, Guber is an owner of both the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Golden State Warriors and taught at UCLA for over 30 years.

Co-sponsored by The Stanford Storytelling Project, Stanford Continuing Studies and Stephanie and Fred Harman ’82 M.S. ’83, the event was part of a speaker series themed “Telling the Truth.” Guber’s message aligned with the mission of The Stanford Storytelling Project: “giv[ing] students the opportunity to experience the transformative nature of great stories and better understand how they work.”

Guber also spoke about storytelling in relation to the ever-changing world of technology. He emphasized the presence of storytelling throughout history, well before the emergence of the Internet.

“Nobody is moved by 0’s and 1’s,” he said, reiterating the importance of interactivity and personal content over digital data. He added that while technology aggregates the audience and makes the distribution of knowledge more efficient and democratic, it amplifies rather than eliminates the impact of storytelling as a tool.

Following his speech, Guber answered questions from the audience centered more on his personal journey to success. He spoke about the Dodgers and Warriors, about the rapidly shifting cinematic market and about the importance of curiosity as an internal motivation. Guber encouraged young people in the audience to recognize the necessity of continuous learning and the inevitability of failure.

When asked, Guber said that the scariest moment in his life was opening an envelope that notified him that he had been drafted for the Vietnam War. Although he was ultimately not required to serve because his brother was already serving, he recalled feeling tremendously afraid during his military physical.

“Everything has a piece of luck in it,” he said of his success.

While he told stories of famously resilient and successful figures, including Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jackson, Guber stressed that every person can tell purposeful stories.

“You were born with it — it’s in your DNA,” Guber said. “[Humans] developed a technology, called language, so that we could work together to outsmart our predators.”

He also emphasized the importance of storytelling as a tool for philanthropic pursuits and constructing personal legacy.

“Doing good and making a difference in the world will be the story you tell others and write others,” he said. “You have to personalize it.”


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