retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Not too long ago, I mentioned that I was looking forward to reading the new Peter Guber book, “Tell To Win: Connect, Persuade and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story,” and I can now report that not only was I not disappointed, but that it was one of my favorite business books of the past few years.

Now, to be honest, I do have a bias on the subject - the importance of narrative is a key theme in a little business book that I co-authored with Michael Sansolo. (I won’t mention the title here, nor how to buy it from, because I may be accused of using this space to hype my own products. Heaven forbid.)

But Guber - who is a film producer of considerable note, as well as a teacher at UCLA’s film school - takes an approach that goes beyond what we did, looking beyond the movies at how compelling narratives can be woven in various industries to create a compelling customer experience. He’s blunt about his personal successes and failures in this area - he tells a number of stories about how he missed opportunities to tell a great story when pitching a business proposal, and things didn’t work out (and, as in most cases, he learns more from his failures than his successes).

Guber uses a wide range of examples - ranging from the Los Angeles Olympics to a Papuan tribe in New Guinea - to illustrate his essential premise: “For too long, the business world has ignored or belittled the power of oral narrative, preferring soulless PowerPoint slides, facts, figures, and data. But as the noise level of modern life has become a cacophony, the ability to tell a purposeful story that can be truly heard is increasingly in demand.”

Institutions - whether corporate, cultural, religious, or political - that lose touch with their core narratives are destined, Guber suggests, to lose the ability to function effectively and communicate their goals and priorities to customers, employees and business partners.

I cannot agree more. “Tell To Win” is a terrific book, and worth picking up at your local bookstore, ordering via, or downloading to your e-reader.

We get into a lot of discussions here about old media vs. new media, and while I am a firm devotee of the latter, I have an old time affinity and affection for things like print newspapers. The way I feel was expressed perfectly the other day by Gene Weingarten, who told the story of how because he went to bed early on a recent Sunday night, he learned of the killing of Osama bin Laden the old fashioned way - he walked out to get the paper on Monday morning, unfolded it, and had a “Holy Cow!” moment:

“I can’t tell you how good it felt – not just the news, which was indeed good -- but the method of delivery.   Yeah, this is weepy nostalgia, but it is righteous weepy nostalgia about an experience I’d almost forgotten and will soon lose forever:  A huge story that arrives on the doorstep as a complete surprise the morning after -- as full-blown news, in a package that hollers its importance, told with a blast of authority, assembled by people more expert than I, and only after time for reflection.  It seemed quick but unhurried – a story well told, deftly contextualized and prioritized.   It literally felt big; the headlines and the layout made it seem etched in stone. This is a journalistic packaging skill as old as the start of the last century -- see here, here, here and here -- and one that has proven impossible to replicate on a computer screen.   Everything whispers now.

“Online, of course, we don’t get news the way I did yesterday.  Now, we tend to learn things incrementally, the way newspaper wire editors used to:  by trickle of fact.  First, an alert, then a headline, then a story assembles itself piecemeal.  Today, I learn about some news by first reading someone’s shrill opinion about it on Twitter, and then having to catch up on the facts on my own, until eventually the whole thing emerges.

“Was the old system...better?   Nah.   It was late.   It was limited in its breadth by the unfortunate finiteness of the commodity called ‘paper.‘   All I’m saying is, we should pause a moment to miss it.  In the main, cars are better transportation than horses were.   But horses were...horses.   They had names and personalities, and sometimes they loved you and sometimes you loved them back, and we lost a little something when we put them out to pasture.”

Speaking as someone who began as a daily newspaper reporter - and who missed that job almost every day after I stopped, at least until I started doing MNB - I can relate.

Sometimes, personal narratives collide, and we have to sort of muddle our way through. That’s sort of been the case around here, where just two weeks after the death of my father-in-law, we celebrated the college graduation of my son, Brian.

He’s back home for the time being; Brian’s goal is to go into the wine business, and is hoping to land an entry level job with a winery in Northern California, Oregon or Washington State. Right now, he’s working for a local wine merchant, being trained at the retail level while he conducts his broader job search. It is good to have him home, and I sort of envy him being at the beginning of his career, filled with promise and possibility.

(The only problem with having Brian home is that he brought his dog, Parker, with him. Now, Parker is a great dog, but is an energy-filled yellow lab-mix puppy, and all Parker does is keep wrestling with our six-year-old yellow lab, Buffett. In fact, they’re doing that right now, underneath my feet, making it almost impossible for me to write. Oy.

Then again, what were the odds that there would be two dogs living in the Content Guy’s house, one named Buffett and another named Parker? Go figure.)

In between all this, Mrs. Content Guy and I rode our bikes in New York City’s Five-Boro Bike Tour - a 42 mile tour of the city in which 32,000 people managed to close roads and highways for most of the day. And except for the occasional and probably inevitable traffic jam, it was delightful.

The funny thing is, she’d done it twice before, and we’d done it once together - about 30 years ago, before we were even married. I’m proud to say that while our memory of the earlier tour is that we were so tired at the end that we had to walk our bikes up the incline of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge (which is where the tour ends), this time we rode the whole way.
Slowly, to be sure. But we made it.

My wine of the week: the 2009 Bell Sauvignon Blanc from Northern California, which is wonderful - I had it last night with a salmon burger, and it is a bright, crisp white wine. I loved it.

BTW...this happens to be one of the May selections from the MNB Wine of the Month Club. For more information, about this new MNB offering CLICK HERE.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

KC's View: