Entertainment exec Peter Guber

Entertainment exec explains the concept of his book on success, Tell to Win.

Few understand the concept of winning better than Peter Guber. A force in the entertainment industry for decades as studio chief and independent producer, he's directly produced or exec-produced films that have earned over $3 billion and more than 50 Oscar nods. He chairs the media powerhouse Mandalay Entertainment Group and is also owner of the NBA's Golden State Warriers, a longtime professor at UCLA and a best-selling author. In his third book, Tell to Win, Guber explains the connection between great story telling and success.


Tavis: Peter Guber is a successful movie producer and studio exec whose many notable projects include classic films like “Rainman,” “The Color Purple” and “Batman.” He now serves as the chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment. His new bestseller, “Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story,” is out now. Peter Guber, good to have you on the program.
Peter Guber: My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.
Tavis: My pleasure. Good to have you here. One of the things that fascinated me about this book is that you really start the book out talking not about winning, but about losing. Not about succeeding, but about failing. How important was that? Why start that way?
Guber: Well, the idea is that failure is an inevitable partner on the road to success and, if you’re not willing to confront failure, you can never find out who good you are. Because you’ll move so far back from the goal line to be safe to avoid failure and, to everybody involved, you’ll bring that culture to that’s collaborating with you and they all move back. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself in the locker room.
So the idea is, you may fail, but you’re a failure if you don’t learn from it and move on and don’t make the same mistake again. And the willingness not to be risk averse is the key to entrepreneurial zeal and success in today’s marketplace because you have to be willing to take those chances.
Tavis: You got to take a risk, but how do you calculate those risks so that you aren’t constantly failing?
Guber: Well, first of all, you know if you’re constantly failing because you’re usually laying on your back and people going, “9, 10, out.” You know what I mean [laugh]? Then you know. But the idea is that you look at it and say success is in that red zone, success is in that RPM zone. We say don’t drive the car, you know, in that zone.
The idea is, if you look at the other things in your life that are succeeding and you have that balance, then you really learn from it. It’s really a great tool because success and failure, Tavis, are very close together. Beside every great success are the seeds of enormous failure. In every failure, there’s the opportunity seeds of great success. They’re not miles apart. So if they’re that close together, and if you’re really working, you’re always gonna have that likelihood that something’s not going to work.
The thing for you to look at when you talk about that is to recognize that, if you can inculcate that culture in the people you’re collaborating with, then you really have great success.
Tavis: I love this title, “Tell to Win.” On this program last week, as our audience knows, Larry King was here last week interviewing me about a new book I have out about failure.
Guber: Oh, cool.
Tavis: At the end of that conversation – it was a two-night conversation. At the end, Larry did something that he’s known for doing quite well, which was telling a very funny story. Larry King is a great storyteller.
You and I have just met for the first time, but I’ve heard these stories about you, I’ve read the book, I see you now. You are a great storyteller. If you’re gonna tell to win, being a good storyteller is helpful, but is it essential? Do you have to be a great storyteller to tell to win?
Guber: Well, I think there’s two parts to it. See, I call it telling purposeful stories as opposed to storytelling. The word storytelling people feel it’s sitting around a campfire and I’ll spin a yarn. This is about recognizing that, when you want to move peoples’ hearts, you have to do it through narrative. And if you aim at their hearts, that’s where hits are born. If you aim at their wallet or their feet, they protect themselves. And people, when you aim at their hearts, they expect experiences.
So the idea of using narrative to imbed the information, data and facts – critical information – imbed them in a narrative, it’s like a Trojan Horse. Then you have an emotional experience with the person that’s listening. You’re telling them something that allows them to have experience of it. They metabolize the information. They hold it differently. They retell it. They own it. That’s the secret of telling a purposeful story to move people.
Think about all the great leaders. Think about Obama. Think about Clinton. Think about Nelson Mandela. Think about all the people that we know who are very successful in business, in politics and religion. What are they? They tell purposeful stories. They move people to action by aiming at the heart. They’re in the emotional transportation business.
Tavis: So you aim at the heart, but what are the ingredients? What are the tools of being able to get that story across?
Guber: Well, ironically, you know, telling a purposeful story, 80 percent of it is the tell and 20 percent is the story. The story’s the vehicle. Telling means that when you go into the room breathing the same air face to face with somebody, in that experience, what you have to do is think about falling elements. You have to say none of them are gonna motivate you. That whole idea that I’m gonna motivate you, that’s useless.
Are you motivated? Are you coherent? Is your intention aligned? Are your feet, tongue, heart and wallet congruent? That intension shines through. There’s a word we use, authenticity. If somebody doesn’t appear authentic, you don’t even hear the rest of the information. So you have to have that as the first element.
The second element that’s really important is to recognize the person or persons in the room with you. If you think of them as customers, clients or patrons, they protect their groin and their wallet. If you think of them as audiences, they open their heart. So the idea is they’re audiences. And when you think of them as audiences, you render an experience to them.
What does that mean? You try to be interested rather than be interesting. You try to cut through the cacophony that’s going on in their mind, their own back stories and the world around them. You must be able to do that. You have to get their attention before you get their intention and you have to say what’s in it for them. Everybody looks into the lens of themselves. So if you do that, then you’ll have the audience component.
Then you say to yourself what’s the goal? Why am I here? Why am I in the room? I’m here to talk about the book. If I don’t put that forward, if I’m not prideful of that, then I’m looking like I’m hiding something. And when I’m hiding something, you, my audience, you, the other people in the room, mistrust everything I’m saying. So you have to be able to own the thing you’re trying to tell. That’s before story.
Finally, you look at it and you say on the tell side you got to be in a conversation. You got to turn me into we. So you got to be interactive, nodding your head, being an empathetic listener yourself to the person. You start putting those tools together before you even get to the story, you’ll have captured them. Now the story is what you imbed the facts, figures, information, critical data in, and the stories are everywhere, your own critical experience, your own life experience.
They’re life experiences, observed experiences, movies, television, books, anything that allows them to be emotionally moved because that’s the way we hold information. We don’t hold it digitally. We’re analog folks. When you bond information to emotion, it becomes resonant, memorable and actionable and the person you’re telling it to owns it and they tell it forward.
Tavis: Obviously, you’re pretty good at this as evidenced by this last answer, as evidenced by the fact that your book is on the bestseller list, so you know what you’re doing. But respectfully, you do that for the most part inside of a place called Hollywood.
I raise that to ask whether or not you can extrapolate the telling of stories inside this business to the real world, because Hollywood ain’t the real world. Most folk reading this ain’t in Hollywood. Can they apply these lessons to what they do every day?
Guber: Well, Nelson Mandela met me when he just got out of Robin Island. He was 29 years in prison and he was one of the most masterful tellers of stories that I ever met in how he wowed the business community in the United States when he first came to visit us. Clearly, boxers like Muhammad Ali – he was the heavyweight championship of telling stories – he knew how to move his audience to action. Bill Clinton, Obama, I mean, Howard Schultz of Starbucks, Steve Jobs, look everywhere. The recognition of it is that’s the way we’re wired. It’s in our DNA.
You know, people think to themselves, wait a minute. It’s digital. It’s all about digital, all about digital technology. Listen, it’s not about state of the art technology. It’s about state of the heart technology. Unless that’s in service of that, it’s an empty calorie. The reason why it’s so, we have 40,000 years of oral narrative. We’re wired that way. It’s in our DNA and that’s what we call upon when we want to move other people to action. Without that – we do it intuitively all the time. We always tell everybody stories.
Look, story isn’t the icing on the cake, it’s the cake. It’s the way it works and I think the idea of coaching people to recognize they’re not gonna become John Grisham, they’re not gonna become you, they’re not gonna become Nelson Mandela. But if they could take 5, 7, 10, 12 strokes off their game and if you buy in like you do that success and failure are close together, if you could just move that meter three, four, five, seven, eight, ten percent, what a result you can have.
Tavis: One of my pet peeves – it’s not something you cover in the book, at least, not to my reading – one of my personal pet peeves – sorry, I tell my staff this all the time – I personally hate PowerPoints. I hate them. Everybody uses PowerPoints, everybody relies on it. PowerPoint makes you lazy and I’m looking at this big screen so often as opposed to connecting to you.
That’s my own critique. I’m not asking you to comment on that. I’m asking you to talk to me, though, about how it is that in a room face to face with other people these days you connect to the person, to the heart, when so much of what we do is digital presentation?
Guber: You’re absolutely right. But, you know, you ask some of the most powerful digital people who’ve created Cisco TelePresence, Arianna Huffington from AOL and the Huffington Post. You ask Phil McKinney of HP. Ask all these people and what they’ll tell you, well, you absolutely positively have to get somebody or a group of somebody to do something, what do you have to do?
You have to get in the room face to face. You wouldn’t make a decision your life or your business depends upon unless you could breathe the same air and look at them in the room face to face and let them tell you. Why? Because attitude is equally important to aptitude. You know that when the chips are down, the soft stuff of attitude really counts.
When someone is able to get off the mat and be able to mobilize all their energies, overcome failure, you want to see that. You want to feel that. That’s the way we’re wired. We have 40,000 years of genetic transportation of that. Why should be abandon it for Os and Ones when we’re only really interested in oohs and ahs.
Tavis: There’s so much in this book. I’m just scratching the surface. There are some great stories that I wanted to get to tonight, but the conversation went another way. But I think you get the point that Peter Guber is trying to share about how it is that you can in fact “Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story.”
He mentioned a bunch of names of folk who he has talked to for this text that tells some great stories to Peter about how they in fact have told to win. Peter Guber, good to have you on this program.
Guber: My pleasure.
Tavis: Glad to have you.
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Last modified: April 28, 2011 at 12:36 pm