Don’t let “Back Stories” limit you! Harness their power!

Thanks to Tim Ferriss for passing on this excerpt from Peter Guber’s new book “Tell to Win“.  Guber is Chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, a professor at UCLA, owner of the NBA Golden State Warriors.

We are filled with stories.  These stories are powerful and often run us – and they can show up at inopportune times. They’re always on, running in the back of your mind, or being triggered by some event.  So when you see your feet going in a different direction than your tongue, it’s usually driven by some old back-story that’s been waiting to pop into action.  These back-stories will often sabotage you and the purposeful story you want to tell to convince, persuade, or motivate someone else to do something.

As a teller of stories in diverse industries – entertainment, sports, new media, and education – I’ve been a victim of my own negative back-story and its ability to hinder my efforts in business and in life…

I was 12, and it was my second week at a new school.  I was sitting outside the headmaster’s office, having been pulled from class for getting into a fist-fight.  I could overhear a man of great authority speaking to my parents inside the office. “He’s no good,” he told them. “This was his fourth fight. He has a bad attitude and he must be punished. I’m throwing him out of school.”

I started to bolt to my feet to tell MY story.  I wasn’t the character he was portraying.  The older kids had beaten the heck out of me for my lunch money. All I had done was hold my metal tray up while one of the kids swung and broke his hand!  As I lurched through the door, choking back tears, I stopped cold.

The headmaster was wearing a starched head scoutmaster uniform adorned with badges that blazed across his chest.  The authority which those badges represented rendered me helpless and speechless. I shrunk back and surrendered.  Then I was thrown out of school.

That inability to tell my story, and the unjustness of having to accept his instead, nested long in the weeds of my unconscious mind.  For years, any time I saw blue and red lights flashing in my rearview mirror, I started to pull over.  Whenever I went for meetings and there were medals, badges, and symbols of great authority, I became uneasy and abandoned my true self.

Fast forward several decades later… I’d been summoned by the Japanese founder of Sony Entertainment, Ogha-san, to fly into Thailand and meet the King.  Not the prime minister, the King. My goal was to convince him with a story of why piracy of our products (films and music) was devastating and unfair, and that he could stop it.

We arrived at the palace, which was intimidating to say the least (Forbes had recently named him the richest royal in the world), and were led into the King’s inner royal chamber.  There was this regal fellow standing tall amongst others with all his badges blazing across his chest, in his super-pressed uniform.  I immediately choked.  My childhood trauma story came flushing through me and I wanted to bolt.  But I sucked it up.  I had bolted many times before and would not let it happen again.

I led my story by eloquently telling in full detail of one struggling artist’s years to create his music, and how piracy had robbed him of the fruits of his efforts, forcing him to surrender his dream.  I was quite proud when I recognized the King’s empathetic listening.  He nodded and smiled in seeming agreement with the story I delivered.

As I moved toward completion, I noticed Ogha-san across the room tweaking his head with his eyes narrowed, seemingly beckoning me. I shook my head ever so slightly, indicating, “I can’t leave now, I’m with the King!” I charged on.

A minute or so later, I felt a tug on my arm.  Ogha-san politely pulled me aside. I quietly said, “Please understand — I couldn’t leave. I was sharing our story with the King and he got it!” “Guber-san,” he said, pointing to the regally bedecked fellow a few feet away from me. “He not the King, he is the guard.” Pointing to another short man across the room, wearing a rumpled grey suit, Ogha-san went on, “That is the King.”

I had told my story to the guard… Those badges were Pavlovian!  My old back-story had roared to life and consumed my attention. I was beyond embarrassed.  I recovered a bit at the reception and confessed to the real King of my mistake, who listened dutifully to a shorter version of the story and ultimately enforced anti-piracy laws.

My instinctive reaction to authority has plagued me since I was that little boy.  By standing guard at the portals of my mind and not letting that old story run me, I have since been able to render it, if not mute, significantly quieter.  And, my ability to “tell to win” has increased significantly.

Anyone can rule the back-stories that run their lives.  First, know that these stories exist and are powerful. Unlike a computer, you can’t just press “delete” to eliminate them.  Next, shift your focus to a more positive story.  What you focus on truly does grow.  If you can’t find your own positive back-story, then hijack one you’ve heard, read, or seen, and tell it to yourself, making you the hero.

Remember, you’re the only one listening to your back-story.  Gaining control of your limiting back-stories is one of the greatest factors in telling stories successfully.  If you can’t tell it, you can’t sell it – whether you’re telling “it” to yourself, your employer, significant other, or business associate.