Business Leadership

From Hollywood to Bay Street: Success is Defined By The Story You Tell

Hollywood1Recently I purchased a book called "The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters." The book is different from others in its genre as it doesn't just look at what highly successful people DO, it digs deeper and looks at how they THINK.

What's striking about the content in the book is its similarities to challenges found in the business world. Whether you're an aspiring screenwriter, entrepreneur or corporate CEO, your challenges are quite similar. At some point in your career, success will depend on how well you can sell your story to people prepared to buy it.

David Brown, a renowned Hollywood producer, once said that "Nothing counts as much as the story, because it is the story that will attract the director, the actors, the studio, the money. The story is the thing." It's the same in business. If you're the CEO of a public company, you better have a compelling and engaging story to attract shareholders and investors. Money begets money, and one way to get it is to have a good story. People tend to gather around a good idea, so make your story compelling and find an innovative way to help solve someone else's problem. Make yourself indispensible and they won't be able to get enough of you.

From the glitz and glam of Hollywood to the driven financial core of Bay Street, success is defined by the story you tell. You have to have something of importance to say, something that's different and cuts through the clutter. You have to tell your story in an engaging way, and develop nerves of steel and dogged determination to be sure your story is heard by the right people, at the right time. Your career will be full of rejection, but successful people are able to take that criticism and constructively use it to get their own story heard.

So take your talent, and hone it through intense dedication to your craft. Feed your passion, and develop the skills needed to effectively present and sell ideas to people who can benefit most from those ideas.

Don't give up. The world is waiting for a good story. Let yours be the one everyone starts talking about and your world will open up in ways you never dreamed possible.

What other similarities do you see between the challenges faced by people in creative industries - and those faced by people who work in the corporate world? Do you think all successful people share the same traits? If so, which ones?


“Trumped”: Get Your Narrative Right and You Could Win the White House

Love him or hate him, few would disagree that Donald Trump is a master storyteller. Politics aside, Trump was the true underdog both within and outside of his own party.

Obama and many others skewered him in public. The media would often sway between sensationalism to downright skepticism in their reporting of all things Trump. Yet what the skeptics didn’t know or understand was that Trump was playing right into the hands of the American electorate.

People love the underdog story. Most can identify with what it’s like to be the outsider. It seemed that no matter what Trump said or did, he couldn’t lose. And people want to support a winner.

Perhaps even Trump himself was surprised that he was able to win over America to claim the highest office in the land. The fact is that Donald Trump is a genius at getting inside the zeitgeist of a population and in reading what it is exactly that people want. And it was time for change. Fed up with the status quo and their place in life, Trump gave his supporters what they wanted to hear. Like Superman rushing to save the screaming masses from a burning building, he was their hero and promised to fix things if they gave him a chance.

Many underestimated Trump. What his opponents and skeptics did was fail to see that through his storytelling and ability to read the current narrative playing out in America, he was able to tap into something so deep that no one else was able to reach it.

While there were many reasons that led to Trump’s victory, from a story perspective he hit all the right buttons.

Here’s what Trump did right:

  1. He tapped into people’s emotions and took them on an emotional journey. Great stories are built on great characters and he was able to create a persona for himself that instinctively drew people to his rallies by the tens of thousands
  2. He focused on what was really going on with the American people in a way that more seasoned politicians just failed to see. He read the narrative and followed the script. America was fed up and wanted to be great again. Trump offered a way out and his unconventional personality was able to draw people to his ideas
  3. His journey had many similarities to those experienced by heroes in the classic book by Christopher Vogler “The Writer’s Journey.” It’s almost as if Trump’s actions followed those in a dramatic movie script. There was a Call to Action, which led to the Hero’s Journey. Along the way, there were antagonists (or one key one – Hillary Clinton), tests, allies and enemies. After numerous challenges the hero crosses the threshold and returns with the ultimate prize – the White House

To quote Campbell, “Every storyteller bends the mythic pattern to his own purpose or the needs of her culture. That’s why the hero has a thousand faces.”

Great stories are mythic in nature and speak directly to the human spirit.They tap into a mythological core that teaches us something about ourselves.

From a storytelling perspective, Trump nailed it on all levels. Add to that his brand of authenticity yet unseen in the world of Washington politics and he proved to be a worthy opponent.

For Donald Trump, his final act is yet to be written. In the meantime, there will be more tests, allies and enemies along the way as he leaves the ordinary world and prepares to enter the brand new world of politics.




Appetite for Success: Lessons in Leadership and Innovation From An Executive Chef

An avid "foodie", I decided to take a workshop at Bonnie Stern's famous cooking school in Toronto. The workshop presenter was acclaimed Niagara Executive Chef Mark Picone - owner of the Mark Picone Culinary Studio.

Besides coming away from the workshop with a newfound knowledge and appreciation of succulent dishes such as house cured duck prosciutto, sumac loin, elderberry pan jus and pawpaw gelato...I couldn't help but realize how excellence in the kitchen mirrors excellence in business.

The job of a professional chef isn't unlike that of a successful and innovative business leader. Here's why:

1) Synergy is important - you have to have the right ingredients at the right time, in the right amount to create the perfect dish

2)  Quality ingredients - the quality of the final dish depends on the quality of the ingredients you decide to put in the dish

3) To be innovative, once in a while you have to stir the pot and add a little something extra that perhaps you never tried before - the result may surprise you

4) Customize the menu for your audience to guarantee the best customer result

5) Put on a show to provide the best experience - and be sure to find an audience worth cooking for that values your product and expertise

In a world where conformity and conservative thought still seem to be the norm, taking a creative and integrative approach to business might help uncover new angles to overcoming everyday challenges. We all want to succeed - and sometimes the answers to our most pressing problems can be found by looking at what we thought might be unrelated professions or industries.

Food for thought that might fuel your appetite for success.

Where else can business leaders look for inspiration to help solve their key business challenges?



Why Can't Companies Be Managed Like A Film Crew?


I'm taking a course in film technology at Ryerson University and one of the topics of discussion involves film crews. The instructor delves into the nitty gritty of each role on a film set, and what everyone's duties are in fulfilling their roles. Every day while heading to work in downtown Toronto, I pass by long lines of trailers emblazoned with logos from film companies or industry suppliers.

Last week while waiting for the bus, I noticed a letter posted by a local location manager informing the community (several days in advance) that a film would be shot in the neighbourhood. The letter listed the streets that would be closed, the name of the film - as well as contact information should anyone need to contact the crew. At the end of the letter, the location manager thanked everyone in advance for their co-operation.

I've always admired the way that film crews are able to come into a neighbourhood (with as little interuption as possible to local businesses), do their thing in the most professional way possible - then pack up and leave the location leaving no trace that they had ever been there in the first place. 

On a set, everyone has a specific duty and role to accomplish. In spite of the inevitable obstacles and disagreements, somehow the job gets done and the result is a movie that does a beautiful job of tying in story and location with pure art.

Having worked in the business world for 23 years, I've seen a lot of interesting things in terms of company dynamics and it's always amazed me how film companies can pull together so many dynamic elements, yet come up with a product that often enough exceeds expectations. Think about it. Someone has to be sure that everyone is where they're supposed to be (at a certain time)...that everything is set up the way it's supposed to be for each shot...and that everything looks the way it's supposed to look to match the historical placement of the film.

I don't know many companies that could match that level of expertise and professionalism - let alone pull together a team of such diverse and specific talent. Perhaps it's time that companies took notice of the way film crews did business using an attention to detail - one shot at a time.

Can you think of any other ways in which film crews or film shoots resemble the ways in which companies are run? What could the business world learn from the entertainment world - capitalizing on both its mistakes as well as its successes?

Whatever Happened to the "Leader" in Leadership?

I've worked for numerous organizations in a variety of industries, and it continues to amaze me that organizational challenges continue to be the same across the board.

The biggest challenge to organizational success today is lack of leadership. Companies that continue to operate using ineffective leaders will face increasing challenges both internally, as well as externally to the organization. An ineffective leader who lacks vision will fail to rally the troops, and will be met with numerous marketplace challenges as well as dissent from the internal ranks.

What accounts for this lack of leadership skill, vision and insight? In the 1980's, the bestselling book "In Search of Excellence" offered breakthrough ideas in terms of how companies could succeed. Today, a plethora of books and articles on the subject of business and leadership success continue to infiltrate the market. There's no lack of information and strategy out there, just a lack of willpower to implement the ideas that form the foundation of great companies.

Jim Collins "Good to Great" and "Built to Last" offer strategies on how to build and maintain great companies. Biographies of successful business leaders continue to inspire us and add new dimensions to our thinking. Magazines such as Fast Company offer innovative ways in which to inject a sense of creativity, imagination and inspiration into otherwise dull and lifeless organizations.

So, with all this information and resource base out there, why do I continue to see companies who a) fail to inspire employees through lack of vision, leadership and an inability to "care" about their employees b) refuse to correct their ways in spite of toxic work environments resulting in significant losses of intellectual capital and  c) companies that are so disorganized that even senior management is disconnected to the day to day activities of the organization?

Although there may be some companies who operate in a different realm - those who are fortunate enough to have real thought leaders at the helm who are able to inspire employees (if you are one of these companies or leaders please talk to me - I would love to work for you!), I believe that most companies in the business world just don't care. This lack of caring goes way beyond the confines of the building. It extends to shareholders and customers, and the customers customers.

I'd love to share your ideas and experiences. In the meantime, I'll continue my journey "In Search of Excellence" - wherever that may lead me.