Tim Ferriss Blog - Revisited

Peter Guber is Chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment. Guber - personally and/or through his company - produced five films that garnered Best Picture Academy Award nominations.  This includes wins for Rain Man, as well as the box-office hits The Color Purple, Midnight Express, Batman, Flashdance and The Kids Are All Right.  Peter Guber is a full professor at UCLA and is the Owner and Co-executive Chairman of the NBA franchise, the Golden State Warriors.  Peter Guber's third book, Tell to Win, became a #1 best seller on the New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists.

This post is an excerpt from Tell to Win, one of many that I enjoyed.


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.

Read more on Tell to Win here.  In the comments, what are the "should"s, "have to"s, or "can't do"s in your own back stories?


This video explains how I used Elance to find teams around the world -- including Jamaica, the Philippines, India, and more -- that then competed to set coffee dates for me.  The result?  More than 20 dates in one weekend and a long-term girlfriend.  It's an absurd and amusing example of just how effective personal outsourcing can be.  If you can imagine it, you can delegate it.

This presentation, featured on O'Reilly as Tim Ferriss on Practical Pessimism, was given  in the Ignite format in San Francisco, CA on May 27, 2009.

Related and Suggested:
Timothy Ferriss in Inc. Magazine - The Secrets of Super-Productive CEOs

Experience foreign cities and world cultures in real 360 with Google's incredible Holodeck, which I had a chance to experience while at the Google I/O conference in SF. Can you imagine a first-person shooter (FPS) game for this?


I am often asked how I went from my first Argentine tango class to the semi-finals of the world championships in Buenos Aires in about 6 months.  It wasn't because I had a special skill or predisposition.  Quite the opposite: I was poorly built for the dance (think wrestler -- a la dancing bear -- physique).

I progressed quickly because I was methodical.  Here are three crux keys to learning the tango, addressed here to a man, or any other dance involving a male lead:

1) Find one primary male teacher and one primary female teacher.  Too many cooks spoil the broth, and they'll never agree.  I don't have my main instructor's contact info (Gabriel Misse's above), but my dance partner is outstanding: Alicia Monti.  She now performs at La Ventana.  Results will be faster if you also learn the basic female role and the cues she will need to respond to.  Dance with a few men -- this is not that unusual, especially if too few women attend a class -- and identify the subtle differences between a weak and strong lead.  For the latter, ask the main instructor to demonstrate moves/sequences on you so you so you can "understand the lead" ("para entender mejor la marca").

2) Videotape anything you want to practice, and videotape yourself as early as possible.  You'll be much worse than you expect, and you want to see what you're having trouble self-monitoring.  I took almost all short clips and named the files after the techniques (whether I made up the name or not).  Each evening I would review 5-20 and look at my own footage, practicing a few key moves or postures prior to bed.  My TED video has a few such video samples in it.

3) Once you have a basic strong upper body "abrazo", dance with as many women as possible to identify where you are weak.  Chances are it will be in rotational moves where you are the axis around which the woman rotates.  Have someone like Gabi do this in slow motion and record their head position and arm movement.  Looking too far down at your feet often breaks the vertical spinal position you to need to maintain to effectively push a woman around you 360 degrees.  Don't bend at the hip.

Good luck!

Follow Tim Ferriss on Twitter
What is Tim Ferriss investing in?  (TechCrunch)
How to Live Like a Rockstar in Buenos Aires
How to Spot a Stroke in Anyone in 30 Seconds: 3 Signs


Strokes are often brushed off because witnesses (and victims themselves) aren't aware of the warning signs.  This is what happened to my paternal grandfather, and the results were permanently disabling.  The damage would have been reversable had it been detected earlier.

Bystanders can now recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions of someone who is displaying symptoms (loss of coordination, slower than normal verbalization or thinking, etc.).  The acronym STR for "STRoke" will help you remember:

Ask the person to SMILE.

Ask them to TALK and form a simple sentence (i.e. "It is warm out today.")

Ask them to RAISE both arms to shoulder height.

If he or she has trouble with any one of these tasks, call 9-1-1 immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.

Here is a more comprehensive list of stroke warning signs from the American Heart Association.

(Hat tip to: Carl Fredericks)