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?

5/23/2011 03:56:58 am

Brilliant story - genuinely laughed out loud. You spent all that time and emotional energy convincing a guard of the need for anti-piracy laws! Lol.

Main thing: you faced a deeply-engraved childhood fear and were courageous in spite of it. That must have been a great moment in your life for personal growth.
I'm actually quite envious.

(website under construction)

5/23/2011 04:05:21 am

The ability to tell a story well is so valuable, and you chose an excerpt that well-illustrates Guber's ability to do so. How approachable and human his writing is!

I've generally thought of "back story" in context of considering what happens during the creative process, before anyone views a finished piece of art. What an important alternate approach, to look at the back stories that shape our own sense of self and ability.

Thank you for turning us on to this book! It's at the top of my list now.

5/23/2011 04:19:45 am

Great excerpt! I'll have to check out the rest of the book.

5/23/2011 05:25:20 am

Well, at least that guard won't be torrenting any more movies or albums.

5/23/2011 05:48:00 am

Brilliant story!Congrats!

5/23/2011 08:45:07 am

"What are the "should"s, "have to"s, or "can't do"s in your own back stories?"

I suffered from a voice disorder for six years that made it difficult for me to speak clearly and project my voice. After making a full recovery, I'm still learning to put my hesitant-to-talk self in the past and instill a new story of confidence. It is a slow but rewarding process of conquering my past fears.

5/25/2011 03:48:42 am

It's funny to have found this today, because I was thinking about my backstory. My dysfunctional childhood taught me to fit myself into any situation. The flip side is that making waves is not okay, at all. Unfortunately, that eliminates the possibility of doing anything great, because a calm ocean is beautiful but boring.
It's time to learn to make a splash-just hope it doesn't make me too seasick!

5/25/2011 05:12:33 am

I had a chance to see Peter Guber present in person yesterday at Cisco. His M.A.G.I.C. model for engaging others is great. He also told the story above which was even funnier in person.

When I have a back story surface I try to recognize it as a possible inhibitor and then force myself to do the opposite.

5/27/2011 06:50:12 am

That was a really funny anecdote. :-)

I agree that we all have these stories in our lives, and for all of these events, our mind has gone on without our permission and attached certain meaning to it. It happens every day.

I agree that being aware and conscious of when we're creating these meaning, or retrospectively realizing when we did, is the foundation for overcoming these believes.

Peter is lucky that he remembered that moment, and was able to figure out that's what was effecting his thought patterns. Some people have to dig deeper.

5/27/2011 08:00:42 am

How do we find what stories/events are still influencing us subconsciously?



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