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7 Keys to the Most Powerful Business Tool You Could Ever Own

Short and to the point. That is the hallmark of an effective business fable. Learn the best way to tell your story.

Photo courtesy of Yannick Pulver via Unsplash

The book that changed the way the business world relates to books turns 40 next year, and yet, its message and methodology remain as vital as ever.  The book is The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, an M.D. who gave business seminars and recognized that people connected with stories more than they did with statistics, charts or graphs.

The One Minute Manager and Johnson’s subsequent book, Who Moved My Cheese?, together sold tens of millions of copies and turned conventional thinking about business books upside down.

Before Johnson published his business fables, the moral of the story in the business world was simple: the biggest book wins. Business authors took notice, as did anyone in business who wanted to get a message across, create distinctiveness, build a brand, get lucrative speaking gigs or shorten their sales cycle. An era of business storytelling had begun.

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Neuroscience and human history both point to the power of parables or fables. In practically every society, stories—not statistics—recount the days of old, teach religious lessons and provide guideposts for living. Parables or fables empower the reader to seek meaning from the stories, instead of simply being told (or commanded) what to do and what not to do. Hence the popularity and longevity of great stories.

As a multiple New York Times best-selling ghostwriter who has probably written more successful business fables than anyone alive, I’ve witnessed firsthand, over and over, the career-changing and destiny-shaping power of these books. To celebrate the upcoming 40th anniversary of The One Minute Manager, I thought I might share seven trade secrets of what makes a business fable work.

1. Be Good and Be Gone

The best business fables are short and to the point.  Businesspeople are busy; they don’t want War and Peace. In fact, the combined text of The One Minute Manager and Who Moved My Cheese? adds up to fewer words than the first chapter of Tolstoy’s hefty tome. People don’t want long and boring. They want short, actionable and to the point.

2. One to Three Lessons, Max  

Highly successful fables convey a very small number of takeaways. Spencer Johnson’s books basically teach just one lesson each: Managers should get to the point, and workers shouldn’t be surprised by change. Save your 7 Habits and your 9 Fundamentals. Preach one simple, clear sermon and get off the pulpit.

3. Satisfy the CEO, and Everyone Else Will Get a Copy 

In this genre, a grand slam is when the leader reads the book and then orders 10,000 copies for everyone in his or her organization. Write with CEOs in mind, because their approval will trigger bulk sales, consulting and huge revenue for the author.

4. Make It Fun

What could be more fun than two mice? Or Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market, the setting for Fish? Or a CEO with a rolling desk that allows him to drop in on every corner of the company? (See The Rolling Desk by David Morris.) When people read business books, they could be doing countless other things: reading other books, not reading books, working, sleeping or watching college football. You’re competing with every form of entertainment known to mankind. So, your book better be fun!

5. Plain English, Please

We’re glad that you went to a top business school and that you know a lot of business buzzwords that will make you sound smart. Leave them all out. The goal of a business fable is not to overwhelm us with your intelligence and vocabulary. The goal is to get across an idea or three in language that anyone can understand.

6. Small Cast of Characters

Let us get to know just a few people, animals or whatever, instead of introducing us to a complicated story with a cast of thousands. Avoid subplots. Don’t include anyone or anything in the story that distracts from the main points you’re trying to get across.

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7. Leave Room for Sequels

Great performers leave their audiences hungry for more. If your characters are likeable and fun, you’ve got a built-in audience for book number two.  I’m currently finishing a series of four fables, with a recurring main character, for a financial services consultant. He can build an entire industry out of this recurring main character, who then becomes a popular and in-demand spokesman (unpaid, to boot!) for his consulting practice. And the character can always come back for additional volumes in the series.

So, there you have it. Seven keys to writing successful business fables. Now, you can apply the ideas that make fables memorable to your own work…and join the ranks of business leaders who tell intriguing stories and change the world.

Michael Levin is a New York Times best-selling author and runs www.TheFableFactory.com.

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