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Elements of Persuasion – Book Review

I’m skeptical of business books in general, and while I read about a book a week, I try not to get too stuck in books that try to dispense any advice about how to do your job better, as most of the time it’s a crap shoot. As Richard Farson titles a chapter in his must-read Management of the Absurd, "Everything we try works, and nothing works." (Buy that book now; you’ll finish it in a sitting and will quote it years later.)

With The Elements of Persuasion: Use Storytelling to Pitch Better, Sell Faster & Win More Business by Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman, I was skeptical at first. The introduction included the obligatory numbered list of bullets the book focuses on (here, it’s the five elements to create the perfect story: Passion, Hero, Antagonist, Awareness, and Transformation), and then the obligatory metaphor (here, it’s with the five elements of the world (Fire, Earth, Air, Water, plus the implied Space to make the lists compatible). It was enough to make me wonder if there was any substance to it, or they were just trying to stretch metaphors to make their numbers work.

By the end, I was engrossed in the book, reading the second half of the book in one protracted sitting. I’m not entirely convinced the metaphor works perfectly – couldn’t fire refer as much to the Antagonist as Passion, and couldn’t water mean the Hero rather than – um, what does it mean in the book again?). With metaphors, you generally don’t want to think about them too hard. That doesn’t detract from the overall value of the book.

Here’s a few reasons why I’d recommend this one:

  • All marketing is storytelling. The book takes an even broader view of how storytelling is important for far more than marketing.
  • The lens broadens for the big picture and contracts for the practical value. While storytelling may be important in countless situations, the authors are clearly writing for a businessperson who must make a presentation about something. Sometimes, it also focuses on someone who must come up with a strategy about something. Of course, that "something" could be anything, but the authors try to make it as concrete for you as possible so you can fill in that blank.
  • The case studies are worth studying. There are great examples here from Shell, Mary Kay, Lockheed, Purdue, KFC, and elsewhere. A couple of times, I’ve wondered how well the companies have stayed true to the ideals of the case studies’ protagonists (KFC today hardly seems a shining example of quality poultry), but the characters and their passion are inspiring in their own ways.

You can read more from the authors at the Elements of Persuasion blog.

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