Business storytelling and The Social Network movie


On the weekend I went to see The Social Network,a film about Mark Zukerberg the founder of Facebook.  While watching the film,  I was struck (yet again) by how powerful stories can be. Especially when compared to a statement of fact or even a metaphor.

In the movie, Zuckerberg sets up a meeting with Sean Parker, the 20-something founder of  Napster. Zuckerberg is being persuaded by Sean Parker to think big.  Parker actually does this in three stages.  First with a  statement, then with a metaphor and finally with a story.

Parker says “What’s cool is not a million dollars, but a billion dollars’.

Parker then advises Zuckerberg to choose his future using a metaphor: When you go fishing you can catch a lot of fish or you can catch a big fish. You ever walk into a guy’s den and see a picture of fourteen trout? No, he’s holding an 800-pound marlin and that’s what you want’.

Later, at a San Francisco night club, Parker influences Zuckerberg with this story of the founder of Victoria’s Secret.

‘A Stanford MBA named Roy Raymond, wants to buy his wife some lingerie but he’s too embarrassed to shop for it at a department store. Comes up with an idea for a high end place that doesn’t make you feel like a pervert. He gets a forty thousand dollar bank loan, borrows another forty thousand from his in-laws, opens a store and calls it Victoria’s Secret. Makes a half million dollars his first year. He starts a catalogue, opens three more stores and after five years he sells the company to Leslie Wexner and The Limited for four million dollars. Happy ending, right? Except four years later the company’s worth five hundred million dollars and Roy Raymond jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge. Poor guy just wanted to buy his wife a pair of thigh highs.’

So did the story work?

Jim Fink in his article Facebook IPO? Insights from the Social Network Movie says the lessons for Zuckerberg were :  THINK BIG , be patient and you’ll maximize the value of the business.   Jim also goes on to add that Zuckerberg took Parker’s advice. When former Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel offered to buy Facebook for a cool $1 billion in 2006, Mark turned him down.  Semel was shocked, stating later in an interview:  I’d never met anyone – forget his age, 22 then or 26 now – I’d never met anyone who would walk away from $1 billion. I couldn’t believe it.  Today Facebook is now worth 26 times what Semel offered to pay.

I am sharing this with you to illustrate how a statement a of  fact or a metaphor inform people but may not necessarily shift behaviour.  As both are based on logic and logic informs but doesn’ t always persuade us to change.  If logic did that then no one would smoke, non one would speed, we would all eat right and exercise everyday.  But with a purposeful authentic story you can influence behaviour…just like Sean Parker did.

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