May 19, 2005

News & Opinion: The Story of Success

By: Jack @ 8:07 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

When Todd and I talk with authors and publishers about what a book needs, we always say a good beginning. Nobody has the time to struggle getting into a book. You need to start with something compelling. Check this out from forthcoming title called The Story of Success.
This is a book about story and the ethical role storytelling pays in our livesparticularly our lives in organizations. So let me begin with a tale from an unusual workplace. I borrow it from a participant at one of my Stories for Leaders seminars, a principal in a West Coast marketing consultancy who recalled an exchange he had with an employee of his oldest client, a cemetery with which he was working at the time. He reports hearing the following from a counselor (salesperson):
A guy call me for a pre-need arrangement. Thats what they call buying your funeral before you die. He says on the phone, How fast can I choose a plot, buy a casket, and pay for everything? I tell him we can do it immediately. He shows up in an hour. The guy is only 45 years old and looks reasonably healthy. I take him up the hill to our latest property. Thats what they call a gravesite. I tell him what the opening and closing costs will be. Opening and closing costs means digging the grave and then shoveling the dirt back in after the burial.
I then take him to the casket room. He chooses the most expensive casket, measuring to see how well he will fit into it. He makes all his decision. He then asks me for the paperwork. I tell him that it will take a few hours to prepare and that I will send it to him the next day. No, he says emphatically. I need it now.
I look at him: May I ask why you are in such a rush? Yes, you may, he answers. When I am done here, Im going home to commit suicide. I look back at him and say, Im a commission salesman. The deal has to be in effect for seven days in order for me to receive my commission. Ive spent hours with you and if you commit suicide today, I wont get my commission.
The guy waited because of me. I got him help. Hes still alive. And I got my commission.
Most of us have only passing interaction with cemetery counselors, and prefer it that way. We do not spontaneously locate our notions of ethical practice at the cemeteryin fact, we generally assume that we have gotten that far, its too late to redeem ourselves through virtuous acts. Yet cemeteries, too, need to be managed, so this grave story speaks to questions that The Story of Success raises and hopes to answer for business and management.
Understand that I have just started the book and it isnt due to be published until September but I really liked this beginning.