Jyoti Guptara talks ‘Business Storytelling From Hype To Hack’

The pioneer of business storytelling, Jyoti Guptara speaks exclusively to DESIblitz about his book, ‘Business Storytelling From Hype To Hack’.

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"I’ve been forced to pursue non-traditional ways of making a living"

Best-selling author, speaker and pioneer of business storytelling, Jyoti Guptara, has helped business leaders deploy stories to achieve results with his ground-breaking book, ‘Business Storytelling From Hype To Hack’ (2020).

Jyoti Guptara’s book achieves exactly what it sets out to do, as suggested by the subtitle, it helps “Unlock the Software of the Mind.”

Storytelling is an ancient practice which continues to be enjoyed by many. However, what many people are unaware of is its remarkability for a successful business.

Jyoti Guptara, who understood the importance of this technique, explains through his book why storytelling is referred to as ‘the #1 business skill’ and how to master this life-changing skill.

As well as a business storytelling expert, Jyoti Guptara is an internationally-recognised fiction writer.

In fact, he became a best-selling author at the age of 17 after he dropped out of school at the age of 15.

Jyoti Guptara co-wrote the ‘Calaspia’ trilogy with his twin brother. They achieved the No.2 spot in the Indian bestsellers list for fiction.

The highly-praised trilogy was also published in Dutch and German further extending its reach and popularity.

However, it was until Jyoti Guptara became a Novelist-in-Residence at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, a UN partner-organisation, that he understood the commercial perspective of storytelling.

With ten years’ worth of experience in imaginative fiction, Guptara began to help business leaders improve their presentational and discussion skills.

DESIblitz exclusively talked to Jyoti Guptara to gain a deeper understanding of ‘Business Storytelling’, his journey and much more.

What made you decide to drop out of school and what reaction did you get for doing so?

When I was 15, I’d been trying to get a novel published for four years and knew that I wanted to be a writer. And the best way to become a writer is to read and write.

Whether or not you have a certificate or a degree is irrelevant to publishers being persuaded to publish your work – it is the quality of what you produce that is the determining factor.

When you’re wondering whether to buy a novel, I doubt that the writer’s paper qualifications are a significant factor in your decision.

They are indeed a factor in the case of non-fiction, but only one. There are many other factors that count.

Walt Disney and Richard Branson dropped out of school at 16. Amancio Ortega dropped out at 14. Li Ka Shing dropped out like me, at 15.

Still, when I dropped out of school, a lot of people assumed I was naïve and that my parents were pretty irresponsible.

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But a sense of destiny and a lot of work kept me writing through rejections until my twin brother and I published our first book at 17, which became a bestseller in India.

After that, it was easy for people to say they always knew I’d do something special!

People ask what my parents thought of dropping out of school. They were highly supportive, which I don’t take for granted.

I guess this was especially unusual for my Indian father, given that most Asian families push children to get as much certified education as possible.

I never did go back to school – other than as a speaker. Ironically today I am a guest lecturer at Business Schools and universities internationally.

Do you think not having an education has held you back or not?

I don’t have a degree, but would you say that I’m not educated? People intuitively understand that school and education are not necessarily the same thing.

In fact, as Einstein said, sometimes what gets in the way of our learning is our education. I absolutely value people who do have a traditional education and learn a lot from them.

Conversely, many of them appreciate my outsider’s perspective. So no, it hasn’t held me back.

In the absence of a degree, I’ve been forced to pursue non-traditional ways of making a living, which was very tough, and is sometimes lonely, but freedom and independence are their own reward.  Moreover, I haven’t starved yet.

Why is storytelling important for you and what made you realise its power?

Storytelling is important to me because stories are important to human beings. Every child knows that. But it gets drilled out of children. Perhaps I was lucky that my parents didn’t want it drilled out of me!

At a party, who gets the most attention? That’s right: the storyteller. It’s the same online. And I remember being on a book tour, giving dozens of readings and being really well received.

Then I gave a presentation to several hundred people on a different topic, and halfway through I could tell I was not connecting.

Desperate, I thought back to what made my readings work, and realised I had forgotten to tell stories!

I had a few minutes left, and quickly changed track. I stopped giving abstract explanations and started giving the audience a vicarious experience – a story.

The mood changed immediately. People started listening.

And after the event, people only talked about the story, not the dozen other points I’d tried to make without stories.

In business storytelling, you should never tell a story without a point. But that day I learned that you should never try and make an important point without telling a story.

We’ve always known stories work, but today we can see what’s happening inside the brain and have the science to back it up. My book explores both the anecdotal evidence and the hard proof.

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How did you come up with the idea for this unique book concept?

Storytelling has been a buzzword in marketing for a while now, but it’s often applied narrowly. In conversations with business leaders, I realised that it wasn’t being applied widely enough and certainly not deeply enough.

At the same time, as with any buzzword, a lot of people are already sceptical about the concept.

Maybe they tried telling stories and were less than impressed with the results. Maybe they did not feel creative enough to pull it off.

Hence the title, From Hype to Hack. The more I researched, the more I realised we have story-shaped brains. Hence the subtitle, Unlock the Software of the Mind.

Of course, part of the motivation for writing a business book was to share my expertise. But there are pragmatic reasons, too.

There’s so much to share at workshops or in coaching sessions. If clients or participants have already read Business Storytelling from Hype to Hack, the whole dialogue with clients can start immediately at a much deeper level, with a common vocabulary, saving them and me a lot of time.

But the most important thing is that the book is a way to spread these important ideas, to enable people to begin talking about them.

The more good people we have telling true stories intentionally and effectively, the more progress we’ll make as a society.

What has the reaction been like for your book?

Business Storytelling from Hype to Hack has been on the bestseller lists in its respective Amazon categories ever since its release.

So, the response has been good. A lot of people have great companies, strategies, products, or services, but struggle to talk about why they’re so great.

Other people are frustrated they spend so much time teaching people or in meetings, with little result.

I have heard from people with these problems that my book is just what they needed.

Some readers have reached out asking for help applying the lessons to their particular challenge, whereas others have taken my concepts and built them into their own consulting work.

Both of these results make me very happy.

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Can you describe what your workshops, coaching and consulting involve?

As an executive coach, I help leaders pinpoint which of their most important messages are being misunderstood or ignored – and help them find and tell the stories that will change behaviour.

Leaders are storytellers, but most people do not enhance their narrative competence through traditional education, nor when they are working their way up the hierarchy.

For something we humans do naturally, stories are notoriously difficult to remember when we try to use them consciously.

By asking the right questions, I help people connect the dots from their past with what’s important to them.

You really need that outside perspective, because we take our own history – our stories – for granted and ‘you can’t see what’s on the bottle from the inside’.

It’s incredibly rewarding for both my client and me when my clients are able to pull relevant and powerful material out from their own experience.

My approach takes people through gathering the client’s stories, jointly-selecting the most appropriate stories for the client’s purpose, identifying together what the best structure would be, and finally helping clients to deliver stories with style, depending on the medium.

Introductory workshops help people to understand the incredible potential of storytelling so that they are motivated to start collecting and refining stories for particular uses that are important to them.

Workshops are a lot of fun because people hear each other’s stories because participants get to experience what it’s like to tell stories at various stages of development, and because we can all use feedback from a live audience.

It’s encouraging to realise that most of us struggle to tell a story with a point. And it’s even more encouraging for participants to experience rapid improvement with simple guidelines and specific suggestions.

In terms of consulting, people bring me in for different kinds of challenges.

There is Board- and Executive level work – a lot of organisations have started to appreciate storytelling and to deploy stories, but are finding that individual stories are either not quite right, or not properly aligned or badly told.

I help organisations align their vision, values, and ventures, which can result in an incredible sense of drive.

Then there is work downstream from Board- and Executive-level, for example, marketing.

Throughout, we can’t just tell any stories. E.g. for strategy implementation, the relevant business story must express powerfully as many aspects as possible of the reality as well as the potential reality, so that the strategy can be really lived.

It can neither be put on the shelf in terms of how business is actually operating nor distorted during implementation.

Let me ask you a question:  What is it that keeps you watching a great or at least a good movie? Isn’t it a sense of progression and meaning?

The same is possible in business. And, when it is possible, why should we not achieve that same kind of excitement in business?

How do people react to you, being so young and in business?

It was unusual to have three published books by the time I was 21, but I am 32 now, so it’s not really a topic.

A fast-changing world needs the wisdom and experience of those who are old as well as fresh insights and creative, out-of-the-box approaches from those who are young.

How had Covid-19 impacted you and your business?

To start with, negatively. In fact, I am grateful some work fell through because it gave me the chance to finish this book!

Several speeches and workshops were postponed, cancelled, or went virtual – and even that meant I saved travel time.

After a few months of uncertainty, when people realised this crisis was going to last longer, they were back with a new sense of urgency.

When you don’t see people in the flesh, it’s more important than ever to stay emotionally connected and on the same page. So, I think there’s been a growing awareness of the importance of good business storytelling.

More significantly, a lot of businesses are trying to pivot, which involves reframing their strategy and perhaps even their portfolio of products and services – with the consequence that the narrative needs to change anyway, preferably in such a way as to make it even more effective.

What would your advice be for potential businesspeople?

Here are three things. First and most important: start a story bank! In business, we don’t tell stories to entertain, we want results.

So, the second thing is: categorise stories according to the kind of result you want.  “Vision stories” help us articulate our purpose, what we are all about.

“Strategy stories” help communicate how we are going to achieve our goals. “Connection stories” help us to be well-received by our audience. “Sales stories” talk about how we helped our customers.

And finally, don’t wait to tell any of these important stories for the first time when the stakes are high.

Use informal conversation. Small talk. When someone asks you how you are, tell them a story. It’s a natural way of practising everyday storytelling, and you will already start to see results!

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‘Business Storytelling’ encourages and teaches the reader to master the skill of storytelling enjoyably for dynamic commercial impact.

Jyoti Guptara’s book allows the reader an insight into the storytelling pioneer’s secrets which he shares with his top coaching clients.

To enjoy and learn from Jyoti Guptara about the art of storytelling for success without the stress, get your copy here.

Ayesha is an English graduate with an aesthetic eye. Her fascination lies in sports, fashion and beauty. Also, she does not shy away from controversial subjects. Her motto is: “no two days are the same, that is what makes life worth living.”