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September 29th, 2013

Fallen Favorites

A disturbing thing happened to me this past week. I finished re-reading my favorite book, THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald…and found that it was no longer my Favorite.

Perhaps this shouldn’t seem too unsettling. After all, people change. When I was a child, I was particularly enamored of the Encyclopedia Brown book series, and a book called THE RUNAWAY ROBOT by Lester Del Rey almost caused me to write my first fan letter to an author. (I was stopped by the worry that he would find the letter from an elementary school student to be more amusing than adoring…definitely a missed opportunity!)

As we grow up, things that had been cherished fall more into the realm of nostalgia…something fondly remembered, but with much less intense personal meaning. That’s the nature of life.

But, THE GREAT GATSBY has held the unassailable top position in my estimation since college which has been…well, let’s just say that it’s been some time ago. I considered it to be the perfect book; one that left no room for improvement. It has survived five readings, and my estimation has not budged an inch.

…Until the recent sixth reading.

Oh, I still hold the work in very high regard. It is just that, for the first time, I saw two things that I thought Fitzgerald could have done better. (Talk about the height of ego…me criticizing the writing style of F. Scott Fitzgerald!) But, there they were and they would not go away.

Here’s what bothers me even more. I don’t have a replacement Favorite. There are some titles that I consider to be exceptional, but they fall a bit short of THE GREAT GATSBY overall, although they excel in specific areas. (I blame much of this on my recent Good Reads experiment, which I detailed in an earlier posting.) All I know is that if I’m asked for my Favorite book, my answer is not currently THE GREAT GATSBY.

This started me thinking about similar experiences with corporate storytelling. (You just knew I’d get around to that, didn’t you?) There have been many stories that have held my exalted title of “Favorite” through the years.

There was the KFC “Short People” story…and my Alfred Hitchcock claim story…and my Delta Airlines “bizarre claim” story…and the customer service tale of “Bubba’s Tie.” Ah, yes, and we mustn’t forget the real life soap opera of “The Smokehouse Inn”…the giant crab encounter during a flooded home inspection…or the smoker doing spray painting.

I’ve related these stories in many, many training sessions. The danger, of course, is that so many people heard them that they lost their impact when they were repeated. Also, I began to see them as performance pieces rather than illustrations, because the reactions to them had always been so positive. I could hear the “mental applause” after every retelling.

So, it was to my benefit that all of these passed through my personal “Favorites” phase and were retired to the filing cabinet for possible future use if an appropriate venue appeared. My presentations became more vital, alive and relevant. And I was not perceived as the doddering fellow lost in his glory years.

If you find yourself reaching for a very familiar story time after time in your corporate storytelling presentations, or if the story has become one that you could essentially recite in your sleep, it is probably an excellent time to search for a new Favorite. Your audience will be more attentive…and grateful.

In the meantime, I’ll admit to being a bit nervous about sitting down again with my Favorite movie, CITIZEN KANE. What if I’ve lost both of them?

Thanks for reading.