“A man who can tell a good story can make a good living as a broker.” - Michael Lewis, Liar’s Poker
Of all the great and memorable quotes you can find in Lewis’ debut novel, this one is perhaps the most cynical while also being the most useful. Perhaps only trailing the legendary line, “I thought instead of a good rule for survival on Wall Street: Never agree to anything proposed on someone else’s boat, or you’ll regret it in the morning.” Which, as an addendum to last week’s note, can and should include any proposal to buy said boat.
But, storytelling is essential, regardless of whether you’re selling a stock, a bond, a set of encyclopedias, or the best idea of yourself.
I was in Las Vegas last week with reporter Adam Zaki to attend a large conference where plenty of CFOs and finance chiefs gather to network, learn, and, as of late, try to get their arms around generative AI. As Zaki wrote at the conclusion of the event, finance chiefs increasingly must have powerful communication skills at their disposal if they want to be evolutionary leaders.
We ask our 6 a.m. CFOs to share with us their best email practices. And some of you, such as friend of CFO Glenn Hopper, have written books. But, as MedSpeed’s CFO Natalie Laackman told Zaki, “Having a story and the ability for me to share my insight opens up the availability to others to reach out.” Laackman had the privilege of holding court as a keynoter on the center stage during the event, and her clear expression of ideas stood out.
If inside the conference center stage was a big place for telling stories, we drove by something even bigger. A newly constructed historical artifact in Las Vegas, The Sphere, sits in the middle of the city like an alien spaceship that has gotten lost and landed in the desert. It is something straight out of the mind of Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and musically designed, to boot.
One of the debut acts is the rock band U2, performing their classic 1991 album, “Achtung Baby.” It is an album more than 30 years old, and yet the storytelling that goes on in the album is now being sold again inside of this massive edifice to communicate its ideas in a drastically new and profound way.
But sometimes storytelling is personal as well. I had the privilege of getting dinner with a CFO friend whom I hadn’t seen since last year’s event. Since we had more studio space to explore, I peppered him with questions about the beginnings of his career. I learned that his formative work experience wasn’t all that different from Michael Lewis’, right down to the idea that he found himself suddenly in charge of a trading desk despite only being out of college for a few months. Exciting, yes. And scary, too. For him and the rest of us.
As the conference wound down and Zaki and I prepared to part ways, he said, “So, I just picked up a copy of Liar’s Poker.”
Away we go again.