A Vanishing Skill: Stories, Storytelling, Story Selling

Good stories fascinate us all. They always have. They always will. Basically, there are two types of stories: Truth Stories and True Stories.

Truth Stories

The first type, that is, Truth Stories, are those that convey timeless messages that convey universal truths. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were the first Truth Stories.


Ulysses Confronts the Cyclops Polyphemus – Jacob Jordaens

These epic stories respectively recounted the Trojan War and the journeys of Ulysses. They were stories about heroes and their roles in epic events. These stories were orally communicated, sung by traveling bands for centuries. In the process of communication, these stories were doubtless enhanced and extended. So, they had many authors.

The Message Is the Point – Maybe Not the Truth

“Fear Greeks Bearing Gifts,” – Lacoon on the Trojan Horse

They were Truth Stories because they contained great moral lessons.

Some of the content may have even been true. But, including the true into Truth Stories is beside the point. The message(s) is the point—not necessarily the facts.

Achilles, Hector, Ulysses, Ajax, Paris, even Helen of Troy and the Trojan Horse may never have existed. Many have wondered whether Troy itself ever existed. And, even though there must have been a first initiation of at least some of the story, some wonder …

… “Who was, or were, Homer?” “Did he even exist?” But really, who cares?

Truth Stories are not dependent upon whether their characters, events, or even their author, were ever true.

The Real Value—Meaning

Their value is in the Truth, or the meaning, of their message and the lessons offered, not their truthfulness.

True Stories

True Stories, by comparison, do attempt to tell what is true.

The first of these True Stories were history stories formally written (not told) by Herodotus. He is, therefore, known as the Father of History.

Begin with Inquiry

The word history itself gives us insights into their intent. The word history (historie) in Greek, of Ionian origin, meant inquiry. We may speak of Homeric epics, though there may never have been a Homer, but history begins with historians. It is they who do the inquiries that uncover the facts that they report as histories.

From There to Eternity

Their stories are intended to be formally stated True Stories. Ideally, they may also contain eternal and universal Truths, or moral lessons. If so, they can become eternally admired and regularly quoted and retold stories as well.

Herodotus began his history with these words:

“These are the researches of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, which he publishes, in the hope of thereby preserving from decay the remembrance of what men have done, and of preventing the great and wonderful actions of the Greeks and the Barbarians, from losing their due mead of glory; and withal to put on record what were the grounds of feud.”

So, Herodotus formally wrote his history. That way, his history would not be subject to the ongoing changes that a verbally communicated message always tends to experience.

Why Is This Important in Business?

Every day wonderful things happen in your business. And every day some not-so-wonderful things happen. They need to be remembered, passed on and learned from. Both the “Truth Stories” and the “True Stories.”

I’ve found that to be successful in business, you have to be a great communicator. The best communicators are the storytellers that grab you by emotion, seize your mind and prompt you to action. They take you on a magical journey, if only for a moment.

Businesses need Stories, Storytellers and Story Sellers to succeed in the market.

A Vanishing Skill

Unfortunately, the values and the importance of the ideas of Stories, Storytelling and Story-Selling may not be as well understood by many of us. Nor may all of their many implications and possibilities be fully realized and appreciated by all of us to the degree they deserve.

Don’t Just Be a Face in the Crowd

Think Like a Storyteller

It might be hard. It might get lonely. But stories resonate through all human beings in all cultures and have throughout time.

I urge you to think about all of the events and experiences with which you may be involved, or have seen or heard about, that would make good stories to help your business. You don’t have to write them yourselves if you feel uncomfortable about it. Find someone in your company that will support your efforts. There are storytellers in your business somewhere … or your business wouldn’t exist. Provide them with your story ideas. Stories that can either be True Stories or Truth Stories – but ideally they would be both.

Timeless and Timely Business Lessons

We have now been in the software business here at Cincom for 40 years. Two of the lessons learned from our 40 years of business are timeless and timely. Essential and eternal. Pathways through rugged and trying times.

I pass them on to you to—like Herodotus said, “in the hope of thereby preserving from decay the remembrance of what people have done,” but also that they may help the reader as they pursue their own successful ideas and ideals for the next 40 years.

Long Ago and Far Away

Long ago and far away (from Silicon Valley anyway) in September of 1968, a radical idea for a new product and a new company was born in a Cincinnati basement; an idea that took seed with $600, a card table, and a dream.

A Daunting Dream

The challenges of the dream were daunting: create, market, and sell a product that one of the biggest companies in the world (IBM) was giving away for free.

No Product, No Customers, No Industry

That dream also included no venture capital; no one would finance it.


Because no one understood it. Software or softwear? What’s that, clothes? One bank actually thought that. Why? This was seven years before Microsoft was founded in 1975. Nine years before Oracle was founded in 1977. And, this was in Cincinnati, Ohio… not Silicon Valley.

Forty Years Later?

Forty years of pioneering, advancement, and leadership in a turbulent and unforgiving software industry followed from this company and its employees. Governors, President Ronald Reagan, Former British Prime Minister Heath, the Smithsonian Institute, and Harvard Business School among many other prestigious organizations have recognized its efforts.


Built to Last on Two Simple Concepts

Though the Cincom dream was daunting, risky, and some thought impossible, Cincom built that dream to last on two simple concepts: create and serve.


Cincom employees create software and services products that solve real business problems, and they have been since 1968.

These products create customers.


Serve the customers as well as the employees who create the products.

What You Really Need to Know

Without customers, there can be no service. Without service, there will be no customers.

“One of the reasons I’ve chosen to keep Cincom a private corporation is that I believe companies should put their customers first, and the people who are serving those customers a very close second.” – Thomas Nies, Cincom CEO

Built-to-last is built on “Create and Serve.”


Flickr photo #2 courtesy of E.Gold

Flickr photo #3 coutesy of Peter Van Allen

About the Author

Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems, Inc. The longest actively serving CEO in the computer industry, Nies was recognized by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 as "the epitome of the entrepreneurial spirit of American business." In 1992, British Prime Minister Edward Heath honored Nies for Cincom's role in bringing the software industry to England. In 1995, he was profiled by the Smithsonian Institute as one of the "pioneers of the software industry," alongside other industry giants such as Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Larry Ellison (Oracle). In 2004, Ernst & Young inducted Nies into its Entrepreneur of the Year Hall of Fame. In 2005, along with the CEO of Adobe, Nies won the International Stevie Award for Best Executive in the International Business Awards—"the business world's own Oscars," according to the New York Post. In 2005, Nies also received the University of Cincinnati Lifetime Achievement award and in 2006, was named as one of the Top Ten IT Visionaries by START-IT magazine. In 2008, Tom and Cincom were featured in a Harvard Business School Study. Email Tom Nies: Tnies@cincom.com

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