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Park Howell Talks About the Best Books on Storytelling

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Park Howell is a consultant, coach, speaker with 30+ years experience in the advertising industry, and founder of Business of Story. His mission is to help leaders and communicators rise above the noise of the Attention Economy and be heard using the power of brand and business storytelling.

After running one of the top ad agencies in Phoenix for 20 years, Park realized that technology and the internet have such a powerful impact on the advertising paradigm that many traditional strategies don’t work anymore. So he closed down his ad agency and founded the Business of Story in 2016. And, somehow symbolic, on January 1. The Business of Story aims at helping purpose-driven organizations clarify their stories and amplify their impact. In the past two years since starting the Business of Story, Park has worked with companies like Hilton, the United States Air Force or Wynn Resorts.

Every Sunday, Park hosts the Business of Story podcast, which is rated among the best storytelling podcasts. He talks to various content creators, advertising creatives, authors and marketers about how can people and companies make their stories stand out in today’s crowded and tech-driven communications world.

As you can imagine, we were really curious to see what book recommendations Park has for us and we weren’t disappointed. Read on to find out what passage from a book he used when teaching storytelling skills to professionals in a nuclear power plant, what books should be read by anyone aspiring to an advertising career and what’s the connection between Donald Trump and reading more.

1. What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

I don’t have a favorite book, but the two I reference most often are The Storytelling Animal, by Jonathan Gottschall, and The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Politics by Religion and Politics, by Jonathan Haidt. Both of these books expertly guide the reader into how our minds use storytelling to create meaning out of the madness and chaos of being alive in this world.

2. Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

I’m just now finishing up Origin Story: A Big History About Everything, by David Christian. In it, he explores the Big Bang Theory, energy and the laws of thermodynamics and how in addition to being carnivores and herbivores, people are also informavores. We are unique bundles of living and breathing energy because our molecules, starting with DNA, became self-learning entities that have evolved us into who we are today.

I used this insight last week when I was working with the professionals at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station on their storytelling skills. To connect with them I stated, “Story thwarts the fundamental law of physics regarding the natural tendency of things to approach a chaotic state, especially in organizations, because stories function like free energy structuring and shaping the molecules of meaning our mind requires to fight the foe we fear most: entropy.”

3. What books had the biggest impact on you? Perhaps change the way you see things or dramatically changed your career path.

Any one of these books in my online library that I freely share with anyone interested in what I do: Park’s Library:

4. What five books would you recommend to young people interested in your career path & why?

1. The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell;
2. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall;
3. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Politics by Religion and Politics by Jonathan Haidt;
4. Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy;
5. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink.

I recommend each for different reasons, but cumulatively they provide the students a great overview of how understanding, empathy and persuasion work on use knuckle-dragging humans.

5. I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? What format do you prefer?

I read 10 to 15 hours per week typically on my iPad. I like to be able to highlight the material and return back to it.

6. How do you make time for reading?

Stop watching CNN’s reporting on Doofus Donald and instead turn my time and attention to more productive insights found in books.

7. Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

Highlighting material in digital books on my iPad.

8. How do you choose what books to read next? Do you prioritize books recommended by certain people?

No, I usually read out of pure interest. Something I’ve seen online or someone gives me a book they think I’d like.

9. Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

As I mentioned, I’m just completing Origin Story, and now I have a much greater understanding of evolution and the power of origin stories in all of our lives to help define our personal and professional brands. I’m also reading Lightning Strikes: Timeless Lessons in Creativity from the Life and Work of Nikola Tesla by John F. Wasik.

Links where you can follow Park Howell or find out more about his projects:

All books mentioned by Park Howell in this interview:

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