5 Questions For: Preethi Nair

The publishing sensation reflects on her 'Gypsy Masala' experience—and on what it taught her about storytelling.
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fter her book, Gypsy Masala, was rejected by multiple publishers in 2003, Preethi Nair decided to take matters into her own hands, quitting her job as a management consultant and forming her own publishing house and PR agency under the guise of an alter ego (“I was very introverted back then, and felt I could hide,” she says).
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Ten years later, Nair started a corporate storytelling business to help companies impart lessons around leadership. Nair talked to ?What If! Editorial Associate Adrienne Wong about entrepreneurship, vision, and the power of narrative. Edited excerpts:

Wong: You left a job in management consulting to publish and promote your book. What did you learn about entrepreneurship?

Nair: You have to have vision. The most important thing is big, big vision. You have to believe nothing is impossible. My book would be published internationally. I saw it clearly.

You’ll be tested every step of the way in trying to achieve that vision. The obstacles test your resolve: How much do you want this to happen? How much are you willing to give up to make this happen?

Looking 10 years forward, it’s such a cliché, but I’ve learned that it’s not actually the destination, it’s the journey. It’s the people you get to meet, it’s the things that transform you as a person.

E-publishing lets writers publish and promote their work without jumping through the hoops you jumped through. Would there even be a "Gypsy Masala" saga today?

It’s a different world, and publishing has changed so much. The principles are still the same. The format is just different.

Now you run your own corporate storytelling and creative leadership company, Kiss the Frog. Who do you work with, what do you help them do, and how?

Everything I do is around storytelling. It’s mostly making short story films for companies centered around leadership—how do you create engagement as a leader? I work with huge companies. They often have hundreds of thousands of employees and very often two tiers of senior leaders. There are all these myths around the leaders but, ultimately, they’re human: they have human experiences, they have lessons to impart around leadership. I bring their stories to life, I teach them how to tell a good story, I film it, and put it on the Internet.

It creates awareness around that topic. For example, diversity. I might pick a leader who represents diversity in multiple ways—diversity of thought, diversity in the way they look—but I don’t focus on that. I focus on their personal journey. People love a good story; they’ll pass it on. I can measure the success of each project by the amount of hits they get. My work is all about bringing creativity and storytelling into corporate life.

Any examples?

A leading traditional games company wanted to make its product range more interactive. I worked with the concept development team to link the products through story. And I’ve made e-learning more interactive through the use of avatars.

Any plans for another book?

I’m currently writing a musical—that’s my next big project. I haven’t had a chance to focus on my creative work. I had a baby, and life kind of takes over. I’m very superstitious about talking about stuff until I’m finished!

FROM the greenhouse