In an imposing boardroom in one of Riyadh's ministry buildings, Ibrahim Al Moaiqel tells me how a phone call changed his life. Homesick and in a strange country, he was on the verge of quitting a demanding master's programme at Yale University in the United States.
On the other end of the line was a straight-talking woman in California with whose family he had stayed during his early days in the US. If Mr Al Moaiqel was hoping for a supporter in his plan for an easy life, he was mistaken. "You can stop now and enjoy the sun in California, or you can tough it out, prove what you're made of," she told him.
Mr Al Moaiqel, now the director general of Saudi Arabia's Human Resources Development Fund, graduated at the top of his class nine months later.
The story is one that Mr Al Moaiqel tells regularly to young Saudis aspiring to study overseas. His tale is a powerful reminder of the value of persistence in the pursuit of long-term goals.
The use of stories to convey learning and knowledge is an ancient tradition. They can give historical context and communicate the future. Well-told stories have the power to change people and shape events.
And that is why today's business leaders need to start telling better ones. The essence of much business activity is frequently hard to express. Business is often seen as a rational act: marshalling facts and figures to get someone to buy your product or service. But although information, data and analytics are important to support any proposition, they are rarely memorable in themselves.
Leaders can use narrative to powerful effect to translate abstract information into compelling pictures of their goals. Although good business cases are developed through the use of numbers, they are typically approved and institutionalised on the basis of a narrative that links a sequence of events.
In a new book, The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall states that humans are so drawn to storytelling that we turn things that aren't really stories into stories. Everything - faith, science, love - needs a story for people to find it plausible. If the story is good enough, you'll metabolise those facts along the way.
Stories are glue. There is no such thing as a passive audience. Stories provide stimulation and inspiration. They thrive on inspiration rather than administration. They drive people to action.
The consumer-electronics company Canon is one of a number of Japanese firms that have harnessed storytelling as a tool in business planning.
During his time as chairman, Fujio Mitaraiinstitutionalised the creation of stories to introduce business plans. Mr Mitarai led the process by writing a story about how the company can achieve its numeric goals. Everyone at Canon has to back up the numbers with a narrative. "That's how skills are cultivated and our people grow," he says.
There are few better examples of a story's power to radically transform people's reactions to a leader than Al Gore. In 1999, the US president Bill Clinton's former vice president was a solid "facts and figures" man. Public-opinion polling pegged him as "somewhat" or "very" boring.
Fast forward to 2007 and Mr Gore had changed his approach. He had learnt how to deliver his message on climate change through narrative. The result? His filmAn Inconvenient Truth won an Oscar and earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.
But business leaders need not take so long. In a world where slides leave listeners dazed, prose remains unread and reasoning doesn't change behaviour, good stories shock our expectations. When it comes to inspiring people to embrace unfamiliar ideas or change behaviour, storytelling isn't just an alternative to other business tools. It is really the only thing that works.
Jonty Summers is general manager of the communications agency Bladonmore