I’ve talked many times before about the power of story. Story opens people’s eyes, takes them on an emotional journey, and can ease them into learning and change in a beautiful way. People are some 20-times more likely to remember a story than just unfiltered facts. The mission of the (actual) Warner Brothers’ established in the 1930’s expresses it well: “to entertain, educate and enlighten” with story.
Working as a screenwriter in Hollywood, I can tell you there are a lot of opinions on story structure and development. Some people save the cat, other’s delve deep into formula and break everything out into minute by minute guidelines, and some swear by Aristotle’s Poetics.
But the most consistent and persistent story structure that all of them follow, to some extent, regardless of their stated approach, is one discovered a little over 70 years ago. I say discovered because the prevailing belief is that it was there all along, it just wasn’t fully examined until this century. It starts with psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Jung was originally a protégé of Sigmund Freud, the father of psychology, but after a long collaboration, the two split off. In fact, Jung eventually redefined his system of psychology separate from Freud’s approach.
One of Jung’s prevailing beliefs was the concept of a shared subconscious or collective unconscious mind. Jung believed that the consistency found in various mythologies and folk tales across cultures and generations came from the fact that our minds all drew from a universal well of thought and idea.
Later, mythologist Joseph Campbell proposed that Jung’s theories were proven by a concept called monomyth – all stories follow a specific pattern of development. Campbell wrote the definitive text on the subject, The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
May The Force Be With You
When George Lucas was studying film at the University of Southern California (USC) he became enamored with the study of mythology and Campbell in particular. So much so that when he was working on drafts of the script that would eventually become the original Star Wars film (now subtitled Episode IV: A New Hope”), he modeled the entire story on Campbell’s monomyth structure.
Other movies and books follow the pattern – after all, it wouldn’t be a universal pattern if they didn’t. But some stories go about it differently and sometimes you have to wrangle a bit to make the pattern work “perfectly.” George Lucas, along with his editor and ex-wife Marcia Lucas, followed Campbell’s pattern to a “T.”
And the beauty of that is, I can simplify Campbell’s overly complicated 400+ page book by just pointing to Star Wars. And what I want to do today is walk you through the monomyth approach to telling your stories – by making your customers the heroes.
The Ordinary World
This is where we meet Luke Skywalker. Space battles on the horizon aside, Luke’s life is pretty consistently standard. He works on his Uncle Owen’s moisture farm. He negotiates and buys droids. He’d rather hang out with his friends and/or join the Rebellion, than stay one more season on the farm. But Uncle Owen needs him, so he stays.
Your potential clients live here. They think everything is fine; it’s the way it’s always been. They don’t consider that there might be a better option. They might be in pain, but be so used to it, they can’t imagine there’s a solution that could fix the problem. They’re numb to the pain and to change – or even the possibility of change.
The Call to Adventure
In Star Wars, Luke’s call to adventure is literally that – a call. It’s not directed at him. Princess Leia has encoded a message for Obi Wan Kenobi. Luke wonders if she means Old Ben Kenobi, but doesn’t pursue it until R2-D2 disappears into the night. And once Luke connects with Old Ben after finding R2, the Jedi master tells Skywalker, “You must come with me to Alderaan.”
Your customer’s call to adventure isn’t quite so obvious most of the time. Although it could be, if your company does a lot of cold calling. But anything that gets your customer’s attention and connects you with them is a call to adventure. It might be a billboard or radio ad. It might be a useful blog post. More likely than not, in our world, it’s a Google search that leads the burgeoning hero towards his journey. Or the referral of a trusted fellow business owner.
Meeting the Mentor
Luke has met Obi-Wan Kenobi, the man who would teach him the ways of the Force, so he can become a Jedi, “like my father before me.” But he just sees him as an old man. Sure the light saber and the man’s ability to make the Tusken Raiders scatter are both amazing, but… In Star Wars, the call to adventure is intertwined with meeting the mentor – just as it is with Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, and often the hero realizes it when she is granted a new perspective.
In a business sense this is often the case as well. The introduction of your potential customer to your small business may seem incidental. It is often connected to that call to adventure, because the call also conveys how your company can relieve their pain. But they don’t see it, or don’t trust it quite yet, which leads them into…
Refusing the Call
Luke immediately responds to Ben Kenobi’s promptings, saying he can’t possibly go to Alderaan. He needs to stay on for one more season. He doesn’t even realize he’s using the source of his earlier frustration to justify his resistance. Even when Ben points out, “That’s your uncle talking.”
By and large, humans are resistant to change. Even if we suspect it may make our lives or businesses better, we sit on our hands and make excuses, and dwell in the pain. As I mentioned before, we have become numb. And sometimes even pleasure can seem painful when you’re not used to it. Routine has its own rewards. Simply knowing there is a problem doesn’t mean they’ll embrace the potential solution.
Crossing the Threshold
It doesn’t have to be, but this often can be one of those all or nothing moments. Luke doesn’t just return to the moisture farm. Because he sees the inherent danger – even though he wants to ignore it – he races back. To find the homestead gutted, and the burning corpses of his aunt and uncle left by the Stormtroopers.
Your potential customer crosses the threshold when they schedule the first exploratory meeting, or 30-minute free consultation. This may seem like a poor comparison to what happens to Luke Skywalker, but think about it. In order to accept help, to even consider that help, a part of the customer’s ego must die. They must admit that what they are doing now won’t fix the pain they feel and/or it’s not something they can accomplish on their own. They must die to the concept of doing everything themselves.
Tests, Allies & Enemies
This is exactly what it sounds like. The hero has met the mentor, now he meets the other players. Luke & Ben fend off goons in the cantina, after Ben uses the Force to manipulate the simple minded Stormtroopers. The droids have already encountered Darth Vader, to some extent, but Luke hasn’t, so the Stormtroopers represent the Empire.
After the initial altercation in the cantina, Ben hires Han & Chewie. The Stormtroopers appear again, chasing the heroes off Tatooine. And the Empire somehow beats them to their destination – arriving to see an asteroid field and a moon that isn’t one.
They get trapped on the Death Star, find Princess Leia, almost killed in the trash compactor and Luke faces the loss of his mentor.
In the storytelling world, this is often a longer section, and may be referred to as the “fun and games” portion of the story.
For your clients, it can be any number of things. Their investors or advisors may not see the value of what you are offering, or at least enough value to justify the cost. Your client may not see results right away – if you’re providing a service, it may be something that takes time to grow or to show results on – like Google rankings or social media.
Fellow business people or the board of directors may be just as numb to the pain of change as your new customer was. They didn’t have an answer before, or a sufficient one, but they also haven’t gone through the same change as the client did. Often times they can derail efforts.
At the same time, they may be allies who are helpful and excited about the new possibilities. Tests, allies, and enemies. It all leads up to…
This is the final battle. The elixir or treasure has been brought back and now we have the final test of the hero. Will she win the battle, or die trying? Luke has the plans to the Death Star – had them all along, but didn’t understand what they were until they encountered the battle station for themselves. He must use the knowledge of the engineering design flaw to save the Rebellion and their home planet.
In many instances, you may not be around to see this moment for your new client. Or you may learn about it much later, after they have successfully navigated the ordeal, and blown up their small business ‘planet killer.’ Hopefully, they’ll share the story with you. Maybe they’ll post it on Yelp or in a Google Review. Or maybe, hopefully, you’ll learn how much the treasure you brought them has become valuable because they referred a new client to you.
Resurrection/Master of Two Worlds
In Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi is the one resurrected, from a certain point of view. He returns as the voice of faith in Luke’s ear, telling him to trust what he has learned about letting go. Luke remembers his trial with the test probe in the Millennium Falcon and shuts off the targeting computer. He’s relying on faith.
But he’s also relying on R2 and the X-Wing fighter he’s flying. Much like the droids and the moisture vaporators when we first met him on Tatooine, Luke is still utilizing technology. He has become a hero by embracing both of his worlds/identities. The mystic and the mechanic. Sometimes we call this ‘entering the new normal.’
We know a little too much about ‘new normal’s’ these days, I think. In an example from our own business, we’ve learned to embrace the usual model along with the virtual, work from home model, and attempted to fuse the two. Like a phoenix rising from the COVID ashes.
But for your client’s, this is the moment that your product or service really comes into its own. The client is so happy with it, and/or understands it so well that they use it all the time. It becomes part of their new normal.
This is also when they freely give referrals, just by using the product or service. In court, testimony is presenting evidence. For Christians, it’s always being ready to give an answer for the hope they have. When your client is that happy with your product or service, they can’t stop talking about it. Or it’s so much a part of her life, that others see it and ask. The circle is now complete.
Now It’s Your Turn
You can see The Hero’s Journey as the one you are on. And that’s fine; I encourage that. In fact, I recommend utilizing this story structure as you build and tell your small business’ story. But if you can also use it to tell your potential customers a story that resonates with them – that’s where the gold lies. It’s great to be the hero of your story. But if you can make your prospective clients into the hero of your story, you’ll truly see your business change. You can be the entrepreneurial Han Solo or Obi-Wan Kenobi encouraging and guiding hero customers to win the day. That’s what we like to call a win-win situation.
I challenge you to reverse the perspective of how you see your clients and how they see you.
If you’d like help identifying those prospective clients – the perfect customers that you can serve best and bring the most value to – or help connecting to them, please reach out. We’ve built our small business helping other businesses succeed, and we can help you too. Let’s Grow The Dream together!