Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is a classic story archetype. And while the Hero’s Journey is still an important trope in storytelling, it needs a modern update to help entrepreneurs champion their movements successfully. Below are some key points every entrepreneur should know about entrepreneurship and the Hero’s Journey.
Click here to hear the podcast I did with Michael Margolis of GetStoried.com and Brian Carter of The Briancartergroup.com on “The Hero’s Journey as a Career Parable.”
Entrepreneurship and The Hero’s Journey: Building the “We” in Your Story
So many entrepreneurs struggle with making the transition from “me” and “my message” to “we “ and “our message.” That means the entrepreneur as hero really isn’t the focus. It’s a bit misleading. The hero is the “we” – the community – that brings a vision to fruition. That’s where so many entrepreneurs fall into a trap. The “long walk home” when the hero returns home and tries to spread his or her message is one of the most important parts of the journey and where it’s easy to get lost in translation.
Today’s entrepreneurs need to focus on the collective Hero – the people who help to shape the reality. In my experience, great entrepreneurs allow people to uncover their own dreams and connect that to the larger cause. It’s not about building a following; rather, it’s about building a community committed to a larger narrative but in a way where each member writes his or her own version of that larger story the entrepreneur speaks of.
Entrepreneurs and innovators need to make people fuel the fire inside themselves, and uncover their own version of that larger dream. Geoffrey Moore talks about technology that fails to “cross the chasm” and be adopted by the mainstream. This is true of stories, too. They must reach critical mass in order to hit a tipping point. And for that to happen, people must see themselves in your story. Your goal as a leader and innovator is to not just to be the keeper of the flame, but to allow people to see and fan the flame in themselves. A message without a “we” never becomes a cause.
Creating Hope and Optimism
My colleague and friend, Michael Margolis, has a great saying, when the innovator as hero returns home with a huge, life-changing message, he or she must remember that “the other townspeople never left the village.” Too often entrepreneurs are so excited with their new found wisdom that they come at it with the message (intended or unintended), “You’re doing it wrong. Mine is a better way.” That makes people feel judged. When people feel judged, they tune out. It’s important to make sure people feel hope and optimism for the future – that is what people really want. They want to know it’s all going to be OK, and that they are not wrong. It’s not their fault they have done things as they have. It’s just that times have changed and now there are reasons to change with the times. Always give them hope and optimism for their future – every human being wants that, not your stuff.
Stories – like all Business Challenges – are Personal
Way too often – especially in complex industries – storytelling focuses on the product and the technology. That never connects with people. It’s never about your algorithm, your technology, your patent. It doesn’t matter. People buy hope and optimism (see number 2 above) and they don’t care about your process or methodology or products! Moreover, focusing on the company a ‘me-story’ instead of a ‘we-story’. All business – no matter what – is personal. Things don’t inspire; personal stories about challenges, people, and success after failure do. How will you connect at that emotional level with your audience? That’s what matters.
Let Go: Naked Storytelling
I have worked with businesses of all sizes, and I see this a lot with entrepreneurs: the fear of sharing a story, getting personal, or even talking about challenges – whether it’s because people are worried about revealing too much or about having ideas ‘stolen.’ There are many reasons people hold back. You can’t cross into the “we” if you are afraid to tell your story. You have to let go, let people share it freely and add onto it. It doesn’t mean you have to reveal everything; yet, it does require a bit of what I call ‘naked’ storytelling . In others words, you need to be a bit vulnerable. If your story stays your story, your cause doesn’t catch fire. When your story becomes and is recognized as ‘my’ story by many people, it becomes a movement that is bigger than you. That’s transformative.
What is your experience with the Hero’s Journey? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
Awesome writeup. It is about “we”, not “me”. I get it.
This Hero’s journey can be further explained. The “we” in the entrepreneurial journey, is often misjudged to be “my team”, “my family” or “my company”.
The Hero’s journey is as much about the first early adopting customers who take a chance on a new idea. It is as much about the first employees, that take a pay cut and risk their careers on the entrepreneur’s idea. It is also about the investors, whose risk is very tangible. The story becomes very interesting when it includes these “we” elements.
The classic Hero’s Journey elements are too frail. It is too easy to think that it is about the Founder. It becomes not only “monomythical”, but too “monochromatic”. The story becomes boring. “I created this site, because my girl friend at the time couldn’t find pez dispensers” is not inspiring.
Riskier still is believing that the Hero of the journey, the entrepreneur can and should affect the outcome of the story. His power as a catalyst of change is replaced with the myth of his being the instigator of change.
It is time we gave the Hero’s Journey a well deserved rest from entrepreneurship, and a adopt a different story paradigm.