Star Wars is based on a timeless format called the Hero’s Journey. But it’s a story structure that can also be harnessed by entrepreneurs and business leaders to great effect, writes Jon Card.
Star Wars is a Hollywood classic for many reasons – lightsabers, Death Stars, dark forces and epic battle scenes. But another key part of its success is a cleverly utilised, ancient theme. The ‘Hero’s Journey’ was defined by the academic and mythologist Joseph Campbell, who discovered the recurring theme in myth, legend and history. It describes the tale of an individual who undergoes great sacrifice and hardship in order to change the world. If you want to tell a compelling tale about your own business, you’d do well to understand the Hero’s Journey. And all you have to do is watch Star Wars.
The ordinary world
Our story begins in a familiar, or rather dull, place, where we meet our hero. They don’t look like a world beater, yet they are about to change the world. Luke Skywalker is working on his uncle’s moisture farm on Tatooine – he’s “just a kid”. Steve Jobs is tinkering in a garage. Anita Roddick is a rebellious young woman on protest marches. Richard Branson is a dyslexic under-achiever. Some entrepreneurs talk of “rags to riches” – this part of the story is very much rags.
Call to action
But then something happens. Our hero has a calling – a Eureka moment, a lightbulb, or they spot a gap in the market. Luke Skywalker discovers the force. For some entrepreneurs, this can be a single moment, or a collection of happenings. Either way, they begin to see the world differently, and this sets them off on a different course.
Great entrepreneurs want to change things and find a compelling villain to rage against. They are the force for change and for good – David vs Goliath. Branson has always been a master at contrasting himself against industry titans. Virgin Airways took on British Airways, Virgin Cola fought Coca-Cola. Branson hasn’t always won, but he always casts himself as Luke. His opponent, meanwhile, is always cast as Darth Vader.
Crossing the threshold
Many entrepreneurs pause for a period of reflection, or even denial. They must overcome the cynicism of those around them. Luke Skywalker thought about remaining on the moisture farm, too. Before the launch of Innocent Drinks, Richard Reed and his co-founders asked the public if they should ‘quit their jobs’ and sell smoothies full time. Customers at a fayre were asked to place their used smoothie cartons into one of the bins, marked ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The public voted ‘yes’, and Innocent’s founders began on their journey. This was their equivalent of jumping into the Millennium Falcon and zooming off into space.
“Every business leader needs a mentor”, said Google boss Eric Schmidt. Wouldn’t we all like to be mentored by Yoda or even Obi-Wan? Never forget to mention the guiding hands who have helped you, or the advice they gave. The Hero’s Journey shows you can’t make it alone.
Before our hero reaches their goal, there are likely to be many mishaps, or even times when everything goes wrong. Many entrepreneurs talk of their struggles – the failed products, court cases, financial problems. But it is the thrills and spills that make the story entertaining. If you want to tell an exciting story, it can’t just be about the things that went right.
You are the hero?
So think through the above and see if you can be Luke or even Han Solo. Was there a moment when everything changed? Who, or what, is your enemy? Also, one last tip: never argue with a Wookie.
©Willrow Hood / Shutterstock.com
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