Previously we explained how the Hero’s Journey helps filmmakers, novelists and playwrights construct a story using a template that’s been handed down from generation to generation over thousands of years. You can find those posts here and here.
Now we come to the interesting part: how to apply these lessons in a business context. We start with casting – deciding who gets to play which part – and we kick off with the most important role of all.
I have bad news I’m afraid.
You’re not the hero and neither is your business
Can you guess who does get the plum part? That’s right – the customer. The person paying for your product or service. They’re the main event – the star turn – the name above the title. Why? Simple: they’re the one you’re telling the story to. And who doesn’t want to hear a story where they’re the lead role, the hero that saves the day against all odds.
Storytelling is all about creating empathy in the audience
If you want your audience to lean in and pay attention, they have to be able to stand in the shoes of the hero, to walk alongside them on this once-in-a-lifetime journey. And the simplest way to create empathy is to show them someone similar to themselves. A hero who has the same challenges and frustrations; the same dreams and aspirations.
So if the customer’s the hero, where does your business fits into the story? You can’t be the villain so…comic relief? Love interest? Spear carrier? Third henchman on the left?
Your business plays the Hero’s Mentor
In Greek folklore, Mentor was the loyal friend of Odysseus who looked after his son Telemachus while he made his long way home from Troy.
The name stems from the Greek word ‘menos’ which has several meanings, all on a common theme. Depending on the context it can mean ‘mind’, ‘intention’, ‘purpose’, ‘spirit’ or ‘courage’.
Campbell and Vogler show that the relationship between hero and mentor, as well as being a common theme throughout mythology, is one of the the richest in symbolic value. It stands for the bond between parent and child, teacher and student, doctor and patient, god and man. In ancient stories, Mentors were the bridge between humans and the higher powers of nature and the universe.
It’s a relationship based on deep empathy and understanding in which wisdom and experience is handed on from one generation to the next. It’s no coincidence that the mentor is used in stories to help the hero face his upcoming ordeals with confidence.
As Merlin is to Arthur; Obi Wan Kenobi is to Luke Skywalker; Mickey is to Rocky; so your business is mentor to the hero – your customer.
You and your team play the role of the grizzled and wise teacher who’s going to help your client overcome seemingly insuperable odds. Your function in the story is to provide advice, support and practical tools.
What’s your lightsaber?
It’s that last thing you do – providing help in the form of tools and tech – that’s the coolest part of playing mentor. Think of some of the best mentors down the ages – they all have funky kit to hand over to give the hero a lift in a tight spot.
- Obi Wan gives Luke his dad’s lightsaber.
- Zeus gives Perseus an adamantine sword and magic cloak.
- Morpheus gives Neo a kung fu upgrade.
See what I mean? The mentor is boss! He has all the cool gear. So ask yourself: when all seems lost – when your hero is at his or her lowest ebb – how is your product or service going to come to your customer’s rescue?
Been there, done that
The role of mentor is always earned, not assumed. Mentors are themselves past heroes who went on their own journey back in the day. Their experience is what gives them the right to teach others.
In fact, some famous mentors from popular culture did their jobs so well their creators went back to tell the story of their own hero’s journey! Think Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars; Agent K in Men in Black; Gandalf in Lord of the Rings.
Better yet: show them how their peers went on the same adventure and come out safely.
Mentor: it’s meant to be
In summary, you don’t get to be the hero. But you do get to play Mentor which we would argue is even better, for two reasons.
One, you’re putting your customer first and giving your audience someone to root for who’s just like them.
Two, you’re a past hero who’s already gone on the same journey and can offer wisdom based on experience. You also have some awesome kit – your company’s products and services – that are going to rescue the hero from certain doom somewhere along the line.
The Mentor is, basically, way cooler than everyone else.