Category Archives for "Purpose"

Scrooge meets Morley's ghost

Basic Plots 7: Rebirth

One version of the tragic story type is close to the seventh and final common basic plot, Rebirth.  It is where the hero repents at the last minute .  They are too late, nemesis consumes them, all too aware of the mistake they made.

But what happens where it isn’t too late?  What if such a hero lives?

Summary

Just like all but one of the seven basic plots, this story develops in five stages.  At first glance you may think the middle sections are very similar.  Although on one level a lot happens, stasis marks this story-type.  Nothing much happens for years or decades.  Frustration is absent until something precipitates a crisis.

  1. The hero falls under a shadow. Sometimes the hero is innocent until something happens that causes this first change of heart.
  2. The poison takes time to take a hold and perhaps things seem to go well at first. Gradually it takes hold and shows its full effect.
  3. With darkness full on, the hero experiences total isolation, imprisonment, a living death.
  4. Something precipitates a nightmare crisis.
  5. The power of love liberates the hero, who experiences a second change of heart.

From Innocence to Egocentric Obsession

There are three variants at the start of this story-type.  They influence the outcome and perhaps our feelings for the hero.

In the first, the hero remains innocent throughout the story.  They labour under a dark power that immobilises them.  This is common in children’s stories, eg Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.  Both these heroes are held in stasis until some external influence brings about change.  There are adult versions.  One such is Florestan, the hero of Beethoven’s opera, Fidelio.  He is imprisoned and Leonora, his wife, takes action to free him.  He needs to be released and has no need to repent.  Nevertheless, his release is a rebirth.

The second type is where the dark power springs from within the hero’s personality.  We meet Scrooge at Christmas, well into stage 3 or 4.  We learn during the story the reason why he became a miser.  This is the most realistic of the three variants and one businesses should study.

The third variant is where the dark power takes over the hero and turns the hero into a dark figure.  Peer Gynt is a well-known example, where he discovers late in life he never escaped the magic of the trolls. Kay, from the Snow Queen, is another example.  Neither of these heroes is particularly malevolent, they lead pointless lives.

One constant is the sense of a life lived to no purpose.  The hero often looks back to a time of innocence.  Perhaps a story on the cusp of tragedy and rebirth is Citizen Kane.  He dies with the word “Rosebud” in his lips.  We learn as the film progresses that Rosebud represents the last time he experienced happiness.

Slow Build

The point is the sense of constriction.  The hero is not necessarily a villain, typically he or she shows little malice towards others.  Others may fear or avoid them because they are cold, hard, inured to the feelings of others.  They see the world from a mechanistic perspective, they calculate and measure.  They don’t appreciate or delight in life.

On one level, they may be successful.  Perhaps like Kane, they build a business empire.  They pursue pleasure but see no beauty or purpose in what they accumulate.  From outside, they appear successful.  Within though nothing changes.  They care for no-one, not even themselves.

That one word, Rosebud, is the only clue we have that Kane appreciates he took the wrong road and could not find his way back.

Darkness, Isolation and Nightmare

Typically, we encounter this person without feeling at the height of their power.  It is not that Scrooge hates Bob Cratchit, he simply doesn’t care, he lacks sympathy or compassion.

Some of these heroes are monsters and do terrible things.  But the thing that separates them from the villain in other stories is their lack of malice.  They don’t care.

We baulk at Shahryar’s brutal rule.  He has power and uses it to rape and murder young women.  But we are given his back-story and see what caused darkness to overwhelm him.  Modern people perhaps want to see him punished but the story goes in an unexpected direction.  If we want to see him punished, if we don’t care what happens to him, does that not make us just like him?

In the end it is just a story and it is what it is.  It raises issues for us, it does not tell us what to think.  Scherezade could have run him through with a sword.  But perhaps her strategy was the only one available to her.

Liberation Through Love

Love precipitates rebirth.  Frequently love for a child, a young woman or a dashing young prince.  The hero is incomplete until they feel something for someone outside of the world they created for themselves.  Scrooge falls for Tiny Tim, who does not die.

Of these three the most interesting is the young woman.  A child can make a big difference but is essentially passive.  The hero must choose to take care of the child.  The young prince belongs solely in fairy stories as far as I am aware.  The young woman (who may grow old during the story) is not always passive.  Sometimes she takes action to rescue the hero.  Indeed, perhaps she becomes the hero.  She is the one prepared to love the hero.  Think of Gerda in The Snow Queen or Sonia in Crime and Punishment.

Scherezade

Scherezade is a frame story and so gets lost in 1001 other stories.  Unlike Gerda and Sonia, she does not know Shahryar.  She loves him but cannot possibly feel that way from the start.  What is different about her?

She is a young woman and so are all Shahryar’s other victims.  How is Scherezade different?  She determines not to follow her sisters but to put an end to Shahryar’s reign of terror.  We assume his other victims tried every conceivable seductive charm to no avail.  Scherezade could see this was not about sex.  She was a scholar and so used scholarship to help him rediscover his true self.

She has a plan, assisted by her little sister, who asks for a bedtime story.  Maybe the child’s presence made a difference.  Maybe Shahryar let Scherezade live out of sympathy for the child and found he was gradually drawn into a world of stories and there rediscovered his true self.

Work-Life Balance

The rebirth story is an arrow aimed at the heart of business.  It challenges all business owners to be true to themselves.  To remember who they are, as they contemplate their figures and plan the next sale.

It challenges those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.  To ask, what is it that is truly important?

A business person spends 15 years building a successful business, takes early retirement and returns home to a splendid house with a spouse who barely remembers him and a brood of moody Goths.  Yes, he provided for them, made sure they could do anything they wished.  But is that all his family wanted from him?

It is easy in business to lose track of reality.  Seasons come and go and suddenly you are a lot older, wondering what happened to all that time.  Success may have happened but under the surface, everything else has been on hold.  The faithful spouse complains “we had it all planned, we were going to do so much together but he died.”

How many business people die with “Rosebud” on their lips?

Some business owners tell how they realised time was passing and they no longer wanted to work for others.  They longed for freedom to live their lives to the full. Business itself can be a story of rebirth.

Conclusion

These seven common basic plots are not the only story-types but they open up models for stories that work.  There’s no need to force your story to fit one of these plots but if you can, find a story that resonates, a story you like, that has meaning. Your story will benefit from the dialogue.

If the rebirth story-type shows us one thing, it is the technical side of business is not on its own enough to bring satisfaction to us or our customers.  Remember no-one did business with Scrooge because they wanted to.

Man crowning himself

Basic Plots 6: Tragedy

The word tragedy is from the Greek for goat: tragos!  It is rooted in the idea of the scapegoat, the person who dies for the sins of the community.  Frequently the innocent suffer and die in a tragic story.  Even the central character can be innocent.

This is the only story-type that does not have a happy ending.  All other types show the hero somehow prevailing but in these stories the hero fails.  Does this mean this story-type is less applicable to business?  Who would trade with a tragic business?

Actually, this story-type is really important to businesses but to see why we need to understand how the tragic story works.

Summary

Just like most story-types, the tragic story passes through 5 stages.  I shall illustrate it with a simplified business story.

  1. Anticipation – an incomplete hero has a desire that focuses his energies. The new business owner decides his priority is to overcome his competition and make more money than anyone else.  He comes up with a “harmless” scam.
  2. Dream – the hero commits to a course of action that initially goes well. The hero finds his scam goes down well with the public and he establishes himself as a leader in his market.
  3. Frustration – things start to go wrong and the hero has to cheat even more to stay ahead. Our hero must add more lies to the ones he already tells from fear of being found a fraud.
  4. Nightmare – things get out of control, mounting threat and despair. A co-ordinated opposition begins to close in.  More people are suspicious and report their suspicions to the authorities.
  5. Destruction or deathwish. A final act of violence, murder or suicide, precipitates the hero’s death.  The hero is unmasked and condemned to bankruptcy or worse.

This is a complex story type and so the summary should be seen as one possible pathway.  There are several routes to the tragic ending and the threat is not always from the hero.

The Tragic Ending

These stories end in ultimate defeat, namely death.  Fortunately business people rarely kill anyone or commit suicide.  The tragic ending as a final defeat with no hope of reconciliation or rebirth.  It does not have to be death in a real life story.  Clearly, if someone does die, it is not them telling the story!

To understand the scope of this story better, let’s look at the hero.  There are several ways the hero works in tragic stories.  There are dark and light heroes.  Where the hero is dark, they are a threat to society.  Where the hero is light, society is a threat to them.

Four Subtypes Illustrate the Scope of Tragic Stories

  1. Here the hero is an out-and-out villain,  for example Richard III.  This play is an overcoming the monster story, from the point of view of the monster!  “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.”  He does well because determined and few have the courage or convictions to stand up to him.  Out of sight, the opposition grows and in time is strong enough to overthrow the monster.
  2. Here the hero makes a foolish decision. They make a bad decision for the wrong reasons and pay the price for their decision.  Often the outcome arises naturally from the decision, eg Faust condemned to hell or Jekyll overwhelmed by Hyde.  Some of these heroes are also victims of society and common examples are women heroes, such as Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary.
  3. Here our sympathies are completely with the hero. A good person drawn into an external conflict against their own better judgement.  Romeo kills Tybalt because Tybalt kills Mercutio.  He has succumbed to the violence around him and so must pay the price.  He and Juliet are clear examples of the scapegoat, their death brings the warring families to their senses.
  4. Finally, the hero appears monstrous but is actually good. Victor Hugo offers us the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Jean Valjean from Les Miserables.  The latter is hunted as a criminal and yet all he does is motivated by love for his daughter and general humanity.

The Deadly Focus

The 5 stages describe a journey from hubris to nemesis.  When we think about tragedies, we tend to focus on nemesis.  But from a business perspective perhaps we should focus on hubris.

Hubris is to step over the mark.  You might find a law irksome.  You decide to break it and at first it’s exhilarating.  But then …

Last time when I wrote about comedy, I suggested a typical business comedy might be where the boss is immortal.  The person who identifies with the business to such an extent that they are a single entity.  I’ve seen this several times in my working life and it is always painful and difficult to move on.  In a comedy, eventually they come to their senses; what happens when they don’t?

What is the nature of hubris?  It can be infectious, whole populations can succumb to it, usually out of fear.  What exactly is it?

Some Examples of Hubris

It is a decision to focus on something that challenges the status quo.  We find this often in modern politics where the so-called liberal establishment is the target of so-called radical challenges from the right, eg Brexit and President Trump.

As far as it goes such challenges may be based on a degree of truth.  There is a lot wrong with the establishment.  However, they don’t understand the problem and reach for the easiest solution to hand.

What is the problem Brexit solves?  Is it immigration, loss of sovereignty, too many regulations, austerity …?  Each of these could be solved in several ways and Brexit is proving not to be one of them.

Hubris is where the wrong solution is found to a poorly understood problem.  The hero is bored or frustrated in some way and an apparent solution presents itself.  It can be very seductive and is sometimes called a temptation.

The hero commits to the wrong path and then because of their immediate success becomes more committed to the path.  We don’t know what story-type Brexit will prove to be but we saw the dream stage for the Brexiteers after the referendum result and now frustration and nightmare are setting in.  The opposition is rallying (perhaps) and we may see a final battle.

The thing to note is how positions on both sides become increasingly entrenched.  Focus has shifted from the problem to a badly formed solution that bewitches political discourse.

We even have a saying: “Jumping to conclusions” which means coming up with an ill-conceived solution, most likely to the wrong problem.  Businesses are familiar with this and so are community and voluntary organisations.  Religious organisations too are not immune.

Repentance

Take any of the four subtypes I listed above and there is another possible outcome.  The hero repents.  They see clearly what is happening.  Number 4 already will have a good sense of reality, which puts them out of step with everyone else.  For subtype 1, the change is likely to be cataclysmic, for 4 less so or perhaps there’s no need for it.

In a tragic story the change of heart is too little or too late to effect the outcome.  The hero contemplates their folly and the disaster they have brought down on their own heads and for their loved ones.

The truth is folly has implications for not only the hero but for those around them.  Too late they see what has happened to those they love. They repent and the full horror of what they have done comes home to them. They die with regret on their lips.

This is important because to make the wrong decision is likely to cost in terms of turnover, relationships, work-life balance and maybe legal proceedings.  These stories paint the picture in an extreme light but the point they make is highly relevant.  The choices we make matter.

Looking Forwards

Tragedy shows us what happens when repentance is too late.  But what happens when the villain’s repentance allows them time to make amends?  This opens the way to perhaps the deepest, most meaningful story-type: Rebirth.

Basic Plots 5: Comedy

If you think comedy is about humour, you must be joking!  People associate comedy with humour because many situations in comedy provoke laughter.  But many stories that follow the comedy plot are not particularly humourous. And of course not all humour is comedy!

Summary

So far, all the plots we’ve explored have a five-fold development.  Comedy is remarkably versatile and one reason is it has fewer steps.  The first two are typically missing; if they are present, you are likely to have another plot with humour!

  1. We are introduced to a small world under a shadow, where everyone is confused, uncertain and frustrated.  Usually the reason is a powerful figure who has taken the wrong path and so everyone has to work around her or him.  The people affected work separately and so all their little schemes confuse one another.
  2. Confusion increases and leads to nightmare consequences, eg someone will be executed or made to marry the wrong person.
  3. New information comes to light that reveals the truth about the dark character who either sees the error of their ways or leaves unreconciled. With shadows dispelled, there is a seemingly miraculous transformation and everyone joins in a joyful union, often around marriage of the right people.

Evolution of Comedy

Most plot types are ancient and their origins lost in the mists of time.  Comedy evolved during recorded history, it is only a few thousand years old.  I’m not going into a lot of detail, you can find an account in Booker but there are a few things worth highlighting.

The key to comedy is the point of recognition, where everyone suddenly sees clearly what has gone on before.  Recognition reveals the key dark character as a hypocrite, who either fesses up or departs never to return.  It is this key revelation that is distinctive to comedy.  This revelation prevents bad things from happening and so results in a happy ending.

Not quite so ancient but from a very early stage, lovers kept apart form comedy’s main preoccupation.  Frequently the resolution revolves around one or both lovers identities.

We naturally find, in these stories, the pompous powerful figure shown up for their hypocrisy, hilarious.  Think of Basil Fawlty, who is manager of a well-run hotel (in his own mind) and spends most of his time covering up the chaos happening behind the scenes.

Four Ingredients

Traditional comedy then has four key ingredients.  You are likely to find vestiges of them in any comic story.

  1. The dark character softens or else is shown up or paid off.
  2. The true identity of at least one character revealed.
  3. Recognition of the true love so that right people pair off by the end.
  4. Division, separation and loss repaired.

There are many traditional comic devices and if they happen you are likely to be enjoying a comedy.  These include disguises, mistaken identities, lost objects found, overheard and misinterpreted conversations.

Three Variations

Three basic variations go back to the earliest forms of comedy.

  1. The dark figure is a third-party and acts as a barrier to the lovers. This figure is often the father of the heroine or may be a rival to either the hero or heroine.
  2. The dark figure is either the hero or the heroine. The other must show constancy and eventually bring them round.
  3. There is no dark figure as such but things are generally confusing. The hidden truth revealed resolves the situation.

Note in the second, the dark hero or heroine must turn around to bring the story to a happy ending.  In the first, the dark figure can be unreconciled and so removed from the story.  This is unlikely where the dark figure is a parent and more likely where it is a dark rival.

Note too that for much of history, women lacked agency.  So, in comedies they are likely to disguise themselves as men.  Many of Shakespeare’s comedies use this device.

Above and Below the Line

Given a powerful person deluded is often the reason for confusion in the story, the question is: from where will they be opposed?  They have power and often the rule of law on their side, so parents decide who their children marry, for example.  The nightmare comprises power misused. The wielders of power do not have all the information and so think they are acting rationally.  The audience sees the full picture and so knows they are mistaken.

Opposition must come from those below the line, those without power.  This may be the dark figure’s wife, children, the lovers and servants.  They may form an alliance to overturn the dark figure.

Below the line is the source of both opposition and insight.  Think of Jeeves, who applies wisdom and helps Bertie out of the tight corners he gets himself and his friends into.  Or Pierre in Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”.  Here the dark figure is Napoleon and Pierre learns wisdom from the old man he befriends when taken prisoner by the French.

Is Comedy Artificial?

Perhaps of all the story types, comedy is the most self-conscious and contrived.  It is easily burlesqued and the crucial recognition is often missing or the situation is reset at the end of each episode of a situation comedy.

Why then is it so rooted in modern Western literature?  Perhaps because it is about handing on to the next generation.  These stories are about the powerful older generation coming to terms with the new generation coming up to take their place.

Modern storytelling, often separates the serious love story from the comedy.  We have stories like War and Peace, which is essentially a love story, with two main couples and little humour.  Or else we have comedies like Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas, where the lovers take second place to the humour.

Comedy and Business

Is it possible to use comedy in a business environment?  Note this is not the same as use of humour.  Certainly the heavy dependence on lovers and marriage suggests perhaps only for dating agencies!

However, from the earliest times, comedy pivots on a truth hidden from the players in a story revealed.  Anyone who can say they were unable to see clearly and their misunderstanding confused others, may have a real life comedy story.

A Typical Business Comedy

A small business is in a state of confusion.  The business owner is no longer clear about the orders she gives.  She gives contradictory orders to her staff, or else they make no sense or someone else has already completed the task.

She plays the staff off against one another and does not encourage them to collaborate and in their efforts to please the boss, they compete and become more confused.  Eventually a few realise they must confront their boss and tell her why she is no longer able to lead them.

Gradually it emerges the boss faces some life crisis and her attention has been elsewhere.  Now all the staff can rally round and help her sort out her affairs and get the business back on track.

OK this is not a brilliant story but the point is to see the overall shape.  A situation like this is rarely funny.  It can be painful for everyone who lives through it.  Usually businesses resolve such issues because the boss must leave or everyone else will.

Business people telling their life story often recount how something got in the way of their business, eg alcohol or depression.  In telling the story, they often focus on their own experience and rarely on those around them.

Someone going through a personal trauma might say they were going into work wearing a cheerful mask.  People see the mask and perceive the contradictions under the surface.

This story type may be helpful to those who can tell a story of personal pain and the impact it had on their immediate community.

Looking Forwards

The positive ending depends upon that crucial insight that opens everyone’s eyes so they see reality as it is.  But what happens where the revelation never comes or comes too late?  What happens where the dark figure triumphs and precipitates those around into tragedy?

Customer: service, quality, efficiency, reliability

Using Elements of Value

Over the last 30 weeks, I have posted about elements of value.  There are probably many more but the point is: what are the things your customers value?  Do you provide them?  Do you market them?  How can you use elements of value?

Can you break down the elements of value in your business for your customers?  Perhaps an overall benefit and several lesser benefits.  Here’s a brief recap.  You can find a full list of the 30 elements of value at the end of this post.

Functional Value

These are perhaps foundational values and for most offers, several apply.  One of these may be your overall benefit, if you offer something like accountancy or insurance.  However, look at the higher levels if you work in these industries, for example an accountant or insurance broker might reduce anxiety.  The work of an independent financial advisor might even be life changing!

For others, you sell something that maybe saves time and reduces risk.  Loads of things do this and so these are your lesser benefits.

In what sense are they foundational?  If your offer does not meet at least one and preferably several, then perhaps you don’t have a fully developed offer.

You may not have noticed some of these elements of value.  This is where this list of values comes into its own, it helps you name existing elements that add value to your offer.

Emotional Value

These elements address substantial needs in areas people are anxious about.  People worry about, eg health, attractiveness, community.

Some offers focus on these values and you may find your overall benefit belongs here.  A hairdresser for example might focus on attractiveness as their overall benefit.  You can of course offer several emotional values.

You may find many people cannot meet these values because they need to carry out life changes.  This implies you need to set your overall benefit at a higher level.  You should aim to set your overall benefit at the highest possible level.

Life Changing Value

These values make a substantial change to peoples’ lives.  The person seeking to become more attractive may need help with self-actualisation, for example.

At this level, choose one value as your overall benefit.  Your other benefits will be from emotional and functional value sets.

Social Impact Value

This value may be common but of course your offer should be very different from anyone else’s.  As we climb up the levels, the scope for variations in the detail of offers increases.  People seeking progress at this level will often need to build on values at the lower levels too.

Elements of Value Completed

The posts in this sequence can be accessed below:

woman facing huge horizon

Basic Plot 4: Voyage and Return

In some respects, Voyage and Return is like The Quest.  Both involve a journey but beyond that they could not be more different.

Summary

Let’s start with a summary of the story structure.  Note it has the 5-fold structure of all the story types we’ve explored so far.

  1. Anticipation and fall into another world.  The circumstances of the hero or group of heroes is often relevant.  They lack something and usually they are not aware of what they lack.  And note the journey out is usually not significant, often effectively instantaneous and in any event, little significant happens during the journey.
  2. Initial fascination or dream. They find themselves in a new world and at first they are intrigued maybe excited by it.
  3. The experience feels unreal but because the rules are unknown, the experience becomes more frustrating.  Sometimes they make enemies.
  4. Nightmare or serious threat. Their presence triggers a real threat and things come to a crisis.
  5. Thrilling escape and return. The return is important because it poses the question: what difference has the voyage made?

Story Types

Voyage and Return is a common story type, often haunting and mysterious.  It takes several forms.  There are at least 4 main types:

  1. Marooned somewhere in our own world, eg Robinson Crusoe.
  2. A strange civilisation in an imaginary world, eg Alice, Narnia
  3. Social, where the hero finds themselves in a different social setting, eg Brideshead Revisited
  4. Switched identities or transformation, eg Kafka’s Matamorphosis, Freaky Friday (film and novel).

Three Questions

To understand the nature of this story type, we need to answer three questions.

How Do They Get There?

Unlike The Quest, the hero or group of heroes have no purpose in making the voyage.  The voyage is usually involuntary.  Even where the hero plans the voyage, there is no aim other than to see what’s there.  Usually they stumble upon it; there is rarely significant planning.

However, the hero is often psychologically ready for something to happen.  They may be frustrated by their life or job and ready for a change.

Whereas the journey in The Quest often takes up about half the story, preparing the hero for the challenge to come, the Voyage is often just a means to effect a transition to a different world.

What is The Nature of the Other World?

The hero or heroes are trapped in an unfamiliar world, perhaps where their inability to interpret what’s going on makes it more threatening.  Encounters with the inhabitants gradually lead to a sense of increasing threat.

The early stages are often quite pleasant.  The hero makes contact with the inhabitants.  In many stories this includes bonding with a sympathetic character of the opposite sex.  However, the outcome of this relationship is not the same as it is for The Quest.

What Happens to Them?

This is the crucial question for this story type.  They return transformed or not transformed.  Occasionally, the untransformed are left trapped in the other world.

The transformation often leaves them chastened, repentant or visionary.  They return as a different person, able to deal with the issues they face in their own world.  Consider the five stages from the point of view of such a hero:

  • They begin in a state of unawareness, possibly even as a dark character.
  • Their current state plunges them into a new world
  • Increasing frustration leads to
  • A nightmare that causes something significant to change
  • Meaning they understand their own world better, a victory over their former selves

The untransformed can be neutral or dark.  There are many examples of neutral, where the hero shows no change, perhaps because it was all a dream.  Examples include Alice and Dorothy.

Often a sign of lack of transformation is leaving the friend of the opposite sex behind.  They return with a sense of loss that reinforces their original state.  There is some inadequacy in the relationship that is never rectified.  They are tested and fail.

Whatever the outcome, this story type poses the question: what difference did the voyage make?

Application to Business

Like Overcoming the Monster, this is a popular story type but perhaps one with fewer business applications.

The social voyage and return may be the most helpful here.  Many people have stories to tell about an accident that moved them into a new world and how they returned as a different person.  Examples might be victims of crime, spending time in prison, paralysis.  Any event that knocks a life off-course, raises similar questions.  The interest in the story is how the hero found their way back and the nature of the transformation they undergo.

This story may work for markets of survivors of some life-changing event who seek help in finding their way back.  But it is worth pausing here because we can see in real life it is not possible to return to life as it was before.  Everything changes.  This is not just a personality transformation, return is not possible if by return we mean the same state as at departure.  The world visited creates a new world in the here and now.  The state at the end of the story combines the old and new worlds.

Perhaps the key is in the return journey?  In The Quest, the outward journey is important.  In this story type it is the return journey.  Where the return is precipitate, leaving important elements behind, then transformation is unlikely or unsuccessful.  Where the return is planned and taken seriously, then transformation is likely to be successful.

Case Studies

There are at least two types of case study based on this  story-type:

  • A client stuck in a humdrum or stressful environment, realises they want to see change. A coach might help them, perhaps leaving a job or a marriage and entering a new world.  They might help them navigate the new world they create for themselves until they find they have transformed their lives and feel fully engaged.
  • A traumatic event precipitates someone into a new world, eg prison or hospital and they need to find their way back to autonomy.

Telling this story-type may help coaches find clients who are somewhere in this story.  The threat they must overcome is internal and often they are not clear what they are up against.

Looking Forwards

There is another story type that takes this same concern, of overcoming inner darkness, in a different direction.  What do we do when someone close to us is trapped in their inner darkness?  What if we don’t understand what is happening to them?

Maybe the best solution is to resort to Comedy!

tablet and paperwork

How to Make an Offer that Informs Your Clients

Do you have a business that informs; provides reliable and trusted information?

What is It?

A business must provide reliable information.  If your information is wrong or deceives, you risk losing trust.  In these days of social media, you cannot guarantee an undamaged reputation.

Distinguish between information and opinion.  Context does not change information.  Advances in research occasionally supersede something we thought true.  We can cite sources so clients can check facts.

Opinions vary with context.  We may believe some group of people wrong, while others believe them.  You can never prove political beliefs, for example.

Value to the Customer

Information is valuable to customers in two ways : recreation and utility.

Sometimes a particular topic interests a client.  Even though they do not use the information for business purposes, they find it helps them grow as human beings.

Utility is where information has short or long-term business use.  It helps us advance in the business world and may be paid for by the customer or their employer.  There are three basic approaches:

  • With the Done-for-You approach, the client needs a job completed and takes interested only in the information they need to specify the job and take care of whatever remains necessary once the job is complete.
  • Do-it-Yourself means the client needs all the information to complete the task.  This implies not only factual knowledge but also experience and understanding of the skill.  There is a distinction between those who learn something for their own use and those who sell a new skill to others.
  • Between these extremes there is Done-With-You, where the expert works with the novice, assisting them sometimes with a view to the novice in time becoming an expert.  This can become a species of teamwork, where DWY persists because the results are better.

How to Get There

What information does your customer need or want?  Too little information and the customer may feel short-changed.  It’s not only about operating instructions, you may find there is other information they appreciate, perhaps about other user’s experiences.  A blog may be a good way to explore other dimensions of the work.

Too much information and the customer may become bored or impatient.

Your Offer

Turn this element of value to your advantage by being clear about the information on offer and how to access it.  Offer guidelines so people can find the degree of information they seek.  Offer more information to those who express interest.

This is the thirty-first of 31 posts about elements of value.  Make sure you don’t miss any by signing up for the offer below.  The posts in this sequence can be accessed below:

map showing route and x marks the spot

Basic Plots 3: The Quest

This third basic story-type, may be suitable for many businesses, when it is about business origin and development.  However, quest stories are usually very long, eg The Lord of the Rings or The Odyssey.

5 Stages of The Quest

As you read the five stages of The Quest, you see parallels with Overcoming the Monster and Rags to Riches.  You see also why quests take a lot of telling.  For this reason, I have adapted a real-life story of a business origin. It shows how to cover a quest in 10 or fewer minutes.  The business story is in red type.

  1. The story begins with a call to action. There is some problem in the world of the hero and she sets out to find the remedy.  Alternatively, the hero hears of lost treasure and sets out to make her fortune.  The hero as a child watched a video about a wedding organiser many times and decided she wanted to be an event organiser.
  2. The next stage is the journey. The hero usually has companions on the journey and encounters obstacles as well as help on the journey.  The hero studied and eventually got a job in New York.  She went there and found an amazing opportunity.
  3. When the hero arrives at their destination, they are frustrated because things are not straightforward. The hero was not doing what she really wanted to do but took advantage of opportunities in New York.  Then she was offered an opportunity to organise a several hundred-dollar event.
  4. The hero and companions have to face a series of final ordeals. These are often three-fold and there are tests only the hero can pass.  The hero was able to create a fantastic event by overcoming many obstacles to create something only she was able to achieve.
  5. Eventually, the hero achieves their goal and returns home with the treasure or the threat resolved. The hero has achieved her childhood ambition and returns home with an assured career as an event organiser.

Notes

The Quest often divides into two roughly equal parts, the journey (stage 2) and the final ordeals (4).  This story is a journey with a purpose and so most of the story is about achieving the purpose.  Often the hero and companions have no idea about the final ordeals until they reach the end of the journey.  Here their first goals are usually radically modified.

The business story does not necessarily share the jeopardy of the traditional story.  The hero journeyed to further her second best career.  The final ordeal was really a great opportunity.  The traditional story offers an underlying structure for a story that could become pointless.  We’re on the side of the little girl with a dream, who achieves it in a few years.  The story is more satisfying when presented this way and not as a simple account of what she did in New York.  The person who told this story had already sensed this underlying shape to her story.

The Treasure

Let’s begin with the treasure.  What the hero sets out to do or find is not necessarily what they do or find when they get to their destination.  But their first promise sets their feet on the road and so it is important.  Typically, it is one of these:

  • A treasure of great value. The hero sets out to find it.  It may be treasure in a literal sense of money or precious stones, maybe valuable objects.  Sometimes it is a single priceless object, eg the Holy Grail.  Business stories are often framed as a challenge to make money.  Note though the story I used earlier does not focus on the money the hero earned, just the budget for the event.
  • It can be a journey to meet some threat to the hero’s home. Usually, the prize for the wider community is freedom from the threat.  Many businesses start out with envisioning some change they want to see.
  • The search for a new home or a promised land. Here everyone sets out on the journey.  Examples might be the Exodus or Watership Down.  The story of Brexit might be framed in this way.  The heroes take everyone with them, even though not everyone wants to go there.  An equally challenging story follows the journey towards leaving the EU.  What happens once they get what they want?
  • A secret of great worth. Here a business story may be about seeking out the support of an expert who has knowledge of a secret to business success.  A business owner maxed out her credit cards to raise £20K and then told her husband.  This gamble paid off after a lot of hard work and so she had a story!

The Call

The treasure is a big part of the call and may be sufficient to get the hero and companions moving.  Sometimes they need more.

Clearly, the treasure is left behind, if the home is under threat.  This means the hero and companions are moving towards danger and this may not be at all attractive.  So, there will be some menace at home.  Something that puts them in danger even if they stay.  They may be pursued on their journey.

A different type of pursuit is the race, where a rival group are seeking the same treasure.

Companions and Helpers

The word companion means one with whom you share bread.  You can see the French word for bread in the word if you look closely!  They are the people who go with the hero and help or hinder her progress.  They share the risks and dangers of the journey.  There are four different types of companion.

  1. Undifferentiated masses.  This is where a whole community sets off on a quest.  Think of the Israelites on the Exodus, the Odyssey where several boatloads set out, Watership Down, where a rabbit community seeks a new home.
  2. There is often a companion who exhibits fidelity.  They are extensions of the hero, perhaps a servant and they solely support the hero, think of Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings.
  3. Others provide a foil.  They do not share exactly the same goals as the hero and may at times obstruct the hero.  Alternatively, they may display qualities the hero lacks and so help her through the various challenges.
  4. Finally, there are fully differentiated companions.  They have their own reasons for being on the quest and interact with the hero as equals.  Typically, one of these is likely to become the partner of the hero, usually after much wavering.

Helpers

Helpers provide respite and guidance.  On the journey, following an ordeal, the helper provides a safe haven and useful advice.  Remember Elrond and Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings.  This type of support is typically provided by an old man and a young woman.

Sometimes, defeat of an enemy leads to them converting into a helper.  Circe in the Odyssey, once defeated helps Ulysses with his quest.

It is always worth asking in any business story: from where did help and support come?  Many business owners see themselves as the hero of their own story.  Heroes accept help and offer it to companions and helpers.  Teamwork is often an essential element in business development.

The Journey

Respite and guidance are one function of the journey.  As the journey progresses, the hero learns more of the problem they face and what’s at stake.  The other thing they face is ordeals.  Sometimes ordeals are stories in their own right.  You can see why quest stories can be very long!  So, what sort of ordeals?  There are four basic types:

  • Monsters, of course. Maybe a mini Overcoming the Monster story.  They are not the main threat and may be agents of the main threat.  Sometimes they injure the hero and companions and so the need for respite.
  • Temptations cause the hero and companions to forget their quest through guile or seduction. The Circe episode in the Odyssey is one of several that deflects the quest, sometimes for years at a time.
  • Deadly opposites are a rarer event. We sometimes talk about steering between Scylla and Charybdis – between rocks and a whirlpool.
  • A journey to the Underworld is a common event with its own hazards and usually returning with some insight. In modern stories this may be where the hero has a close encounter with death.

Business and personal stories have their share of competitors or other obstructive people, distractions, the need to find the right path between two equally bad options and giving up the entire enterprise.

The Final Ordeal

Key to understanding the quest is the final ordeal.  The hero reaches journey’s end with all or some of their companions.  They discover things are not as they expected.  There is some final, apparently insurmountable barrier.

This part of the story can take as long to tell as the journey.  The journey equips the hero and companions with knowledge and experiences they need to overcome this final obstacle.  The reward at this stage is to secure the original goal.

The ordeal is often three-fold and the test is one only the hero can pass.  At the beginning of the journey they had little or no hope and now they can work out how to overcome the ordeal.

The little girl who watched The Wedding Planner many times over, would not have been able to organise the big event on New York.  She needed training and experience as well as to travel a long way!

Life Renewing Goal

The outcome depends on the goal of the quest.  The goal changes because things rarely work out exactly as planned.  However, we recognise the goal is achieved.

There is a sense of renewal in many quest stories.  The typical marriage of the hero and her partner and their benevolent role in their kingdom is likely.  But there is a strong sense of renewal for everyone because some threat is overcome and people can live in peace.

Looking Forwards

This is the third of Booker’s seven plot types.  Remember the aim is not to put your story into a straitjacket but to help structure your marketing story in a way that resonates with your market.

Next time we’ll look at a plot that on the surface is similar to the Quest.  Voyage and Return is the second about journeying and presents some very different challenges.

pigs head with pineapple rings and cherries

How’s Your Sensory Appeal?

Sensory appeal is another functional element of value.  It applies to both products and services.

What is It?

Traditionally there are five senses, although there are occasional claims there are others.  Sensory appeal is using one or more of the senses to make the product or service more attractive.

We are talking about sensory appeal incidental to the product or service.  For example, good taste is integral to food.  We expect food to taste good, especially in a restaurant.  Certainly, a restaurant’s reputation for great tasting food helps but we arrive at any restaurant expecting the food to taste good.

Sensory appeal maybe a garnish that makes a dish visually attractive or the decor of the restaurant.  It is something that appeals to one or more senses, over and above the customer’s expectations.

Value to the Customer

This depends on the customer’s sensitivity and appreciation.  Some people don’t know what to expect and may not appreciate the deal is special.  Others may not be in the mood: those comfort eating following a relationship breakdown or a bereavement may be unmoved.  Others may be highly sensitive and appreciative through favourable circumstance.

Where service is personal, discerning the mood and desires of the customer is important.  Simply asking what they like may be all you need.

How to Get There

Review your offer.  It matters little whether you offer a product or service.  There is little scope with a boxed product that is shipped straight away.  It may be possible to slip a little extra in or if you sell from a shop, you can enhance the sales environment.

Where the customer consumes the product on the premises, there are more opportunities.  Coffee shops that sell food with a salad garnish are rare.  These days you’re lucky to get a napkin or a knife.   Some services are easier, massage or hairdressing includes opportunities for small extras such as refreshments or magazines.

What about coaching?  Consider the environment in which your coaching takes place.  You can choose a public place.  Is it quiet and pleasant, with good coffee?  Who pays?  Might an occasional change of venue help?  Maybe a walk in a park or countryside?

Another thing to consider is bonuses.  A small gift to say thank you to the customer may be appreciated.  Paying for coffee or meals is possible, especially for high-end offers.

Your Offer

If you have a sense of style, offer a service with a unifying sensual theme.  This could start with publicity materials, the story you tell and your approach to sales.

Continue in your working environment and in the bonuses you offer your clients.  These may be simple things like tea and biscuits.

Take care to manage expectations.  Don’t raise them and then disappoint.  Surprise bonuses mean you exceed expectations, without making promises you later find you cannot keep.

This is the thirtieth of 31 posts about elements of value.  Make sure you don’t miss any by signing up for the offer below.  The posts in this sequence can be accessed below:

Next: Informs

Basic Plots 2: Rags to Riches

The last time I saw the TV programme Top of the Pops, was in 1975.  It featured the Bay City Rollers and a man in a flat hat singing the Ugly Duckling!  He was Mike Reid and this is his song!

The Ugly Duckling is a Rags to Riches story pared down to its basics.  Rags to Riches is always about growing up and achieving inner potential.  The Ugly Duckling has to experience a lonely winter before he discovers his true nature.

At first glance, the Rags to Riches story seems a perfect fit for business.  It certainly is for some businesses.  But not necessarily the businesses you might think.  Riches do not of themselves bring about maturity.  The story is not complete until the hero or heroine proves worthy.

Relationship with Overcoming the Monster

There are parallels with overcoming the monster but the emphasis is different.  Here the protagonist may overcome several monsters as the story progresses.

Overcoming the Monster focuses on good versus evil.  Rags to Riches focuses on perfection and completeness.  Just as good versus evil is unrealistic, we rarely encounter complete evil or good in real life, so perfection and completeness is incomplete.  The point is to remind us what is important.

The hero in a Rags to Riches story encounters several barriers and increasingly draws on their own resources to overcome them.  This leads to growing maturity.  Perhaps this story-type fits closer to life coaches than to marketers.  But if it is about growing to maturity, perhaps it applies mostly to younger people.

5 Stages of the Rags to Riches Story

Just as overcoming the monster typically has five stages, so does Rags to Riches:

  1. Initial wretchedness and the call. Note the threat this time is local.  The hero leaves home in the overcoming the monster story to find the monster, in rags to riches they leave home to escape a monster.
  2. Out into the world and initial success. Sometimes this is significant, the hero, with significant help, has good fortune and grows in wealth.
  3. The hero’s hubris precipitates the central crisis. Their initial success goes to their head. At this stage despair sets in.  If the hero does not overcome despair, there is no story!
  4. Independence and the final ordeal – this time around they have to rely on their own resources.
  5. Final union, completion and fulfilment. The rewards are similar to those from overcoming the monster but there is a strong sense that now the hero deserves her or his riches.   They are proven worthy.

Longer stories naturally move on to all five stages.  The temptation is to break off the story at stage 2.  A moment’s reflection shows why this is a mistake.  There are many stories of people finding a fortune and squandering it in a few years. Or early business success is followed by a disaster that takes everything away.  Illness or falling out with a partner are common reasons.

Promises of a 6 (or 7!) figure business are common and are sometimes described as Rags to Riches.  This basic plot underlines the reasons these promises do not become true.

Hidden Potential

The hero often starts in wretched circumstances.  Cinderella for example, lives as a servant at the beck and call of her ugly sisters.  We compare her generous nature their self-centredness.  The sisters don’t just represent a threat, they are also a contrast.

When transformed, Cinderella’s apparent wealth represents her inner nature.  At the end of the story, the Prince recognises her even though she is dressed in rags.

Whatever the failings of the hero, we see she or he is worthy from the beginning.  They have a lot to learn and if that were not so, we would have no story.

Growth from Childhood to Maturity

We see inner potential manifest through the obstacles the hero overcomes.  Frequently initial wealth is itself a barrier to maturity.  It is as much a test as the various monsters the hero encounters.

Typically, initial wealth is found with help.  Cinderella has her fairy godmother and Aladdin his genies.  At this stage they learn they have inner strength to meet adversity without help.

If we focus solely on making money, the Rags to Riches story does not work.  The hero is tested and found worthy.  The real riches are within the hero, not in whatever material fortune comes her way.

The story is about how people become their true selves.  Everything else, wealth and adversity, is there to help them find out what they are capable of.

Moment of Crisis

The hero proves her maturity when she has to face her biggest threat ever without help. The temptation is to give into despair.  Everything that goes before prepares the hero for her final test, where she has to rely on ingenuity and experience to pass it.

In passing the test she shows she is worthy of the external trappings; her prince, her fortune, a kingdom to rule.  But the real riches are the qualities she discovers as she works through her final ordeal.

Perhaps the right ending for this story is “they lived happily ever after”.  Real life goes on and there are more challenges.  The point is this story is over.  The hero has attained maturity.  There are immature elders, of course.  But they feature in a different story-type.

Looking Forwards

This is the second of Booker’s seven plot types.  The aim is not to put your story into a straitjacket but to help structure a marketing story that resonates with your market.

Next time we’ll look at a plot perhaps more relevant to marketers and businesses that help make money, the Quest.  This plot is the first of two about journeying and business owners may find one or the other a good fit.

bright blue ice cream!

How Does Variety Sell?

Variety is a mixed blessing.  If you advertise a massive variety of products or services, is this attractive to more customers?

What is It?

Politicians go on about choice as if it is a good thing.  If I have an acute medical crisis, I am happy to allow my doctor make choices for me.  I trust my doctor.  I could choose between several hospitals but I’m going to ask which is the best one.

Variety works in two ways.  You cater for customers with many needs.  So, if you sell sports equipment, the beginner has different needs to the champion.  The experienced sportsperson knows exactly what they need and pays for it.  The beginner needs the basics and won’t spend a fortune in case they decide not to pursue the sport.

The other type of variety is a range of options with no particular reason a customer would choose one or another.  For example, ice cream flavours are a matter of personal preference.  They are similarly priced and the customer chooses their favourite or sometimes fancies something new.

Value to the Customer

It doesn’t follow the customer knows what they want.  Someone who needs coaching may have specific needs but does not always know enough to make their choice.  To offer a range of options may be counter-productive.

Alternatively, whilst a variety of ice cream flavours may attract the eye, how beneficial are they to the business?  Customers restrict their purchases to a small variety of flavours.  The business owner must consider the cost of producing so many flavours; wastage where some flavours are less popular.  Even queues that move slowly because customers take more time choosing.

How to Get There

For ice creams and similar products, there are diminishing returns to offering more options.  How much more inviting is “30 delicious flavours” to 15?  There are few advantages to offering in a supermarket more than 2 or 3 types of tinned tomatoes.

For the specialist, a lot depends on their customers’ awareness.  A knowledgeable customer wants to see everything on offer or specifies exactly what they seek.  For the less knowledgeable customer, exposure to all 15 options may be counter-productive.  Far better to find out what they need and offer a couple of options.

Offer two options because it gives the customer a choice and it is easier to opt for the cheapest than it is to say no outright.  If they are not happy with either, find out why and offer something more suitable.  With services, the issue may be one of trust.  The customer tries something low-priced before they opt for more expensive options.  They are unlikely to tell you this, so be ready with a low-priced option.  Once they become a customer, they are more likely to buy again.

The customer who says yes may be interested in an upsell.  Offer more until they say no, then seal the deal.

Your Offer

To what extent does variety increase the likelihood of people using your services?  To some degree variety is neutral, especially where customers want one specific thing.  They may come to you because they believe you have what they seek.  “We have what you seek” may be a better slogan than “View our extensive stock”.

They say variety is the spice of life but not all at once.

This is the twenty-ninth of 31 posts about elements of value.  Make sure you don’t miss any by signing up for the offer below.  The posts in this sequence can be accessed below:

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