A Children’s Story – and what it can teach you about business


A bit late to ask you this perhaps, but does anyone know the Christmas story?

Of course you do. Everyone does.

Visited by an angel, ride on a donkey, no room at the inn, swaddling clothes etc etc.

Let me ask you something else: can you list the Ten Commandments? Adultery, obviously. No stealing. No coveting your neighbour’s ox. No other Gods. Graven images…is that one? Most people can manage six or seven.

So why can we all remember the Christmas story, whilst virtually no-one can rattle off the Ten Commandments? Could it be that one’s a story – and one’s a list?

After all, what did your children say when they were little – when they snuggled up to you on the sofa? “Tell me a story, Daddy.”

How was history passed from one generation to the next before people could read and write? Before printing was invented? By stories. Knowledge, history, folklore, the power of the gods…it was all handed down by stories.

People are pre-conditioned – hardwired if you like – to respond to a story.

There’s a great book by an author called Robert McKee: it’s simply called Story. McKee is perhaps the leading teacher of the classical story structure in the world. There’s a better than even chance that when the Oscar for ‘Best Original Screenplay’ is handed out this week, the person making the acceptance speech will have been taught by Robert McKee.

According to McKee, a story starts with ‘the normal world.’ (For example, you live in a cupboard under the stairs. To Harry Potter that was the normal world.) Then something happens: McKee calls this the ‘inciting incident’ – and it completely and irreversibly changes the normal world (you find out you’re a wizard.)

Now begins the quest, or the journey – the attempt to get back to the normal world, or to put right what’s gone wrong. You have helpers but ultimately you, the protagonist, make the decisions. It’s up to you to defeat the antagonist.

Is that any different to business?

There you were in the normal (employed) world. Then something happened which irreversibly changed your normal world – you may not be a wizard, but suddenly you’re running your own business. You have helpers, but ultimately it’s up to you. You have to overcome the obstacles to reach your goal.

Anyone spot Ed Reid of The Alternative Board in there? Right. I’m a helper. You’re Harry Potter. I’m Ron Weasley. You’re the one on the quest – my job is to help you get there. While you’re battling the business equivalent of the Deatheaters, my job is to keep an eye on where you want to be at the end of the journey.

But you’re not just Harry Potter. Because to your clients and customers you’re Ron Weasley. They’re on a journey as well – and your job is to help them reach their destination.

The people who build successful businesses don’t say, “Look at these awesome widgets. How may do you want?” They say, “I understand what you’re trying to achieve and where you’re trying to get to. Let me help you. These widgets might be some use…”

That’s what every great salesman instinctively knows – whether it’s Frank Bettger selling insurance in the 1920’s or a current internet guru tweeting advice – success comes from saying, “I understand where you’re trying to get to. I can see your vision and I’ll buy into it with you. Let’s work together to achieve it.”

Oh – and one final thought. It’s not so bad being Ron Weasley, you know. After all, who ended up with Hermione?

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One comment

  1. Jeyna Grace · February 24, 2012

    Thats such a interesting way to put it!

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