The Inciting Incident

Consider – if you will – Harry Potter.

There he is in the cupboard under the stairs. Occasionally, odd things happen. But life goes on as normal. Until owls start arriving with letters. In desperation, Vernon Dursley takes the family to a remote hut on a desolate rock. Then Hagrid kicks the door down and announces, “You’re a wizard, Harry.”

“I’m a what?”

“A wizard. And a thumpin’ good one, I’d wager.”

After that, nothing can ever be the same again. Normal life – living under the stairs etc – can never be restored.

In classical storytelling that moment is known as ‘The Inciting Incident,’ or sometimes ‘the catalyst.’ It’s the moment when everything changes, when the whole balance of someone’s life irrevocably shifts. It’s the moment when Jack Crawford sends Clarisse Starling to see Hannibal Lecter. It’s the moment in that awesome film A Knight’s Tale when Sir Ector dies and Will decides to impersonate him, telling Roland and Wat, “A man can change his stars.”

For me, the inciting incident happened at Newport Pagnall service station.

I was eating a motorway breakfast. I’d got home late the night before; I’d set off early that morning. Not that today was exceptional. Back late/set off early was now the normal pattern of my life. I hadn’t seen my children for three days. Still, I had a job. Not like Neil. Superb at what he did: but last week head office had decided we didn’t need his department any more. Thanks very much. Best of luck in the future. Clear your desk as quickly as you can will you?

Thinking about Neil, missing my children, eating a dreadful breakfast, I realised it had to change. There had to be a better way of balancing work and life. That’s when my journey to TAB York began.

I’ve a good friend who sat across the table from his own long-time friend, the HR director, as the company pushed through a wave of redundancies. “Well,” my pal laughed, “You couldn’t have made me redundant. Not with my experience.”

“Oh yes we could,” the HR director replied. “I’ve seen the list. You were on it right up until the last minute.”

No surprise that my friend never felt the same way about the company again, and very shortly afterwards left to start his own business.

I think we’ve all had a moment like that. Next week I’ll be talking about why entrepreneurs do what they do: why they care so much. I think that’s inextricably linked with their inciting incident – the moment everything changed.

You often hear people talk about motivation in terms of ‘towards’ and ‘away from.’ People are motivated by desire (towards) or – more often – by fear (away from).

In my experience the truly successful entrepreneur is motivated by a combination of the two. Yes, he has goals he’s determined to achieve. But there’s also his past life constantly tapping him on the shoulder – the life he’s determined he’ll never go back to.

So my question this week is simple: what was your inciting incident? What was the one specific moment when it all changed? When someone kicked down the door and said, “You could be an entrepreneur. And a thumpin’ good one, I’d wager…”


  1. Eileen Hawkes · June 14, 2013

    If there is a blog award, please send me the link, because I would vote for you Ed! …I don’t own a business myself but reading this entry over porridge this morning, fills me with admiration for my boss (who started his own franchise business) and inspires me to have a happy, productive day for myself & my team! Thanks. Happy Friday Ed, and everyone!

  2. Excellent blog Ed. mine wasn’t one single moment, it was a culmination.

  3. Catherine Adamson · June 14, 2013

    Great blog Ed! My inciting incident was a slow burn that ate away at me for a number of years until circumstances and courage combined to ignite it. I think we all have that ‘eureka’ moment but sometimes it takes time for thoughts to form and for karma to ripen before it is the right time to take action.

  4. Chris Wilson · June 14, 2013

    After a 15 hour day in June 2002, keeping unwanted guests out, and managing press looking for stories on the high profile footballer who had been over familiar with a lady in the gents toilet, I settled down for the few hours of sleep I could get….. ring ring, ring ring, “Ah yes, Mr Wilson, unfortunately one of the guests has just fallen out of a 3rd floor bedroom and its all a bit of a mess”. That was it, I punched the wall (thankfully Barratt Homes don’t make stud walls very well) and vowed to my wife that the wall wouldn’t be mended until I had taken the leap of faith and set up my own agency. 11 years on, and business is good, and York Races returns again TODAY for the exact same race meet that was my “inciting incident”. Ed, your choice of blogs for this day is a little spooky!

  5. Simon Hudson · June 14, 2013

    Ah, the tipping point…
    Like Catherine, I had been building to it for years. I suffered a fatal reluctance to embrace corporate politics (also known as ‘bollocks’), which pretty much capped how far I could proceed in my big corporate life. I loved what I did, but I didn’t like some of the environmental constraints. But they paid me well, so I stayed, until made redundant.
    Instead of starting a business I was asked (disclosure – flattering my ego is a very strong way to manipulate me) to join a mid-sized company to run their health division. Surely that would be different, small, agile, forward looking. For a while it was great, I loved what I did and they paid me a lot.
    But the tipping point, inevitably, came. I’d been increasingly unhappy as the company lost interest in my part of the business (for good reasons). It was less of a dawning realisation, however, and more of an act of impressively unprofessional behaviour from one of their directors. I realised I wasn’t prepared to work for a company with the ethics and culture that would tolerate it.
    I realised that I had been in a comfortable, fur lined rut. Well paid, challenged, but not fulfilled.

    So the #*se of a director did me a great favour. He made my rut sufficiently uncomfortable. I moved away from it and towards what I had wanted, but hadn’t the motivation/guts to do until then. Cloud2 sprang into existence 2 weeks later.

    Now, close to 5 years on, I’m grateful. I’d still be tempted to break his nose if I ever met him though…

  6. Pingback: The Things I’d Do Differently… | EdReidYork's Blog

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