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…”