About the author.
My name is Ashraf Ramzy, Narratologist, Business Story Consultant, Coach, Author, Speaker, Founder and CEO of MasterStory®. Some 30 years ago I attained a master’s degree in Narratology, the science and study of Story. Since then I have been quietly putting the power of Story to work for visionary brands, organizations and leaders. And, with great success. During those 30 years, a systematic and effective methodology emerged. One that ensured the successful development of a business narrative with impact. Be it a campaign story, a customer story, a target audience story, a brand story, an organizational story, a corporate story or a masterstory. Building further on that methodology I developed StoryMeter®, a diagnostic tool that measures the power of story and its impact on business. In addition I have developed the StoryMaster® program, a 3 day workshop to equip and license you to use the MasterStory® methodology and diagnostic tool. In the weeks, months and years ahead I will post (infrequent) updates on my work, my methodology and my own journey. So make sure to check this page every once in a while. Or subscribe to our newsletter.
Does your Story work?
Episode 6 The Hero’s Profile
This is episode 6 in the technical series “Does your Story work?” It is intended for professionals who are interested in story and want the know-how and tools to lead a storytelling project: to inspire story development, evaluate story concepts, direct story execution, and objectively measure and monitor the impact of story.
After a long hiatus, we now continue our journey and take a closer look at the Hero’s Profile. Why?
Without a story there is nothing to tell. And without a Hero, there is no story. And all you’re left with is sound and fury signifying nothing. No amount of words, no matter how carefully chosen or carefully arranged, will conceal the absence of a Hero or compensate for the lack of Heroic action. It will be a hollow tale and your audience will feel the void even if they can’t explain why.
The Hero’s Profile
The Hero’s Profile is hard wired in our primordial brains, stored deep down in our tribal minds and woven tightly into the fiber of our heart. It determines how we judge ourselves and the people around us. When we look at our leaders and find them failing it is because we compare what we see with the Hero’s Profile and see the gaps. And when we look at our reflection in the mirror and are disappointed, it is because we apparently don’t live up to the Heroic expectations we have of ourselves. But when we admire others or are proud of ourselves it is because deep down in places we are not even aware of, we recognize the Hero’s Profile in the image of the person we behold. In an earlier post we talked about who the Hero is. In this episode we will take a closer look at 8 components of the Hero’s Profile.
The Hero is (1) the protagonist, who (2) suffers and struggles towards (3) a greater purpose. He (4) overcomes obstacles and (5) defeats the villain. He (6) brings rescue to (7) his beneficiary and (8) changes the world.
Let’s take a closer look at what each of these components mean.
Originating in Greek Tragedy it literally means ‘first actor or warrior’: proto (first, like in proto-type) +agonistas, from agon, meaning to fight, to battle. It has come to mean: the leading character, the main figure. To be the Protagonist requires that you step out of the comfort of the familiar into the danger of the unknown. You can do that reluctantly or eagerly, alone or with a mentor. Most importantly, Protagonist requires ‘agency’: the capacity to think and act independently and make your own choices. In the sacred space between stimulus and response you have the power and the freedom to choose who you want to be, where you want to go and how you want to get there.
Keywords: leadership, initiative, proactive, responsible.
Check: are your actions determined by forces beyond your control or by your own free will?
Pursuit: to suffer and struggle towards
The notion of struggle is inherent to being the Protagonist. Additionally, there is the element of suffering. Without it, the Hero does not truthfully embody the human condition. This in turn will make it hard, if not impossible for the audience to identify or empathize with the Hero. Moreover, the suffering and struggling is directed towards something, not just with one’s own self, others, nature, the universe or God. In other words, it is not the suffering and struggling of the hamster on the treadmill: all busy but going nowhere. Quite the opposite. We’re talking about a pursuit, a quest, a battle, a fight for someone or something. A pursuit that demands an active interest, serious involvement and a considerable effort and investment of time, resources and attention.
Keywords: pursuit, involved, invested, dedicated, assertive.
Check: do you have a mission statement or are you on a mission?
A Greater Purpose
The real and full meaning of Purpose emerges in contrast with Causality, also known as the why, the cause, the reason. Sigmund Freud was of the opinion that our current behavior is determined by causes in the past. His psychoanalytical approach therefore meant taking his patients back in time, through their past, to their early beginnings to the cathartic discovery of the traumatic event that explained why they are the way they are and why they do what they do. Hollywood uses this concept of causality and calls it the Origin Story.
Opposing Freud’s theory of Causality was C.G. Jung: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” He believed in the Teleological Principle: our current behavior is determined primarily by goals in the future, not (only) by causes in the past. ‘Purpose’ refers to an event, state or situation in the future as the result of the Hero’s suffering and struggling. It therefore means: intention, aim, goal.
The Hero however is not in pursuit of his own glory, fame or fortune. Rather, he ultimately serves a Greater Purpose: a noble cause, a lofty goal, a greater good. The Greater Purpose is inherent to the Hero’s Character, intrinsic to his motivation and infused into everything he does. He serves this Greater Purpose with no hope for reward or fear of punishment.
Keywords: strategic intent, vision/value/purpose driven, focus, intrinsic drive.
Check: does your purpose serve you or do you serve your purpose?
During his journey the Hero will inevitably encounter obstacles that hinder his progress. The obstacles aim to discourage, distract, deceive or deter the Hero from completing his mission and accomplishing his purpose. These obstacles are there to test him, to strengthen his resolve, teach him the required skills and force him to dig deeper into his own resources. To overcome the obstacles the Hero must show faith, perseverance and resourcefulness. The clearer the purpose the clearer whether the Hero is facing an obstacle to overcome or a distraction he has to avoid.
Keywords: faith, perseverance, commitment, resourcefulness, inventiveness.
Check: in the face of difficulties, do you quit and give up or persist and persevere?
Defeats the Villain
The kind of story we use in business, is modelled after the classic Hollywood System. A linear Story with a Happy Ending because the Hero saves the day and Good triumphs over Evil. The Tragedy, where the Hero rises and falls and all ends in calamity and catastrophe, is a cautionary tale and one we try to avoid. In our Story world, the Hero represents the Good and the Villain represents Evil. Hence, the Villain must be defeated. This frontal confrontation often literally means the Hero must put himself in harm’s way, run in the line of fire, risk his life to save others and do the right thing no matter what the cost. In confronting the Villain the Hero demonstrates his virtue, courage, integrity and decisiveness.
Keywords: virtue, courage, integrity and decisiveness.
Check: are you trying to look good or are you doing the right thing?
A rescue is the value of a solution to a problem. Sometimes we have little problems. And although pleasant or helpful, its solution does not qualify as a rescue. For instance: waking up a bit thirsty and getting a glass of water. That same glass of water however would be valued as rescue after being lost in the scorching heat of the Mojave desert for 3 days. The more serious the problem, the more valuable the solution. In narrative terms, a problem is defined as the loss of, or threat to something most precious and valuable, i.e. our life or that of our loved ones. The more life threatening the problem the more we value the solution as rescue.
Keywords: value, valuable, real help, life saver.
Check: are you alleviating symptoms or addressing some real and vital issues?
To his Beneficiary
What is a solution if it is not a rescue? And what is a rescue if no one benefits? We already saw that the Hero serves a greater purpose. Now we see that he also serves someone else’s interest, not his own self-interest. That means two things. First, the Hero must be able to understand and empathize with the other. He must be perceptive of their plight and sensitive to their needs. Second, the Hero must possess a thorough understanding of his own true self and a realistic appreciation of his talents, his skills and his worth. The better the Hero knows who he is and what he is capable of, the better he is able to serve the best interest of his beneficiary.
Keywords: understanding, empathy, connection, core values, – principles & – competence
Check: are you serving your own self-interest or that of meaningful others?
And changes the world
Like life itself, story occurs within time and space: Story time, of course is not chronological time. The beginning, middle and end of a story represent the three phases of crisis: disruption, intervention and result. This is the function of plot, also known as the Hero’s Journey. A journey that starts with a life threatened and ends with a life saved. Story space, of course is not geographical space. Whether it is a home, a street, a neighborhood, a city, a nation, the planet or the universe itself, it is the whole world to the Hero and those whose interest he serves. And in this world, the Hero makes a difference. He makes the world a better place to live. That is how the Hero changes the world: for the better.
Keywords: transformative, impact, influence, improvement.
Check: are you making the world a better place or not?
Recap: how do we define the Hero?
We defined the Hero as (1) the protagonist, who (2) suffers and struggles towards (3) a greater purpose. He (4) overcomes obstacles and (5) defeats the villain. He (6) brings rescue to (7) his beneficiary and (8) changes the world.