Business Books and the Hero’s Journey

May 11, 2012 | Writing A Book

Joseph Campbell noticed that many different stories from many different cultures followed a similar plot pattern. Campbell called it, “The Hero’s Journey.”

That “journey” turns out to be the basic plot of a lot of great stories. You don’t even have to go to mythology or folk stories. Think Star Wars, The Silence of the Lambs, or The Hunt for Red October.

You can use the same structure for your business book. You don’t have to use Campbell’s seventeen stages, either. I’ve found that three phases do quite well.

Remember that the core idea here is that the hero and the reader go on a journey of discovery, growth, and change. You set the stage for that journey in the first part of the book.

People who analyze the Hero’s Journey use several different names for the beginning. Some call it “The Departure” In this stage, things are “normal,” but something happens that calls for change.

If your book is about meetings, for example, describe how most meetings are now. Even better, describe how you experienced meetings and (TA DA) realized that something needed to change. That’s where you begin the learning journey.

In the Hero’s Journey, the “journey” is through unknown territory. Some analysts call it “The Road of Trials.” Other experts describe the hero travelling through an enchanted wood. In your business book, this is where the learning happens.

This can be an actual learning journey, either factual or fictionalized. In Employees First, Vineet Nayar tells the story of change at HCL, from beginning to end. I wrote Performance Talk as a story about a new manager who was learning to be a good manager.

But the ‘journey” can be a collection of stories or learning points, too. When Rod Santomassimo and I wrote Brokers Who Dominate, that’s what we did. The “journey” part of the book tells the story of more than twenty top performers in commercial real estate.

That gives you basically four options. You can tell a sequential tale or not. And you can tell a factual tale or a fictional one. Whichever you choose, when you’ve described the learning, it’s time to wrap up the journey.

In the Hero’s Journey, the hero returns to the everyday world as a different person. He or she has been changed by their experiences on the journey. In your business book, this is where you summarize the learning.

Here’s another way to think about it. The beginning of your book shows why a learning journey is necessary. The main part of your book describes the journey itself. At the end, you describe how things have changed because of the journey.

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