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Strategies and Stories

Are you still unsure what shape a strategy should take? Are you not clear about what to put in or take out? People say that your goals should be SMART (Specific, Measured, Actionable, Relevant and Timed), but how do you go about choosing between the various options?

Stories can help us quite a lot when it comes to making choices about strategy. In that respect, it is wise to first define a few terms. According to the Oxford dictionary, strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim: time to develop a coherent economic strategy [mass noun] : shifts in marketing strategy.

What are some of the similarities between a strategy and a story?

  • Both are driven by people acting within the plan and executing it.
  • Both are about achieving long term goals.
  • The above mentioned goals are achieved by overcoming obstacles.
  • Both are premeditated. In other words, both are created or “authored.”

This post explores one way in which you can author a strategy, using some of the tools that writers use to author stories. And I’m not speaking about pen and paper, typewriters or laptops. I’m speaking about thinking tools.

What if you had a tool to help you do just that, for your business and for your life? Several storytelling books can be sued also to author, not only stories, but also, with a bit of translation of course, to also author your strategies and plans.

“Story is metaphor for life and life is lived in time.” - Robert Mckee, Scriptwriting guru.

In this article, we will be looking at a tool called “The Premise Line.” In his book, “The Anatomy of the Premise Line”, Jeff Lyons described the premise line as   “a container that holds your story’s right, true, and natural structure.” He then goes on to further describe the sides of this container, as it were. He lists eight of them. They are:

  1. Character: The person who is at the centre of the story.
  2. Constriction: An event that forces the character out of their comfort zone and into taking action.
  3. Goal: What that the character wants to achieve or get. Lyons calls it Desire, but I prefer to call it “Goal.”
  4. Relationship: The people that help that person along the way.
  5. Resistance: The people standing in the person’s way.
  6. Adventure: All the actions that the character takes in order to overcome obstacles and achieve their goal.
  7. Climax: The final confrontation with the biggest obstacle, and the final gain or loss of the goal. (Lyons calls this “Adventure” also, but I prefer to call it climax.)
  8. Change: The character’s new comfort zone or new normal.

Here is an example that Lyons gives in his book - the Premise Line of the film “Jaws”.

  1. Character: A fearful “outsider” Police Chief of a small, coastal vacation town…

  2. Constriction: …is asked to investigate the possible shark death of a local swimmer…

  3. Goal: …his worst fears are realised when a marine biologist confirms the cause of death was a shark attack, prompting the Chief to decide to hunt down and kill the beast…

  4. Relationship: …and compelling a crusty local fisherman and the biologist  to help him on his quest…

  5. Resistance: He finds himself caught between the town’s greedy mayor demanding a quick kill so beaches can be reopened to make money again, and the controlling resentful fisherman who thinks the Chief is a woos, and who doesn’t need or want the Chief and biologist on his boat…

  6. Adventure: This leads to the three men bonding as team as they battle the monster, where the Chief proves his value and courage, overcomes his fear of the water….

  7. Climax: …and finally kills the beast and saves the town…..

  8. Change: …And a result is no longer considered an outsider but is hailed as the town hero, and secures a place in the community.

So how can we translate the above to your company’s strategy? Every translation needs a couple of keys. The first key is provided by Donald Miller in his fantastic book, “Building A Storybrand.” The main idea that I took from that book was that your customer is the hero of your story. Or, using our Premise Line model, your customer is “The Character.” He or she faces a problem, and it is your company’ s job to fix that problem via a product or a service.

Starting from there, we can translate the rest of the model as follows:

STORY TERMINOLOGY

BUSINESS TERMINOLOGY

Character

Prospect (I.e. Someone facing a problem)

Constriction

Raised Awareness of the greater depth of the problem and/ or the possibility of solving it.

Goal

The prospect wants the solution. The solution is now their goal.

Relationship

Your company and whatever way you can guide them towards the solution (Including all the people you work with to do this).

Resistance

All the people standing in your prospect’s path to your solution, including competing solutions, internal obstacles (reservations, fears, suspicion and distrust) and external obstacles (physical challenges like distance of complicated purchasing procedures)

Adventure

Climax

Change

References