The entrepreneurial process can be mapped according to the same story formula that Hollywood uses in our favorite epic films. The formula comes from a model called the Hero’s Journey, which was developed by writer, professor, and mythologist Joseph Campbell. In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he analyzed thousands of stories, myths, and folklores from all over the world, and distilled a universal pattern that underlies what happens to the main character in most of these tales. Here are 8 key stages:
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The Ordinary World.
The entrepreneur’s journey begins with some sense of dissatisfaction. She is in an environment that is uncomfortable; she doesn’t fit in; something is wrong and something has got to be done. Think: Neo, the software programmer by day and computer hacker by night, who wants to know, “What is the matrix?”
Call to Adventure.
The entrepreneur learns that there is an opportunity out there. Though there is always uncertainty about what lies beyond “The Ordinary World”, the internal struggle propels her forward to set off on a journey to find resolution. Think: Harry Potter’s invitation to Hogwarts.
Refusal of the Call.
A sense of duty or obligation, or feelings of insecurity and inadequacy may initially cause the entrepreneur to remain in her current circumstances. In essence, this is the entrepreneur’s fear of change. Think: Simba in the Lion King when Nala finds him and informs him that the Pride is in trouble.
Meeting the Mentor.
In order to help the entrepreneur overcome her fear, a divine intervention takes place and she meets a mentor. The wise sage may be a teacher, consultant, investor, tutorial books, demo videos, or any combination of sources that provide “super+natural” aid. The encounter eventually transcends into life-changing experiences where new lessons are learned, priceless gifts are given to the entrepreneur, and she becomes more and more aware of her own inner strength. Think: Yoda as Luke Skywalker’s Guide in Star Wars.
Crossing the Threshold.
This stage defines the entrepreneur’s acceptance of the call and signals that she has transitioned out of a realm of logic and reason and into a realm of faith. This is the point of no return. Think: Moses parting the Red Sea to save the Hebrews from the Egyptian army.
Tests, Trials, Allies, and Enemies.
The entrepreneur doesn’t always accomplish her goals according to the original plan. However, if she continues to journey, she learns something new and makes subsequent attempts better the next time. She will make friends along the way who believe in the vision and whose paths converge to also fight for the cause. But make no mistake, the entrepreneur’s journey will be arduous– blood and tears will be shed. Think: The series of encounters that Marlin, Dory, and Crush experience in Marlin’s quest to find his son, Nemo.
The entrepreneur gives her life to something bigger than herself. She and her allies will have to do battle to the death… death to old ways of thinking and doing things… in order to give birth to innovation and improvement. Through tests, trials, collaboration, annihilation, discovery, and transformation, she gives birth to something new… something of value to the community that changes the world. Think: Oskar Schindler’s shift in focus from making money to saving Jewish lives… eventually depleting his entire fortune by the end of WWII.
The entrepreneur essentially becomes the Master of two worlds by conquering the known and the unknown… conquering the enemy within and the enemy without. The one who is transformed returns with a gift and transforms his community. Think: Avatar Aang finally masters the discipline of fire-bending, defeats the fire lord, and restores balance back to the four nations of the earth.
There is a perfect connection between the Hero’s Journey and Entrepreneurial Leadership. Entrepreneurship is an adventure that can build character and companies at the same time. As business owners fulfill their heroic roles, they inevitably experience a new call to adventure. The new call beckons them to shift from hero to mentor, helping new entrepreneurs understand what Joseph Campbell meant when he said, “Where you stumble, there your treasure lies.”
(Source: Judiffier Pearson, Consultant, UGA SBDC at Clayton State University)