The Hero's Journey is a two-part workshop that guides project stakeholders and team members through identifying solutions that solve real problems for real people. The goal is to use empathy as a guide to collaboratively define and solve problems. Story is simply a tool we use to evoke empathy and insight in the process.
- Module I: Emerging With The Hero
- Module II: Plotting The Journey
The purpose of Part I is:
- To create shared understanding amongst the project team about the people they want to help.
The purpose of Part II is two-fold:
- To identify opportunities for the organization to help solve those people's problems along their journey.
- To design propositions that embody the problem-solution fit of the opportunities identified
There premise behind these workshops is described here: Personas Are Dead. Long Live The Heroes!
Here are the assumptions we are making for the context of this workshop:
- Project scope, purpose, goals and outcomes have been clearly defined
- Research has been gathered and initial analysis has grouped audiences into smaller segments
- Session participants have a shared understanding of the purpose and outcome of the research activities that took place
- The research is available for reference in some form (could be formal or informal, pick your flavor)
Module I: Emerging With The Hero
The purpose of this activity is to create heroes that will be used as proxies (like personas) for the team to collectively understand the people they are trying to help.
How It Works
Task I: Hero Characteristics (30 mins)
Start off the session with a firestarter/icebreaker activity to get participants thinking about stories, heroes and their key attributes.
As the discussion progresses, create a mind map of the essential attributes of a hero. We are not talking about specific character traits like "courageous" or "skillful". We are hoping to answer the question "What makes a good hero?" and also hint at "What makes a good story?"
You should come up with a list of attributes similar to one below:
- Location (Where is the hero in the story?)
- Internal Conflict (What are they struggling with inside themselves?)
- External Conflict (What are they struggling with outside themselves?)
- Super Motivation (What drives them above all other force to do what they are doing?)
- Superpower (What untapped power lays dormant beneath their conflict, waiting to be unleashed?)
Once you've got a mind map of attributes that you are comfortable with, you can take a quick break or move on to the next part.
Task II: Fleshing Out The Heroes (60 mins)
Assuming you've got some research at hand and have already begun breaking your audience into smaller segments (see the materials and prerequisites below), break into an even number of tams—one group for each segment. So if you have 12 participants and three audience segments, make three teams of four people.
Provide each team with the relevant research for their segment, and introduce the next task:
Each team has been assigned a specific audience segment. We want each individual within that team to create a hero that represents the audience segment. Each person will have 15 minutes to create their hero. At the end of the 15 minutes, each person will introduce their hero one-by-one to the rest of their team. But before we talk about presenting your heroes to the rest of your team, first lets talk about what makes a good hero for this exercise.
The hero's characteristics should embody the core attributes of the audience segment as depicted in the research and understood by the team. The heroes are going to act as a proxy for that audience segment in future activities, so make sure that you've got a hero in which you're confident.
There are no rules about how you create your hero or how you capture them. Use whatever tools you need. There are a few things to keep in mind: Conflict is key, weakness is authentic, and the past often informs the future. You may need to tell some of the hero's story in order to understand who they are. That may take the form of a backstory, a plotline, a scene or even a dream/nightmare.
Be creative, fantastical and imaginative. Use your internal sense of empathy as a calibrating force. Ask yourself "Do I care if this hero gets what they want? What's at stake?". You should be reminded of watching a good moving and rooting for the hero from the edge of your seat. If you're stuck, ask for help...
Now that you've got your hero, you have 15 minutes to present your heroes to your team. Have one person set a timer so you make sure you all have time to present. As you present your heroes to your team, make sure to explain why you created the hero the way you did, and what evoked the most emotion or tension in you. If you're not presenting, you might want to take notes about the heroes you saw presented because the next activity is going to be about creating a single superhero to represent the team's individual heroes...
Now that you've been introduced to each individual hero within the team, you have 30 minutes to create a single superhero. As you start to amalgamate the individual heroes into one superhero, keep a few things in mind: tension creates depth, complexity is authentic, compromise can destroy character, and conflict (again) is key...
In order to capture your superhero, work towards creating a Hero Card on an A3 piece of paper that shows the core attributes of your superhero. You'll need to have a Hero Card complete by the end of your 30 minutes. We'll be using the Hero Cards extensively in the afternoon session.
Module II: Plotting The Journey
The purpose of this activity is to tell the story of each superhero's journey.
How It Works
Now that we've got superheroes for each team that represent each of our audience segments, we are going to work in teams to tell the story of each superhero. There are a few helpful constraints for the layout, structure and principles of each story, but other than that, how you tell your superhero's story is entirely up to you and your team.
Each team receives an equal length sheet of paper cut from the large roll (1-2 meters minimum).
Use note cards as scenes within the story and the vertical space to represent emotional highs and lows for the superhero. For example, if the superhero has a death in the family, that notecard is probably going to be at the very bottom of the sheet. If the superhero accomplishes their goal and realizes their super motivation, it is probably going to be at the very top of the sheet.
Each story should be told chronologically from left to right.
You can draw lines between scenes to represent change and progression. If you want to create a fork in the road 'choose your ending'-type story, you can use different colored lines or note cards to represent the different options.
Each story should contain a backstory, and three acts. Here is a simple story structure from an author named Donald Miller to help you tell your story:
A character has a problem, then meets a guide who gives them a plan and calls them to action. That action either results in a comedy or tragedy.
In the context of these stories, our story's main character is the superhero (our customer) and we are the guide. We are not the hero. It is really crucial that we all understand our role in this story: We want to help the hero move from a place of dissonance to a place of resonance. We want to break through confusion and give them confidence that they have what it takes.
We touched briefly in the morning session on what makes a good hero and hinted at what makes a good story. It is important for us to reflect on the stories that have lasting impressions on us and on our society in order for us to make good stories in this activity.
What makes a good story? What are some examples of good stories and bad stories? What are examples of stories that started off well and ended poorly?
A good story needs to have a single coherent arc. If there are too many threads in the plotline—too much going on, the story falls apart.
It should be about a character who wants something and wants it badly. It can be as simple as wanting to drink a drop of water in the desert, but that character's desire for change is the supermotivation that shapes the arc of the story. That's important to remember.
A good story has rich and authentic conflict. Sometimes the conflict is as simple as another character who directly opposes their supermotivation, but sometimes the conflict is more complex: A fatal flaw, a repressed desire, etc...
A good story has a character who has something to lose. Whether its Lord of The Rings, Little Miss Sunshine, Memento or The Hunger Games—there is usually a great risk involved in the hero's pursuit of their desire.
Discuss a strategy about how you're going to tell this story together. If you need to change your hero in any way, you have total creative license, just remember that this hero's journey is going to serve as a proxy for us to explore opportunities for us as the guide to help our hero along their journey. Conflict is key.
By the end of the session you will want to have a Journey Map that shows the backstory and three acts of the hero's journey.