KS&R Blogs


I love action movies. They don't require a lot of higher-order thinking, and I am spared the angst of a romantic comedy. The action hero is a good guy -- adept at one-liners, skilled in overcoming problems, and ultimately victorious. And, while my husband complains that it's obvious what is going to happen to Sylvester, Arnold, and Liam, I embrace the predictability of "The Hero's Journey."

"The Hero's Journey" is an archetypal narrative structure to describe the hero on an adventure. It was introduced by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces in 1949. This pattern is found in books, TV shows, and movies. You know it...think "Star Wars" and "Harry Potter". The Hero begins in his ordinary world; receives a call to adventure; meets a mentor; crosses the threshold into the unknown; finds allies, confronts enemies, faces tests; encounters a major ordeal; has a setback; and is ultimately victorious.

The "Hero's Journey" is a great innovation tool that can be coupled with storyboarding in qualitative research to help participants define and describe the path towards a goal -- and the ideal experience along the way. (The example below shows a storyboard created by Married Millennials tasked with creating the "ideal" house hunting experience.)

How it works...

  • Participants work in small groups. Each group receives a:
    • Storyboard with a start frame and an end frame
    • Persona sketch of the target market customer -- consisting of 2-3 sentences profiling "The Hero" to give context, but not narrow participants' thinking or create false impressions
    • A "big idea" starting point that is the driver of the journey
  • Participants work together to create a narrative that describes and explains:
    • The Hero's train of thought (to reveal his/her goals, wants/needs, and expectations)
    • What The Hero says
    • What others around The Hero say (internal and external to the company)
    • Scenarios/circumstances that The Hero finds himself in
    • Pain points/frustrations/barriers
    • "Key moments" and advisors, services, products, and tools that help The Hero to succeed

Tips for facilitating...

To ensure that the vision and journey portrayed on the storyboard are meaningful and powerful, the facilitator works to help participants:

  • Adhere to the ground rules: Fun, permissive, non-threatening; withhold judgment/criticism; embrace the unexpected. No idea is too "out there" or insignificant!
  • Think about and record the touch points, moments, and events of the experience -- triggers, decisions, actions, and changes in functional/emotional states (who, what, when, where, and why).
  • Identify and describe what needs to be true/what would solve problems, overcome barriers (sentence completion for "I wish...", "It would be great if...").
  • Draw "Talk", "Thought", and "Heart" bubbles to indicate what is going on inside The Hero's head and his/her reactions and emotional state. Simple iconography like smiley faces and angry faces make the story come alive.
  • Make sure that the journey has a "happy ending"! What does success look like? What does it really mean? What are the functional and emotional benefits?

Hero's Journey

If you are looking for a new strategy or tool to uncover that next "big idea", consider "The Hero's Journey". Please contact me if you'd like to learn more.