"No matter what a person does, he is always at the centre of the world's history, but most of the time he doesn't know it," says Paulo Coelho's "Alchemist". Many do not even realise that they are at the centre of their own world and are the heroes of their story. Yet everyone wants to be a hero, somehow, somewhere, sometime, and everyone talks about it: hero stories, hero journeys, hero brands, hero everything ... But - what is it actually, a hero?
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When the word hero is mentioned, images immediately arise in our minds: heroic figures with extraordinary abilities, supernatural powers and indomitable will. Meaning and admiration are assured, a place in history anyway. Geniuses also pass for heroes, because according to André Heller, the real adventures are in the mind.
Heroes are so very different from us, but as we would like to be ... invincible ... at least faster, better, smarter than now ... and braver too.
Whereby: if you have superpowers, it's easy to be brave, isn't it?
Superheroes from the DC and Marvel universes populate the screens of our cinemas more densely than ever before. Yes, we love superheroes, even if they are all too often oddly dressed. But so what - when you're saving the world with one hand while knitting a jumper out of steel wool with the other, you just need functional clothes, and nobody can have everything. Not even in Gotham City.
These are heroes.
When we talk about heroes in connection with story, we urgently have to say goodbye to the image of the superhero. This image may fit sometimes, but as a rule, hero means someone else entirely. Namely you, for example.
Hero tokens are not heroes.
Even when we talk about brands as heroes, the canyon of misunderstanding opens up so wide that even Spiderman would have to take a running jump to get across. Of course, everyone who has a brand dreams of the usual mega role models like Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola and Red Bull as adorable superstars whose logos customers are proud to stick on their cars. Everyone who has a brand dreams that it also has this magical attraction. But what is usually overlooked is that in a skilfully lived story of a hero brand, the brand is not the hero at all.
What's that supposed to mean?
Yes, a hero brand is not the hero of its own story.
Strictly speaking, a brand usually has two stories, and in one of them it is the hero, but that is usually not the story that customers think it is.
Who is supposed to know anything about that, please?
And then there are the everyday heroes we learn about from the news. They, too, have something superheroically supernatural about them.
The scientist who makes a sensational discovery; the fireman who risks his life while saving people from the burning house; the sportswoman who - although injured - sets a new record; the piano virtuoso prodigy next door, grandma runs another marathon ...
All these achievements are admirable and can be heroic deeds, but they do not have to be.
Well, what makes heroes?
The Austrian answer to this question: depends.The real answer is not much more complex. It is: it depends on the opponent.
So let's take it one step at a time ...
Everything revolves around the heroes. When we speak of the heroine of a story, we mean the main character around whom everything revolves. Our identification figure, with whom we empathically connect and therefore ask ourselves the question: What would I do and how would I decide if I were in her situation and were in her predicament?
This has nothing whatsoever to do with heroism in the narrower or broader sense, whether understood correctly or incorrectly. We are simply using the same word for different things: Heroine as a main character and hero as a superbeing.
So, but now: What really makes a hero?
In essence, one can say: the hero of a story is an ordinary person who wants to achieve something extraordinary - even though everything speaks against him or her - grows from it and therefore acts as a role model in his or her environment. The main character has lived through something, learned through it, and we with him.
If a story is always about a transformation, then the heroine of a story is naturally different at the end than she was at the beginning.
Cinderella sits in the kitchen at the beginning, sorts lentils from ashes at the beginning and is a princess at the end. You can call that a transformation, I think. In the meantime, she has learned, and we with her: "Whatever injustice happens to you - you are a special person who is worthy of being loved. Even by a prince! You have to show yourself for it and before it, though."
This story is also available for boys. In this story, Cinderella is called Rocky Balboa and in the end she is not a princess, but king - in Adrian's heart. He also had to show himself, not at the ball like Cinderella, but in the boxing ring. Both of them had blue eyes, but he was more on the outside ...
We love anti-heroes.
Both are so-called anti-heroes, the smooth opposite of heroic and invincible. We as an audience can build empathy with anti-heroes particularly easily because they define themselves primarily and obviously through a weakness that we can empathise with very well.
Heroic figures such as superheroes define themselves first and foremost by their superpower, which most of us were not born with. On the contrary. My mum put a steak in my cradle so that at least the dog would play with me.
In order for us as viewers to nevertheless build empathy with the superhero character, two essential conditions must be met.
Firstly, they need an oversized, significant task that must be solved for the good of us all, because otherwise it will be dark on earth, and secondly, in all their superheroism, they need a weakness that we can empathise with.
Let's think, for example, of Peter Parker vulgo Spiderman and his guilty conscience over the murder of his uncle, for which he feels guilty, and his heartbreak over Gwen ...
Superheroes need opponents, overpowering opponents - for their outer conflict and for their inner weakness. They have that in common with all other heroes. Without opponents there is no conflict, without conflict there is no story.
For Grandma it's the marathon, for her grandson on the piano "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" (G major, KV 525) - and for Cinderella and Rocky?
Who is actually the opponent of Cinderella and Rocky? At first glance it's clear to everyone: it's Stepmother & Stepsisters and Apollo Creed respectively.
In both cases, it is the broken self-esteem that makes the heroes of the stories feel they are unlovable. This opponent is defeated - although everything speaks against them - and in the end the characters are transformed. On the outside and above all on the inside. The external opponents only embody the inner conflict, but are not the real opponents. Some opponents offer themselves, some have to be discovered and well chosen so that they do for us what they are supposed to do: namely, support us in growing. Here are some special thoughts on this.
The real adventures are in our heads, the real enemies are inside us.
The story of self-worth is one that most of us know in some form, not just those with the steak in the cradle. That's why this myth of someone setting out to discover their self-worth and embrace it will come up again and again in a wide variety of ways, and why the heroine of this story will live on forever in a wide variety of guises. Across generations and cultures, this story connects humanity, we tell ourselves these stories because they are about ourselves, and we share the realisation with each other: you are worthy of being loved - show yourself to be seen.
Every person is different, in some ways we are all the same, apart from Dieter Bohlen and Kim Kardashian.
Real heroes are really brave.
Do you know this? When you jump over your shadow? When you dare to do something, when you fight off your inner weakness and do it anyway - in defiance of everyone and everything, because you feel inside you: this is right, this is necessary, this is what I have to do? Even if I'm afraid, yes, and even if I can't know how it will turn out!
That is true heroism. To look your greatest opponent in the eye, exactly where he is, precisely where the strength to defeat him is also to be found: in yourself. That is true courage. Or, to paraphrase John Wayne, who should know: "Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.
Most people do not know her story and do not follow her call.
They do not show themselves.
They remain sitting in the ashes sorting lenses.
They roam the streets of Philadelphia in solitude, occasionally beating up frozen pork halves, for training and a little frustration, presumably.
That's it then.
And somewhere in the meantime, a lonely prince lingers in his castle and a wonderful young woman who works in a pet shop because Cinderella and Rocky are of the mistaken opinion that they are not lovable.
A mistake, four unhappy people. Who is helped by that, please?
Heroes hear their call and answer it.
Good stories teach us in a principled way, the way good teachers do. They don't teach, they transform us and give us orientation. That's why we humans have our mythological narratives: they serve as lighthouses on the sea of life to help us set out and find our destiny. For one it's being a princess, for another it's founding a skittles club, for one it's pulling people out of burning houses, for another it's being absorbed in playing the piano. For all of them it means - André Heller would say: learning to transform oneself into a successful human being.
That's all that needs to be said, and who am I to add anything to André Heller's words?
Well, maybe one more thing: What does it look like for brands and companies?
The two stories of each brand.
Brands have two stories: the first is about the company and tells of its transformation - of the founding dream, of the huge hurdles on the way up, of the glorious exploits performed to overcome them, and of the devastating defeats, of growth over realisation and relentless commitment to the task in the world.
In this story, the brand itself is the hero, and in some cases this story is so revealing that it even becomes part of the corporate myth that radiates outwards, often nourished by charismatic entrepreneurial personalities. Apple is probably the prime example, unique and thus at the same time again absolutely atypical; nevertheless instructive.
The second story is the one that brings the magnetism of the brand to life. It does not tell about the company or the brand, but does what John Steinbeck wrote like a portent on the office wall of Sterling, Cooper with the nose blood of Don Draper: "If a story is not about the hearer, he will not listen. And here I make a rule - a great and interesting story is about everyone or it will not last." That's why the story of your brand, of your company, can never be about you and your company. It must always be about the audience, otherwise you will have at least one foot in the advertising puddle.
Because it is not the brand that is transformed, but its audience.
At the beginning you are tired because you are quite fat and flabby, by the end you are running a few metres, and eventually the marathon, because you have the perfect mentor to help you hear, accept and follow the call of your liberated, fit life. The call is "Just do it", and the mentor by your side is Nike.
In the beginning, you are a functioning wheel in the system, whose creativity is used at best, but cannot unfold because it is controlled, curtailed and made to conform. In the end, you use your full potential, go new ways, think not only "outside the box", but much more: different. Just as you are: different from the rest, individual, special - in a row with the other crazy people like Jim Henson, Salvador Dalí and Maria Callas. At your side goes a mentor who shows you where Excalibur is, and that you accept the call by finally pulling the sword out of the damn stone. In this specific case: plugging your Mac into the fucking socket.
Brandstory is Brandpurpose.
Sometimes Merlin is called Obi-Wan Kenobi, sometimes he wears Nike. He checks his e-mails on his iPhone, and because even wise men are not free of sin, he posts his breakfast selfie on Instagram.
One thing is certain: the common concern of the mentor and the hero of the story: the common desire. In the case of a brand, this is often called purpose.
Some companies were even founded out of this purpose, I call them Mentor Brands. For me, Patagonia is a particularly well groomed horse in the growing herd of purpose brands. These are brands that go further than treading the corporate social responsibility stand as a matter of course. They don't say "The world is good even though we exist", but "The world is getting better because we exist".
These brands have a story that can inspire people - internally and externally - and are able to trigger their transformation.
Thus, one must imagine the hero's journey not as a cycle, but as an arabesque-like intertwining of countless infinite signs with the endeavour to arrange themselves into the ornamentation of the flower of life. It doesn't just sound complex, it is.
Every human being, but also every company - whether a global corporation or an SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) -, every organisation is on a journey, triggered by a necessity, the fulfilment of which leads to the meaning of the thing. It is their reason for moving towards their own truth, where their own self has grown.
Everyone needs meaning for their own truth, a mission, a purpose, i.e. at least one archaic value and the story activated by it, around which everything revolves. This is how you win like-minded comrades-in-arms; this is how you become the heroine of your own story.
So to all those who say, "It doesn't apply to me or to my brand!", I would like to recommend the words that my grandmother, old Story Dudette, embroidered on Clark Kent next to the label with the washing instructions for his cape: "No Story. No Glory."