The Power of the Hero’s Journey as a Narrative Construct – Jennifer Rosen

Jennifer Rosen, CEO and Founder of FullTilt Communications, gave a workshop to our startups on Storytelling and Pitching. We later interviewed her, and she shared with us some of the key aspects of storytelling and narrative, the power of communication, and the type of work that FullTilt Communications do.

Watch the interview below, or, if you prefer, read the transcription.

My name is Jennifer Rosen, and I’m with Full Tilt Communications, and I’ve been working with Startupbootcamp InsurTech for 3 years now, which has been incredible, a remarkable experience from the beginning and the inception of the program, now to the expansion to Hartford, US. So greetings from Hartford, Connecticut.

Right now I’ve been working for the past 3 days with the teams in the InsurTech program, and then I’ll be working with the London team as well, which I’m looking forward to.

And what I wanted to focus on and talk about is storytelling and narrative. So when we think of business presentations and startup pitching and coaching, there’s this element in which people kind of dive straight into business-as-usual, talking about their company and their brand, and they don’t encompass it and harness it in a narrative. And narrative is really the vessel because that’s how the human mind works. So foundationally to the type of work we do, is we focus on narrative and we also focus on conscious communications.

Communicating is really challenging so it’s very hard for us to honestly and consciously communicate with people in our lives, with ourselves. So everything that we bring to the table is really foundational to being a human being versus what can often happen in business which is stripping our human nature and our basic identity as well as the knowledge of how the human brain works, and that is kind of left on the back burner and we don’t use it in a business context. And as a result, we watch presentation after presentation that just feel like a wash of gray. So what we try to do with Full Tilt is really bring story into the picture so that’s it memorable, so that it’s sticky, so that it engages people, so that it really brings the concept to life. And it doesn’t make the audience do the work of connecting the dots, but instead you’re taking them on a journey.

So one of the things we start to discuss is really convincing people in some regards—though it’s often not hard to convince them once we talk through it, but the implementation is really the challenge—and we talk through the elements that are foundational to being a human being. One is the hormone oxytocin, which we naturally produce as a love drug or women after they give birth produce higher levels of oxytocin to connect to their kin. And we can also conjure that within an audience. So if you were to take a blood sample of people before and after you present, that oxytocin level should have raised, because they should be identifying with you as a human, there should be a level of vulnerability where you engage them and take advantage of being a human in presence in a presentation in a live audience instead of a cyborg presenting, per say.

Humans have always done this, even when it was the Bushmen of Africa—they never went out to catch food and then came back and said, “honey, dinner is served”. They always would come back and would tell this epic narrative—a lot of it which was probably untrue—to be able to showcase this journey and this experience they went down.

So a lot of people love the structure of the narrative of the hero’s journey. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it was something that was established by the mythologist Joseph Campbell, who’s the preeminent scholar on mythology who taught for 35 years at Sarah Lawrence University in the United States. And he studied all the epic narratives of human history, whether it was the Buddha or the Odyssey, and he found that there was a trend, and the trend and the process of this narrative construct—that is so deeply satisfying that it was later used to creative the likes of Star Wars—is a hero, which could be yourself as an individual, your product, your team, the state of the world, your business—but we’re going to use an individual for this example. So the hero has a call to action, and that call to action could be tossing and turning sleepless nights as he’s working at his corporate job feeling like he’s not able to push forward his team’s agenda of creating innovation in their company, and they’re constantly feeling like they’re hitting a road block. And this inner voice, his instinct, is telling him, “I cannot stay in this status quo. I need to do something to transform my own life but also put into action this vision I have” And so he leaves the comforts of home, of the status quo, and there’s temptation to return (bills piling up, his parents saying ‘Are you crazy? What are you doing this for?’, whatever the case may be). But he pushes through the threshold, and he goes through the place of death and abyss, where there’s no possibility to return – either you’ve totally burned a bridge with your boss or you just got the patent that makes it feel like full steam ahead with your product. And then you go through the period of transformation, which is really the period of true change and that’s the process (in startup terms) where you’re building your company, you’re testing, you’re iterating, and you’re taking this vision and bringing it to life. But the most beautiful part of the hero’s journey as the narrative construct, is that at the end of the journey, the hero has to go back to the world and share what he or she has learnedAnd that’s the opportunity that people have on Demo Day. Yea, they have an opportunity to get partnership, to get investment, but they also have the opportunity to share how something that started as a vision—as a hypothesis—has been tested, and now is getting traction and really living and working and transforming whatever industry the person is in.

So the hero’s journey is this foundational narrative construct that I often use with startups within the Startupbootcamp ecosystem, to be able to enable people to harness a narrative structure that carries the story of their business through and really translates and hits home to the audience in the most powerful and impactful way.