We talked about the shape of stories, discussed the raw materials of corporate narratives, and looked at how to develop different stories for different audiences.

We discussed where Act I should begin and how to develop drama in Act II. And we dove into the details of how to create memorable scenes. Now, let’s bring it on home. In fact, that’s what Act III is all about.

Act III is where the story pays off—our protagonist metaphorically “returns home.” We arrive at a familiar place or situation but better off than before. Only tragedies truly “end.” Unless we’re telling a cautionary Enron-esque tale, our narratives should “resolve” like a good melody, leaving our audiences satisfied.

Which brings me to Crispin Glover.

You may remember him from such films as Back to the Future, or his more oddball and iconoclastic moments since then. What you may not know is that he took umbrage with the scripted ending of BTTF.

 

When Marty McFly returns home to 1985, his parents are nicely dressed, fresh from the tennis courts. His siblings look fancier, too. Biff is their servant, and he has just finished waxing Marty’s new truck. Glover felt the moral of the story was that money equals happiness and that the focus should have been on something less materialistic.

It’s difficult to know what was originally scripted and how much of Glover’s argument actually affected what was shot, but the point is this: Act IIIs are important. As storytellers, we must be hyperaware of the note on which we’re ending.

A story focused only on year-over-year bottom-line growth may resonate with shareholders, but will employees and customers respond as favorably? Or would they be more excited with an ending focused on a unified, supportive culture or a socially responsible commitment to communities? And, most importantly, what actions must a company take in order to make this ending an authentic reality?

Crafting an organizational narrative is not only about chronicling the past; it’s about creating the kind of future that people want to be part of. Maybe that future is already palpable, or maybe it’s something organizations have to deliberately create.

The best endings leave an audience satisfied . . . but still wanting more. I’ll call this: setting up the sequel.

For argument’s sake, let’s agree that everything is more awesome at the end of BTTF than it was at the beginning (at least on a superficial level). Marty is about to jump in that sweet truck with Jennifer and head off to the lake. The audience is experiencing a feeling of peace after a long, arduous journey through time. But if we actually followed Marty and Jennifer as they ride off into the sunset, we’d soon get bored.

Instead, Doc Brown shows up and commandeers them for another adventure. The DeLorean lifts into the air and shoots into space, and that tease of a title card tells us “To Be Continued . . . ” We get sad when good things end, but with the promise of more excitement, we’ll absolutely buy a ticket for the sequel.

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The End?

In terms of corporate storytelling, a great founding narrative might lead perfectly into a growth narrative, which might segue into an exciting innovation narrative. But each story in and of itself should resolve with an arrow pointing to the future. In fact, if you remember my advice in Starting Before Your Founding Date, we always craft our stories with this maxim in mind: Start With the Future and Work Back.

Most clients have deep respect for the past, but their anniversary must celebrate a forward-looking organization. For example, every chapter in our Lockheed Martin publication culminates with a cliffhanger. They’ve successfully risen to meet a particular era’s challenge head-on, and now a new, destabilizing force is rearing its head. However, the cumulative effect of seeing all these achievements is that once we arrive at the final chapter, we’re left with a sense of adventure and faith that the organization will always rise to the occasion.

Knowing what came before gives people the intellectual touchpoints and emotional fire-in-the-belly to charge forward wisely and passionately. If your company has been around 10, 25, 50 or 100 years, chances are good that there’s another adventure right around the corner. If that adventure is out of tune with the company’s stated values, it’s up to leaders, employees and customers to help create the more heroic future that will instill pride and loyalty for years to come.

So here we go again, folks, and buckle up. Because where we’re going, we don’t need roads.


Catch up on all the blogs in Adam’s storytelling series here:

  1. Shaping Your Story
  2. Relying on Truths vs. Fictions
  3. Delivering a Story for Each Audience
  4. Starting Before Your Founding Date
  5. Finding Compelling Drama in Challenge and Conflict
  6. Crafting Details and Scenes, not Dates and Statistics
  7. Setting Up the Sequel, Writing Your Future