Posts Tagged ‘character arc’


Corporate directors and managers can learn something from this summer’s popcorn movies, specifically: everybody arcs.

In writer jargon, “everybody arcs” means that, in a good story, each character changes. The story circumstances transform him or her, perhaps a little, perhaps a lot. The ultimate character arc is probably “caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly.” You’ve seen this theme in everything from Cinderella to the Gospels to The Matrix.

Part of the reason The Avengers dominated worldwide box office is because the characters arc. The Avengers gather as incompatible super-egos that gradually become a team. They start as rivals, but learn respect for each other due to their sacrifices for a common cause. According to Box Office Mojo, the Avengers has earned $615 million against a budget of $220 million.

On the flip side, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a tedious, lifeless movie because Abe hates vampires at the start and he hates vampires at the end. No character arc. In five weeks of release, Abe earned $36 million against a budget of $69 million — a flop. Even if explosions deafen us and special effects dazzle our eyes, if a story has no character learning and evolving, on some level we feel “nothing’s happening.”

How does this relate to managing in a corporate environment?

Poor Abe looks ashamed…. whether of his movie, or his dead-end department.

Sadly, too many managers hope that the people reporting to them don’t arc. Focused on daily emergencies, the manager doesn’t think about helping people grow and has no plan for them to do so. The attitude seems to be, “My team is trained to do what I want. Let’s freeze them like this for years!”

But humans don’t work that way. And employees especially don’t “work” that way.

When you consider it personally, who has inspired you to give more? The boss who treasures her own convenience over yours, and tries to hold you in stasis, forever filling the same role? Or the boss who genuinely cares about you and treats your current relationship as one stop on a curve of continuous development?

Well, duh.

Helping your team arc calls for the best in a supervisor. It takes both a long-term view, and caring about your employee’s well-being as much as your own. You have to be creative enough to occasionally reassess where the company’s good and the employee’s good overlap.

“I know you want more responsibility, but I just want a TPS cover sheet! Mmkay?”

Once, a young lady reported to me in a largely administrative role. In our periodic talks about her development, she confided that outside of the office, she was interested in voiceover work. This was an area she wanted to grow in. She had even taken an expensive class. Unfortunately, on the surface that had nothing to do with the company’s technical and policy mission. After some thought, though, I put her in charge of the company’s audio podcast – which she rocked. This simple move was a win for everybody: I had a happy employee, the employee had more job satisfaction, the company got a fresh slant in its social media tactics, and customers got information they wanted in a format they liked.

This simple example demonstrates that when you align employees with what they prefer to work on, magic can happen. Giving everyone his or her favorite assignment isn’t always possible. But it’s possible more often than you might think. It’s worth actively trying to engineer it.

The more you try to hold employees “as is,” the more they want to escape. Your team becomes the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter of departments: despite lots of sound and fury and action, on important levels, “nothing’s happening.”

If you care enough about your team to hold them loosely, encouraging them to grow from strength to strength, more people in the company want to work for you. When they know you are helping them grow, they perform for you like super heroes.

Mixing metaphors between movies and corporations, let’s assume you’re the director. Will you force your actors through a checklist of imposed plot points? Or will you let this story’s challenges transform them, even if that means they might outgrow their current role?

Before you choose, consider the lessons from this summer’s popcorn movies. In a successful story, everybody arcs.

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