Product Management and the Hero’s Journey

I recently read Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. Considered a pivotal piece of work for anyone interested in storytelling, Part I of the book outlines the “Hero’s Journey”, which is somewhat of a framework that you can see in almost any movie, story or myth.

I thought it would be interesting to think about how product managers could use this framework and these principles to create better products.

The basic premise of the hero’s journey is simple: a hero is called on an adventure that causes them to leave their unknown world and enter that of a scary, unknown world in order to achieve some goal. Usually with the help of a supernatural aid or mentor, the hero will face a series of challenges that will help them get closer and closer to their goal (“The Ultimate Boon”), eventually achieving it.

As the hero returns back to their known world (with the boon), their job is to share what they have learnt with everyone else and become almost godlike in their wisdom.

There are countless resources that show how the hero’s journey crops up in almost any movie. As an example a google search for “hero’s journey” “finding nemo” returns over 23,000 results. Go ahead and search the first movie that comes to mind… you’ll probably find an analysis of that movie and the hero’s journey.

As I was reading the book I couldn’t help but think that this structure could be applied to the work I do in Product. Here is my attempt to use the hero’s journey as inspiration for product management.

The user of your product is the hero

Every product has a user. As a product manager your job is to understand the needs of your users and then create the best experience in order to help them achieve what it is they need to do (whether they know what that is or not).

Think of your user as a hero who is going into the world with a goal in mind. What can you do to make them successful in their quest?

Campbell mentions that the adventure for the hero usually appeals to some deep, unrealised desire. I see this as an important reminder that you must solve an intrinsic problem for your user, not just something at surface level.

Related to this…

Your role is that of the supernatural aid or mentor

You are Obi-Wan Kenobi. Your user is Luke Skywalker. Mentor them and guide them to achieving greatness.

The only way that you are going to achieve this is by truly understanding and empathising with their needs / desires and being one step ahead, predicting future challenges they may come up against.

A good product manager doesn’t learn this from sitting at their desk – talk to your customers, run UX research and surveys, track opinions on social media… All of this stuff will help you play a hidden role of mentor, taking this knowledge and building a better product for your user.

As your user interacts with your product, you want them to feel like there is a hidden force helping them succeed.

The hero achieves the Ultimate Boon

The goal of the hero is to reach the Ultimate Boon. This can be a material object or something less tangible.

If you work in e-Commerce you could see this as the user making a booking.

I would encourage you to think more about the intrinsic value you can create for your user.

For example if you work in travel, don’t just focus on helping your user book a hotel. Instead, work out what this unlocks for them – time with their family, social creds with their kids for booking the cool hotel with the massive pool, a relaxing escape with their partner away from their day-to-day lives, etc.

Kill the “Road of Trials”

Prior to receiving the boon, the user usually undergoes a “road of trials” that test them and prove their worthiness. Not to sound judgemental but your product probably has a series of frictions that make it harder for your user to achieve their goal. Complicated forms, poor search experiences, confusing info on a product detail page.

Be the supernatural aid and kill these frictions for your hero.

The hero’s return and opportunity for referral

The hero succeeds, returns home and the town celebrates. Campbell mentions that the hero is responsible for sharing their wisdom with the rest of the world, in order to help them all achieve greatness.

This is the perfect opportunity for you to drive a referral by making it easy for the hero to share their success and help others become heroes in their own journeys.

The channel, timing and incentive for the user to refer are all important and will be specific for your product. This is where truly understanding the needs and desires of your user will help set you up for success. Test, test, test, … different ways of doing this in order to find the optimum method.

So that’s it… the hero’s journey meets product management.

I hope you’ve found this useful and wish you luck in your journey to become a heroic product manager!


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