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The Hero's Journey As A Strategy

An astute reader of A Spy’s Guide To Strategy wrote, “I've known about the Hero’s Journey concept for years as a storytelling formula but never thought of it as a strategy!”

The “Hero’s Journey” was famously described by Joseph Campbell. He said it’s in stories. It’s in myths. It’s even in religious sacraments and psychological development. He also called it the “monomyth.”

The connection to strategy is this: Both the hero’s journey and strategy revolve around conflict.

In A Spy’s Guide To Strategy, we use “games” to describe interactions. Interactions which are conflict are Zero-Sum Games. Zero-Sum Games are win-lose games. Zero-Sum Games are where you can only win what the other side loses. And vice versa. They’re conflict.

Zero-Sum Games are at the center of strategy and the hero’s journey, but they’re not the whole story. In fact, they’re not even the most important part of the story.

More important are Positive-Sum Games. Positive-Sum Games are win-win games. Where both sides are better off at the end than they were at the beginning.

Positive-Sum Games are important for two reasons:

1. Positive-Sum Games are the best way to win a Zero-Sum Game, and

2. Positive-Sum Games are the reason to play a Zero-Sum Game.

People play Zero-Sum Games in order to win people, places or things. People, places or things that will then become part of a Positive-Sum Game. Which is also the Endgame.

Every Zero-Sum Game is fought to win the people who will be in a future Positive-Sum Game. Or to win a place where the future Positive-Sum Game will take place. Or to win the things that will be exchanged in a future Positive-Sum Game.

Reasoning backward, the best way to win a Zero-Sum Game is another Positive-Sum Game. It’s pooling resources. It’s working with others. It’s building an alliance.

We play Positive-Sum Games to win Zero-Sum Games to get the people, places and things for another Positive-Sum Game.

It looks like this:

A hero in Joseph Campbell’s framework takes the same path. They build an alliance. They fight a decisive battle. They win what they need for their Endgame, and are changed along the way.

It looks like this:

In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker builds an alliance with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo to rescue Princess Leia, who becomes part of their alliance. The join with the rest of the Rebel Alliance to fight the evil Empire. After they win, they have everything they need for their Endgame. Until the Empire attacks again.

It looks like this:

Positive-Sum Game to win a Zero-Sum Game of conflict. To get the people, places and things for a Positive-Sum Endgame.

That’s the hero’s journey of Star Wars.

As Joseph Campbell pointed out, it’s the framework for the hero’s journey of storytelling.

It’s also a framework for building strategies.

As the astute reader said, the hero’s journey is the same as a strategy.

------- A Spy’s Guide To Strategy shows how this framework helps you understand other people's strategies and build your own. Because a strategy doesn’t work without imagination, reason and action.

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