Big Picture

How To Shape Your Origin Story In A Winning Way

All great stories follow a certain form. Learn to tell your story so others want to hear more.

What’s your story? Knowing how to shape your story to compel engagement and inspire interest in you is a critical skill to develop and hone. A good story about who you are and how you got here will help you gain “followership” among those that you are charged with leading and will cultivate your influence among your customers – all important underpinnings for successfully growing your business.

Let me share my origin story using a format that you can follow to forge your own origin story.

The Beginning

Every story needs a strong start. Be sure to begin yours with something that can grab attention and pull people in.

My origin story starts with the fact that I grew-up in a working class mill town, where nearly everyone was expected to work at one of the local mills. My particular upbringing was essentially the same as that of my contemporaries with one notable exception – my mother wanted something better for me than working in the felt mill where my father dedicated 36 years of his life and claimed 33 years of dirty sweaty work from his father before him.

My mother’s message was quite simple:

Get an education so you can get out of town.

It was that message that serves as the foundation on which my 30-plus year consulting career is built upon. I continue to educate myself and be stimulated by pondering big ideas. But, the thirst for education wasn’t the only thing that inspired me to be who I am today.

The Antagonist

Every origin story needs a “villain” of some ilk. Heroes must overcome some challenge that stands between them and their goal. Without an antagonist there is no drama (and all great stories have drama baked right in to them).

Remarkably, my antagonist came in the form of a management consultant. Who would have thought I would become one myself?

This consultant, who will remain nameless (for obvious reasons), confronted me very early in my professional life. He was advising the company who gave me my first professional job. The clash came because he was preaching concepts that were directly opposed to what I had just learned in college.

When I asked probing questions and offered a different point of view, he would immediately shut me down and suggest that I was too inexperienced to have an informed opinion. In fact, within a few weeks of working on the team he was leading, he asked my boss to remove from the team because he felt I lacked the knowledge needed to be a strong contributor.

The Trusted Advisor

Every hero’s journey has guides and spirits that befriend us all along the way.

Fortunately, my boss and mentor Doc Schilke, befriended me. He was a bit too wise to follow the suggestions made by the consultant. In fact, Doc confided in me that he thought I was doing a remarkable job at keeping the consultant honest.

This encouragement was just what I needed to stay the course. To be sure, I had my doubts about my long-term prospects at the company given the onslaught of ridicule that was heaped upon me by this this “supposed” expert consultant, a person 20 years my senior.

The Magic

It’s undeniable the best origin stories have a little bit of magic in them. Magic keeps the audience interested. Most of the time, it’s the hero’s trusted advisor that gives them the magic needed to overcome the protagonist.

My story is no exception. The magic came in the form of my boss (trusted advisor) encouraging me to write an article describing my theory for solving the business problem that we work working on with the consultant. I did and it was published by a major periodical at the time.

I didn’t realize it immediately, but, I was about to learn firsthand about the power of the pen.

The Resolution

Every great origin story needs an ending that ties all the early parts of the story together.

Here’s the resolution of my origin story:

Many leaders in my company read my article when it came. Not long after, they began to question the merits of what the consultant was attempting to “sell” us. Within a few months of publication he was gone.

As essential, the recognition that this article received in the marketplace was so tremendous that it truly launched my career as a thought leader and management consultant. It led to all kinds of opportunities to speak, write more on the topic and, eventually, it became the centerpiece of my first book.

Here I am, 6 books and over 500 articles later, and I am still amazed at how developing the ability to demystify a complex idea in writing and to stir a response in those reading it can be such an indispensable super power.

Indeed, this “magic” continues to propel my business to this day.

To close, I hope that this origin story format is of value to you as you craft your story. Please be sure to reach-out or comment. This is an important topic that deserves our attention and, I believe through thoughtful conversation origin storytelling can make a difference for all of us.


Written by James Kerr.

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James Kerr
James M. Kerr, founder at Indispensable Consulting, is a long-time management consultant, vision maker and leadership coach. For nearly 30 years, he has helped his clients re-imagine the way work is organized and performed. His latest book, Indispensable: Build and Lead A Company Customers Can’t Live Without is his 6th business title. Kerr is an expert in leadership, strategy, organizational design and cultural transformation. James Kerr is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.