Wednesday, August 10, 2011

N-of-8 helps us experience the same events with a fresh perspective

Now here is another use of N-of-8 story development.  And that is to see how customers might experience the same events with fresh perspective.

When I think of seeing things from a different viewpoint, I’m reminded of Big, the 1988 comedy-drama film starring Tom Hanks as a boy who makes a wish to be big to a magical fortune-telling machine, and is then aged to adulthood overnight.

The story was written by Gary Ross, with Justin Schindler and Anne Spielberg, and directed by Penny Marshall.

After being humiliated attempting to impress an older teenage girl at a carnival, Josh Baskin goes to a fortune-telling machine called Zoltar Speaks, and wishes that he were big.

The next morning, he sees a face in the mirror he does not recognize.

Overnight, he has become a 30-year-old man.

With the help of his 13-year-old best friend, Billy, Josh rents a cheap room in New York City and gets a lowly data-entry job at the MacMillan Toy Company.

He meets the company's owner, MacMillan, checking out the products at the FAO Schwarz toy store, and impresses him with his childlike enthusiasm. When MacMillan says he comes to the store because you can’t experience the customers in a marketing report, Josh replies, “What’s a marketing report?”  To which, MacMillan says, “Exactly.”

They end up playing a duet together on a big foot-operated electronic keyboard.  They perform the classic movie scene literally jumping to play “Heart and Soul” and “Chopsticks.” This earns Josh a promotion to a dream job for a kid: testing toys all day long and getting paid for it.

As it turns out, the job at the toy manufacturer is perfect for him, as his insight into what toys kids will like greatly impresses senior management, and leads to an executive position.  One of the best lines is during a meeting to review a new toy design.  After a passionate product management slide presentation, Josh says simply, “I don’t get it.”  It’s a phrase we all fear from our management and our customers.  But if we allow it, and embrace it as in the N-of-8 process, we can learn from it – and actually create breakthroughs.

As the story continues, Josh attracts the attention of the beautiful, ambitious Susan, a fellow toy executive. A romance begins to develop, much to the annoyance of her current boyfriend, Paul.

As Josh becomes more and more entwined in his adult life, much to the annoyance of Billy, he soon begins to wish for the carefree life of a child again and becomes determined to find the Zoltar Speaks machine to reverse the wish. He eventually finds it, and wishes to be a kid again. Susan gives him one last kiss, on the forehead, before Josh walks out of her car, and as he does so, turns back into a kid again. He goes to his house and he and his mother share a happy moment.

(There was rumored to be an alternate ending shows young Josh sitting in his classroom at school when he turns around to notice a young female classmate whom he recognizes as Susan.)

Big was received with almost unanimous critical acclaim. Based on 51 reviews collected by the film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 96% of critics gave the film a positive review. The New York Times praised the performances, saying the film “features believable young teen-age mannerisms from the two real boys in its cast, and this only makes Mr. Hanks' funny, flawless impression that much more adorable.”

Big was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Tom Hanks) and Best Writing, Original Screenplay.

The film is number 23 on Bravo’s "100 Funniest Movies." In 2000, it was ranked 42 in the American Film Institute's 100 Years…100 Laughs list. In 2008, AFI named it as number 10 in the fantasy genre.

This is why I like Big as an example of good N-of-8 techniques.  During a facilitated group for N-of-8 story development, I might ask the participants to summarize a story in just a few of sentences. Here are some sample synopses of Big:
  • “A young boy makes a wish at a fairground machine to be big. He wakes up the following morning to find that his wish has been granted and his body has grown older over night. But he is still the same 12-year-old kid on the inside. Now he must learn how to cope with the unfamiliar world of grown ups including getting a job, and having his first romantic encounter with a woman. What will he find out about this strange world?”
  • “A young boy named Josh Baskin, wishes one day from an old machine to be big, despite the fact that he does not believe it is going to work. He is very surprised, therefore, to find himself in the next day – big. Now he looks like a 30-year-old guy, but he still behaves like a 12-year-old boy. He decides to go with his best friend to New York, to find the machine that can fix his wish. In New York he gets a job in a toy company, and develop a relationship. Currently, he must learn to get used to the adults world he always wanted to be part of. Would he still like to remain an adult?”
  • “When a boy wishes to be big at a magic wish machine, he wakes up the next morning and finds himself in an adult body literally overnight.”
  • “Ah, those were the days. All of us have done it. Wished we were older, so we could do more. Well, in the movie, a child's wish to become big comes true. Josh is a boy who is not tall enough to ride a roller coaster at a theme park. Humiliated in front of a girl he likes, he goes to a "fortune telling" machine, and wishes he could be bigger. He wakes up the next day as a man. When everyone he knows throws him out of their lives, except his best friend, he goes into the adult world. Just by knowing what kids want in toys, he becomes a success in a toy company. He also manages to get a girl wanting him (even though he is completely oblivious to it). All he wants is be himself again.”
So, I’ve used the example of Big to show how N-of-8 story development can reveal a fresh perspective on product features we may take for granted.  In addition, you can benefit from the discipline of summarizing and simplifying your brand story.

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