Transformation is powerful magic.
We are drawn to stories about change. And that’s why it pays to learn how to tell a good transformation story.
Perry Marshall knows this. In his book 80/20 Sales & Marketing, he tells how he was an underperforming salesman who banged his head against the phone, trying to cold call his way into success, believing that “massive action” would solve all his problems.
But then his destiny was transformed when he learned the “80/20” Pareto Principle from his mentor, and discovered a whole new world of possibilities. A world where he could earn far more money with much less time.
Every culture is filled with transformation stories. And some of the most famous stories we watch every year at this season are about…
Transformation – like one of my favorites, It’s A Wonderful Life.
As you probably know, George Bailey’s transformation comes when he receives a vision of what life would be like without him.
Near the end of the film, as he races down the snowy streets of his quaint little town, George is a changed man – he has learned the “attitude of gratitude” as he realizes that he is indeed “the richest man in Bedford Falls.”
But to me, the most powerful scene of transformation isn’t at the end of the story.
Instead, it’s the explosive moment in the middle when his attitude whips around full circle and he falls in love. (It’s also the most romantic scene in all of cinematic history, IMHO. Forget dreck like “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Those old timers knew how to let a scene simmer.)
Let’s peer a little closer and see how Frank Capra and company crafted this scene of change.
Meet George Bailey, a dreamer. He dreams of shaking the dust of his little town from his feet and trekking over lost roads and grand highways. Sailing on steamships. Building skyscrapers that tower over the cities of ordinary men and women.
He’s a stewing cauldron of dreams and ambitions, just waiting to burst forth and shower the world with his go-getter spirit … but there’s a cork in his kettle:
See, his father died and so it fell on his shoulders to keep the family business going while his brother is in college. But his brother meets and marries a beautiful young woman, and father-in-pop has big plans for the young man’s career.
So George is stuck. Doing the right thing. While his kid brother has a beautiful dame and a bright career to look forward to.
While George can look forward to the common dust of Bedford Falls.
So the night of his brother’s homecoming he takes a frustrated stroll and runs into Mary Hatch … a girl from his brother’s class who also just finished college. (A few years earlier, he and Mary had shared a romantic night filled with wet clothes, a close brush with nudity, and an even closer brush with a kiss.)
George is all storm clouds this night, but Mary is sunshine and starlight. She’s so excited to see George after their magical night years before. She even plays the song they had been listening to and proudly displays a whimsical drawing that commemorates that evening.
When he sees the drawing, George turns up his nose. “Some joke, huh?” Mary looks crestfallen.
And when she tells him she returned home because she was homesick, he sneers. “Homesick? For Bedford Falls?” Clearly only idiots could feel that way.
A fight soon erupts. He storms off.
He only returns to the house moments later because he forgot his hat.
It’s at that moment that the phone rings. Ringing with George’s destiny … and the seeds of his transformation.
The man on the phone is Sam Wainright, the rich kid whose father is building a plastic factory. He’s calling Mary, but he ropes George into the call too.
(Mary’s nosy mother is on the “extension” so George and Mary have to share the old timey phone between them.)
Sam is calling with an offer: to get Mary and George in on “the ground floor” of the plastics factory.
And that does it, that promise of middle class conventionality. It sets George off – his cork is about to blow.
He grabs Mary by the arms and spits out all his frustration, shaking her as he thunders:
“Now you listen to me — I don’t want any plastics and I don’t want any ground floors! And I don’t want to ever get married to anyone, do you understand that? I want to do what I want to do! And you’re … and you’re …”
But he can’t continue. Mary is spilling tears, and George suddenly shifts from yelling and shaking to embracing and kissing.
“Oh, Mary, Mary,” he says. To which she can only say, “George, George.”
George transforms from cold and disdainful … to angry and fiery … to mushy and passionate, all in the space of a few seconds. He’s a changed man, as he discovers that what he wants most in the world isn’t waiting on a distant shore, but standing right in front of him. (Though it will require a few more years and the efforts of a bumbling angel to make him accept it for good).
Life is a series of transformations. Becoming a student. A grownup. A father, a mother.
It’s all around us, and that’s why it’s such a powerful theme.
Tap into the theme of Transformation to create a story that sticks with your prospects. When you do, they’ll begin to imagine themselves experiencing the change you can offer.
What is your favorite transformation story?
Let me know in the comments below. And as always,
Stay Tuned For Next Week …
In which the best laid plans “gang aft agley”