2012: Our opportunity to unveil the Hero within ourselves!


Didier Marlier

January 21, 2012

From Disruption to Engagement

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“Strategy is not about guessing the future but preparing for whatever it will be!”. Many of you have heard our friend and partner Nick van Heck claim this. And preparing our organizations, start with preparing ourselves, as leaders and human beings.

Many of you know the fascination that the work of Joseph Campbell has on me. Campbell was a university professor in the USA and his life long quest has been around the myths of heroism. One of his most astonishing findings was the profound similarities between all of them throughout the world and moment in mankind’s history. In his view, human beings seemed to agree, regardless of their social, religious or time positions, on what traits a hero has and the Journey he/she has to go through in order to reach such a level of wisdom. Campbell’s work was so compelling that George Lucas, when working on the scenario of Star Wars, invited him to co-write the work… Lucas’ intuition was right: everybody in the world could connect with the movie and it became a worldwide success. Many movies are constructed today around the scenario of Campbell.

Campbell had identified seventeen “initiation steps” on the way for an ordinary human to reveal to herself and the world her new condition. A few years ago, I met with a man of great depth, David Pearl, who had adapted this research to us, business leaders. David showed me how much there was in common between the Monomyth (Campbell’s universal myth) and the choices, the hopes and disappointments, the friends and betrayal, the  fears and courage needed by us, business leaders, to behave and be our best everyday of the year.

2012 promises to be an unusual year with some deep questioning. It probably will be, to most of us, a unique opportunity to unveil the Hero within ourselves. Here are some of the main steps awaiting us in the year.

  • The Call to Adventure: Some people feel much happier shying away or avoiding it throughout their lives. And they have good reasons for it. The Call to Adventure does not look attractive: it is challenging and sometimes terrifying. It is a Disruption. Often, the Hero will start by rejecting it until, little by little, the Call becomes intellectually compelling and emotionally engaging. 2012 can be seen as another crisis, maybe the Depression we had avoided in 2008 and push us into defensive attitudes. It can also be seen as the opportunity to reinvent capitalism, our business model or ourselves. Taking it positively, in a Value Creation attitude, the Call to Adventure is the first thing we, as leaders, need to take in 2012. To build on Campbell’s metaphor, Clint Eastwood seems to be an inspired follower in most of his movies. In “Million $ Baby”, Frank is a bitter coach. The cross he is carrying is the guilt of having sent a young boxer to death (as he was unprepared for a fight) and Frank refused to throw the towel. His chance to redeem appears under the very unsettling (to him!) traits of Maggie, a young woman determined to be trained by him (who strongly opposes to the idea of women boxing). After refusing four times, Frank will take the Call and place all his determination in succeeding. What does the 2012 Call to Adventure represent to you? And to your team? To your organization? Scanning the periphery, remaining curious, facing and not refusing it will be determining for success in 2012.


  • The Crossing of the Threshold: is one of the most painful steps for successful leaders. It is about letting go of our winning formula. It means accepting with humility and vulnerability to see ourselves being challenged in what made us who we are.  What does 2012 challenge most profoundly in you, as a leader? What will it question and shake in your organization/business model? (we are talking here about one of our favorite themes: Challenging orthodoxies).  The mythical movie “Matrix” symbolizes it very well: When Morpheus, the mentor of Neo, offers him the choice to go back to the “business as usual” world (the blue pill) or to take the rough road towards re-inventing himself (the red pill)… This is a critical moment for us leaders, taking that decision is truly burning bridges behind us. There is no way back and we need to succeed…


  • The Fall and Recovery: 2012 will not be a “Sunday afternoon picnic with the family” excursion. It will be a year of ups and downs, some dramatic… So is the Hero’s Journey: Fall and Recovery are part of it. There is no improvement without Fall. Doctors working with addicted people tell us that there is no serious and sustainable healing process without relapses. They are part of the cure. Where will you find the allies, who will you talk to and share your doubts when such unavoidable moments will take place. It is lonely, sometimes very lonely, at the top. Learning to trust others, to approach them, sharing our doubts will be a great learning for some of us
  • Meeting the Nemesis: A financial crisis saw the demise of my family’s fortune when I was young. It also ended up taking my father’s life and dramatically changed the ones of my mother, my sisters and myself. Ever since, I had lived with that permanent and irrational belief that one day, another crisis could come and have the same impact on my own wife and children. Guess how I felt in August 2008? Fortunately, my wife took the Call and encouraged me to take this as the opportunity to get rid of this shadow, this dark nightmare. With her help I did… The Nemesis is not our enemy. It does not even know we exist. It has its own destiny and trajectory, which sometimes crosses ours. We create this nightmare deep inside of us. The strongest personalities usually have been accompanied in moments of their lives, by a Nemesis. And they chose to confront it in due time. Meeting our Nemesis is our unique chance to grow in life, not only as business leaders but as husbands, wives, mothers or fathers too. Johnny Cash meets his Nemesis in the wonderful movie dedicated to his career, “Walk the line”. He is finally meeting the manager who could help him and his team make a real career. They have hardly started to sing and his worst nightmare comes true: the man doesn’t like his music and rejects them… See Cash’s reaction. A piece of Anthology…

  • Accessing our Deep Intent: It is a profound determination and resolve that gets some people to take the Call, accept to let go of their winning formula, fall and stand up again and confront their Nemesis… This profound determination is rooted deep in the emotional part of ourselves. It is that “faith which moves mountains”. I do the work I do because I still remember the people from the closed mine pits coming to beg for work at my grandfather’s door when I was a child. My determination, as a professional, is to do my best to get people to move, re-invent themselves instead of falling victims to the next disruption… The beginning of the Gladiator movie shows a soldier (General Maximus) accessing his Deep Intent (be reunited with his wife and son) before going to the battlefield. What is your Deep Intent? What is your organization’s Relevance? Make sure both can be accessed by your (Deep Intent) and your people (Relevance) prior to the 2012 battle starts…

I hope this metaphor will contribute to support you all to take the challenges that 2012 will offer. Let us wish all a Happy Year and move on!

Paris this week. Have a good end of break! Didier


  1. Eduardo Bom Angelo

    I remember clearly how your class about G. Campbell impacted me positevely at FDC in Sao Paulo few years ago.
    Je vous salue!
    Eduardo Bom Angelo
    @ this moment in Lima, Peru

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you Eduardo… I remember the privilege I had to work with you and another 13 Brazilian based CEO’s. Happy it was profitable to you too. Abraço

  2. Bob Devlin

    Great post Didier. This myth as metaphor for life is hugely powerful. The more we stay awake to this journey as we live it, the more alive we are, the greater meaning our lives have and the greater impact we will have. I shared this with a group of US army scientisis and engineers this past week and it took them to a place of deep reflection. Thanks for sharing and keeping this alive!! Bob

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you Bob, rather fascinating (although not surprising) that militaries can identify with this too. Take care


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