Here’s A Wild Idea: Can You Have An Emotional Bond With A Change?

Over the last 5 years or so, a fascinating new genre of entertainment has popped into existence – ‘Live play Dungeons and Dragons’. A game that used to be relegated to people’s living rooms (or basements if you’re more like the Stranger Things kids) – has now become prime entertainment.

Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) is an interesting game – full of strategy, luck and role play that results in one ultimate goal: the collaborative telling of a fun story. It’s a similar concept to the classic ‘choose your own adventure’ novels – except with much greater character freedom, and you’re choosing along with a bunch of friends.

Unfortunately, it was also a game that was associated with the archetypical ‘nerd’ – and was generally stigmatised accordingly.

So what changed? – How did this game come into new light and fame?

Well.. a bunch of voiceover artists started livestreaming their play sessions. These were professionals who started truly embodying their characters – collaboratively telling the story of the adventure.

And people started watching.

Then more groups popped up. Improv actors, comedians, scriptwriters, authors – all professionals at their creative craft started using DnD as a vehicle for amazing, emotion filled stories. And the genre grew – multi-year long podcasts, YouTube channels, online subscription services, touring live shows and entire graphic novels. Fans created wikis, chronicling these character’s life stories, backgrounds and even tallies of numbers of dice rolled.

Quite a resurgence for a game that was released in 1974.

But this was no longer just a game – it had surpassed that. Instead it had become a vehicle for organic storytelling. A story where the audience gets to see the characters grow over time. Growth that comes from both the good and bad decisions made by the player – and this creates a sense of intimacy and attachment.

It’s hard to imagine, but both the cast and audience members (myself included here) often laugh and cry with the characters. (…In my defence, the tears were after a long sleepless flight to LA. Although I couldn’t help but chuckle as I stood in a long queue at LAX holding back tears as I listened to the emotional conclusion of a year-long adventure podcast).

It’s that emotional bond that’s had me thinking this week. Across my career I’ve found that each change I’ve worked on has a personality.

What if we embraced that?

If you were to personify your current change initiative – what would its character be like?

Could you then use that characterisation to create an emotional bond from those that are ultimately impacted by it?

Something To Ponder: Compelling Others Forward

Along with this recent surge in DnD based entertainment has come a newly minted cohort of DnD based celebrities. One such celebrity is a man who is a master at creating compelling adventures: Brennan Lee Mulligan. (To get a sense for Brennan’s hilarious intensity – I recommend his ‘Message from the Skype CEO’ skit. It’s brilliantly funny, be careful where you watch it though – Language warning.)

When asked about how he propels his players forward without ever forcing them – he notes that every player needs two things: trajectory and momentum. Trajectory is what the character wants to achieve, and momentum is things to do to get closer to that character’s goals.

It’s rather simple.

And yet almost every floundering change initiative I’ve seen has suffered in one of those two areas. Either their trajectory is terribly vague and there’s a lack of consensus on what they’re trying to achieve. Or team momentum has fallen prey to fear, resistance and debilitating bureaucracy.

Does your change have clear trajectory and momentum?