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heroes journey

Hero’s Journey describes a general model for the narratives of myths based on research done by the mythologist Joseph Campbell (1949). Hero’s Journey contains an archetypical sequence of events widely used in storytelling, where the hero begins at home and reluctantly travels out into unknown territory with new rules, enemies, allies and opportunities. The hero must then go through a journey of great hardship in order to be worthy of winning the treasure before heading back home for the reward.

A key aspect of Hero’s Journey is the understanding that an outer journey of discovery also reflects an inner development of the traveler / the student / the team (See model)


The model is suitable for understanding and planning the dynamics in a course, particularly those with learning outcomes related to process understanding, innovation management and entrepreneurship.

Teaching innovation and entrepreneurship contains learning processes, which are quite similar to the steps described in the Hero’s Journey. Particularly the analogy that the students are on a journey of discovery into unknown territory illustrates the mindset that the students need to have when engaging themselves in an innovation process. By applying the dramaturgical elements that Hero’s Journey model contains, you can clarify and structure the learning process for the students of your innovation course and also address and handle the frustrations and confusions that students must experience.

Hero’s Journey also works well in combination with other process models or approaches from the toolbox.

In the following phases, the steps of both the inner and outer journey are described of an innovation process based on the Hero’s Journey.


In the initial phases of an I&E course the students / teams are presented to their case challenge and the external client (i.e. the provider of the case challenge). A case challenge that the students can only solve by applying their own specific disciplinary knowledge, skills and competencies. In many I&E courses is can be an advantage to keep the case challenge and possibly the external client ‘secret’ until the first day of the course, as it creates excitement and anticipation for the course. The students will thus also remain open in their approach, as they have no opportunity to go into solution mode before the course starts.

The goal is that the students understand that in the coming period of time (the duration of the course) working with the case challenge will be the framework for their teaching and learning.

This phase covers the steps Ordinary World and Call to adventure in the outer journey, and Limited awareness of Problems until Increased awareness of need for change in the inner journey. (See model)


The students should at this stage prepare for the upcoming innovation challenge. In some cases the students might be skeptical or even hostile towards the project – e.g. if the external client or the specific challenge aren’t what they expected, or if the students have difficulty seeing how they with their specific disciplinary background can contribute to solving the case challenge.

In this phase it is important that the students discuss the case both in the team, but also with the teacher / facilitator and if possible also with the external client. The teacher must put into perspective how the case challenge relates to the theoretical content of the course and also support the students in seeing how their disciplinary backgrounds can be put into play. The external client can give more information about the context of the case challenge and their expectations to the students. It is important that the external client make it apparent that the students’ work matters and that it could have a possible impact on the client organization.

The goal of this phase is that the students manage to commit to the case challenge – both individually and as a team. They accept the challenge and are ready to start the innovation process.

This phase covers the steps of the outer journey: Refusal of the quest and the Acceptance and the task. In the inner journey of development the students are moving from Fear and Resistance to change to Overcoming Fear. (See model)


In this phase the students are to accept and commit to solving the I&E challenge. It is important that the course responsible teacher introduces the course’s learning principles, articulates expectations and explains the students the I&E process that they are to go through. At this point you can arrange a special kick-off for the course in the form of a social event or similar.

The goal is that students must accept and understand the course framework, course content, division of roles, innovation challenge, and especially the teaching methods and requirements for individual and group participation in the I&E process.

This phase covers Crossing the Threshold of the outer journey and Committing to Change in the inner journey. (See model)


In this phase the students engage in research and idea development. They will possibly be introduced to a number of external practitioners or experts that can help them in navigating the case challenge and related disciplinary themes. In addition they can also be introduced to panel and feedback sessions where their preliminary results and ideas can get feedback.

The students should basically obtain knowledge for navigating in the ecosystem of their case challenge. And this knowledge will quality their future decisions and development of the final concept solution.

The phase New Rules covers the steps Test, Allies, Enemies and Approach in the student’s outer journey, and the steps Experimenting with New Conditions and Preparing for Major Change in the inner journey (See model)


The students have now gotten an overview of the different directions and opportunities in their case challenge. They have generated a great amount of ideas for solutions, but there is no coherence and the belief that the case challenge can be solved satisfactorily for the team and the external client is often declining at this point.

In this phase the students will often realize that they have had different perceptions of the case and the potential of each of the ideas. Here arises the need to ‘kill your darlings’ which can be particularly difficult to do for newly established teams. Students who are not used to innovation or project-oriented processes often find this phase very frustrating.

The students must now develop their ideas into more holistic and coherent concepts. This means that some tough decisions have to be made and the students need to retrieve data from the initial analysis for this argumentation. When the ends meet and the students can make sense of the project the mood changes and the students’ enthusiasm for the new concept will spark new energy in the teams.

This phase covers the steps of the outer journey: Death and Rebirth and Reward, which most often occur midway through the process and reflects an inner journey from Big Change with Feeling of Life and Death and Accepting consequences of new life (See model).


The student teams have decided on the content of their concept and now they need to qualify it. That means that all loose ends or possible flaws have to be examined and qualified. At this point the students are often short of time and they’ll need to focus on those concept elements that will potentially provide the most value and impact when preparing the upcoming presentation and handover to the external client / teacher. The strong arguments should be sought out, supported and developed.

The goal is that students have zoomed in on a coherent concept with strong arguments and documentation.

The Road Back phase covers the steps for the student’s inner journey: New Challenge and Rededication (See model).


The purpose of this phase is not just to hand over the final concept for a solution to the external client, but also to get the external client to accept and understand the same discoveries that the students / teams have had. The external client is the new hero that should ensure the further life of the concept. Therefore the final presentation is not just a sales pitch, but a communication exercise with focus on getting the external client to say yes to a potential next step.

The students must therefore work determinedly with the final presentation, which can be done for example by using visual materials, prototypes, handouts, happenings, props, set design, etc.

The final phase covers the steps Resurrection and Return with Elixir in the outer journey and Final Attempt(s) and Mastery of the inner journey (See model)




Joseph Campbell: The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949)

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