We all agree that Jaws is the greatest film of all time, right?!
A hit with critics – winning three Oscars – the Steven Spielberg classic was a financial success too, being the first film ever to break the $100 million barrier at the US box office, even spawning the term ‘blockbuster’ in the process (as queues to watch the 1975 summer hit would literally ‘bust the block’).
Yes, the shark never worked properly and wasn’t that realistic, but thanks to clever camera shots implying its existence, three of the greatest performances in movie history and John Williams’ unforgettable music score, our imaginations carry on the drama when the special effects aren’t quite up to scratch.
But what can we learn from this cinematic masterpiece when dealing with change in the workplace? ⚠️Warning, this article does contain spoiler alerts⚠️
Most businesses are in a state of flux, responding to a whole host of internal and external factors; and although we’re actually made to adapt and change, for a number of neurological reasons, most humans don’t like to.
That is one reason around three quarters of change projects fail.
This is where the power of conversation and storytelling can help.
We are told fairytales and fables as children for a reason. Stories are the glue that stick lessons to the brain. That’s why communication professionals should be continually coaching and encouraging not just their leaders, but all teammates, to be great storytellers.
However, what makes an engaging, gripping story?
Well, we’ve agreed Jaws is the greatest story of all time (right?), so what lessons can we learn from the movie to help land our important business messages?
1. Present your protagonists
The best films have a unique, yet relatable personality at its core. Think Batman, Indiana Jones, Mary Poppins... these are the people who keep the plot ticking along and who you buy into. As it turns out, Jaws has three key protagonists (Chief Brody, Matt Hooper and Quint... four if you include the shark), who all show heroic qualities and areas of expertise, whilst each displaying fragility at times too.
Top tip: When delivering business messages, our character doesn’t always have to be an MD or CEO. It could be a colleague, customer and/or other stakeholder, outside of the traditional leadership team. The vital element here is people need to empathise and relate to them. We need our audience to want to follow these people on the next stage of the journey.
2. Create a conflict
Great stories never have a smooth ride. There needs to be an obstacle to overcome. The principal hero of Jaws, Chief Brody, has a big problem – a man-eating shark dining out on swimmers, coupled with a Mayor hellbent on keeping the beaches open. Brody is faced with a number of difficult decisions, he makes mistakes, but ⚠️spoiler alert⚠️ultimately saves the day.
Top tip: The conflict presented by your business doesn’t need to be a current one. If we’re pre-planning and working proactively, why not talk about a business that was in a similar situation who failed to react to changing consumer behaviours and invested in the wrong areas. We need to tell our people of the challenges we’re facing, so they can understand the reasoning of adapting to survive and thrive.
3. Offer a solution
Just when things look as bad as they can get for the people of Amity Island, (poor Alex Kintner and Pippet 😢) along comes Quint, a local fisherman willing and available to kill the shark… but for a $10,000 fee.
Top tip: A resolution is often a mixture of pros and cons, so refrain from trying to paint the perfect picture. People will see straight through this. Outside of the workplace, people deal with their own ups and downs, so they can connect with the challenge of wrestling with conflicting opinions.
4. Let people see themselves
Movies take you to a place where you wonder how you’d react given similar circumstances. “If I was Mayor of ‘Shark City’, would I close the beaches and face the wrath of local business owners?” “If a three-tonne, 25-foot Great White was attacking my boat, would I get into a flimsy looking shark cage and be plunged into the water?” Or most terrifyingly of all: “Would I drink Quint’s moonshine?” By describing a scenario, people will naturally put themselves in it, something Spielberg has built his long and illustrious career on.
Top tip: Businesses should share emotional stories of real people in real situations. By doing so, the audience is more likely to feel compassion and look back at their own experiences, visualising the role they can play going forward on this new journey. These scenarios ignite emotions, such as surprise, sadness or joy, and by heightening emotions we increase our chances of getting messages to stick.
5. And last but not least, keep it simple
Movies have always made use of short, punchy, memorable lines. “The name’s Bond, James Bond.” “Say hello to my little friend!” “I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse." And Jaws itself is made up of great one liners and a simple plot: ⚠️ spoiler alert ⚠️ shark kills swimmers, heroes hunt shark, shark fights back, heroes – minus Quint 😢 – kill shark.
Top tip: In life we are bombarded with multiple messages and jargon-filled communications. But by telling a compelling story, with short words and simple language, we can cut through this noise. Repetition and alliteration are our friends too, but don’t worry that people will see simple wording as a lack of knowledge – it’s the exact opposite. So think less: “I deem a more sizeable vessel as more advantageous in order to circumvent this problematic and complex predicament,” and more: "You're gonna need a bigger boat."
If we all try harder to channel our inner Spielberg, we’ll be better equipped to win the hearts and minds of colleagues during change. However, storytelling is not the only thing we need to consider when communicating change.
Avengers End Game may have just pipped Avatar to the number one grossing film of all time. But Jaws got that box office ball rolling on July 26 1975 when it became the first film to smash through the $100 million barrier in the US. Other box office behemoths followed in the shape of Star Wars, E.T., Jurassic Park and Titanic but Jaws was the first.
Words by marketing & communications specialist Graeme Cook
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