Why Steve Jobs introduced the villain before the hero

1: The year was 2003.  Steve Jobs was about to reinvent the music industry.

“He persuaded millions of music lovers that it was a good idea to pay for something many of them were getting for free on peer-to-peer file-sharing programs,” writes Carmine Gallo in his terrific book The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch on and Others Don’t.

How did Steve do it?

By using the classic narrative technique of introducing the villains, Napster and Kazaa, which at the time were sites offering free downloads.

Steve outlined the “dark side” of these sites:

  -Unreliable downloads

  -Unreliable quality [“A lot of these songs are encoded by seven-year-olds and they don’t do a great job.”]

  -No previews

  -No album art

  -It’s stealing [“It’s best not to mess with Karma.”]

Steve then demonstrated how the typical user when interfacing with the villain would have to guess among the 50 or 60 files of the same song to download.  

“The download is slow as molasses, and craps out half way through,” Steve stated.

The process could take up to 15-minutes: “What this means is you’ll spend an hour at that rate and you’ll get four songs; four songs that cost you four bucks from Apple and you calculate that you are working for under minimum wage.”

Steve challenged the idea that consumers would object to paying 99 cents a song.

“How much is 99 cents?  How many of you had a Starbucks latte this morning?  Three bucks.  That’s three songs.  How many lattes got sold across the U.S. this morning?  A lot.  99 cents is pretty affordable.”

2: Time to introduce the hero.  

Steve then outlined the benefits of using the new iTunes music store:

  -Fast, reliable downloads

  -Pristine encoding

  -Previews of every song

  -Album cover art

  -Good Karma

“In 10 minutes Jobs had completely transformed the mindset of those who didn’t believe in paying 99 cents, let alone any price, for the songs they were already downloading,” Carmine writes.  “He also convinced skeptical analysts that the service would provide a strong enough benefit to encourage music lovers to spend 99 cents a song and make money for Apple.”

3: Storytelling is a critical 21st-century skill for business leaders.  This week we will be doing a deep dive into the key elements of how to become a great storyteller.

Lesson #1: When facing a skeptical audience, begin by painting a picture of the villain before introducing our product or service as the conquering hero.  The villain/hero narrative drives home the problem our idea solves.

“Simple can be harder than complex,” Steve once said.  “You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.  But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

More tomorrow.

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Reflection: What villain could I introduce the next time I am attempting to persuade a person or audience?

Action:  Look for an opportunity to experiment with the villain / hero framework today.

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