“Close your eyes, I’m going to tell you a story about a foreign country,” were the first words out of Ken Lombard‘s mouth. 

In his book Tell to Win, then CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment Peter Guber recounts a meeting with basketball superstar Magic Johnson and his business partner, Ken Lombard. Magic and Ken were pitching Peter on a business proposition to build movie theaters in a new area. 

Yesterday, we looked at the first two elements of a successful story, challenge and struggle. Today, we turn our attention to the third element: resolution and the importance of surprise.

“Now, this is a land with a strong customer base, a great location and qualified investors.  You know how to build theaters in Europe, Asia, and South America, right?” Ken continued.

Of course Peter did. He was the CEO of Sony and was responsible for the enormous Loews theater circuit.

“What if I told you a promised land exists that already speaks English, craves movies, has plenty of available real estate, and no competition?”

Ken paused.

“This promised land is six miles from here.”

“Ahha!”  Peter cried.  He got it.    

Magic and Ken were proposing building a theater in South Central Los Angeles, an urban part of Los Angeles.  

Peter and Sony entered into an agreement with Magic and Ken to make this happen. In its first four weeks of operation, the Magic Johnson Theater was amongst the top five grossing theaters in the entire Sony chain. Magic and Ken went on to build additional Magic Johnson theaters in New York, Atlanta, Cleveland, and Houston.  

Surprise is the key to any successful story, Peter tells us. As storytellers, our goal is the “Ahha!”  To jolt our listeners with an eye-opening resolution that calls THEM to action.  

When we utilize the element of surprise, our listeners experience the same charge of emotion, purpose and meaning we experienced when we thought of our original idea.  


Reflection: Why is surprise so important in great stories?

Action:  The next time I watch a movie, identify the surprise or ahha moment.

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