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The secret to Disney's storytelling formula


After conquering their challenges characters are “reborn” with greater knowledge and power than before. They teamed up with friends to save others, and in the process saved themselves.

What this means for you: Take stock of what you accomplished. Enjoy it.


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The secret to Disney's storytelling formula

The secret to Disney's storytelling formula


Key Ideas

Brace Yourself For The Sequel

Every good story deserves a sequel. Keep swimming!

What this means for you: You’ve learned from your failures, now learn from your successes — and build off them. Get ready for the next adventure and watch the cycle repeat itself.


After conquering their challenges characters are “reborn” with greater knowledge and power than before. They teamed up with friends to save others, and in the process saved themselves.

What this means for you: Take stock of what you accomplished. Enjoy it.

Save The Day With Friends

After all the lessons learned in the journey, characters can finally face their challenges. But sometimes even all the preparations aren’t enough and someone they help earlier in their journey unexpectedly comes to save the day.

What it means for you: Never pass up an opportunity to help someone else. You never know when they will return the favor.

Question Long-Held Assumptions

The beginning of the movie a character has assumptions about himself and his world but to face his challenge he has to question them and change his ways.

What this means for you: Don't expect different results, if you don't change a thing.

Prepare For Your Comeback

If a character has been out of the fight for a while, they have to retrain.

What this means for you: Determine what weaknesses you have to work on and fix it.

Recruit A Partner To Fly High

Characters often try to go it alone in the beginning but later they realize they need help.

What this means for you: Everyone has a weakness. To succeed, you may have to find someone who is very different from you but can complement your strengths.

Rafiki - The Lion King

Rafiki - The Lion King

The past can hurt. But from the way I see it, you can either run from it, or… learn from it.”

Learn From Failure

Even when a character retreats there comes a point where they have to face their problem. 

What this means for you: Inspect why you failed and write down the cause. Then remove that obstacle.

Know When To Let It Go

Characters suffer setbacks but they don't always rush back into battle. Sometimes retreating, regrouping and reevaluating what they are capable of the is best route.

What this means for you: Failure is inevitable. Use the opportunity to reflect.

Expect The Unexpected

Just when the character thinks they were on the path to victory, they realize something has gone completely array.

What this means for you: It’s always going to be harder than you think. Don’t get discouraged by setbacks — try to view them as long-term opportunities.

Choose Wisely. Wishes are limited

Once a character accepts the challenge, there might be a temptation to do too much or divert their attention to something else. That ends up causing complications.

What this means for you: Remember why you set off on this journey in the first place and don’t get sidetracked.

Get Over Your Reluctance

A character’s adventure has the promise of reward at the end, but also of danger. There is the fear of the unknown and the hero often tries to shy away from facing the challenge.

What this means for you: if you don’t face your fears and tackle your challenges you can’t better your life.

Define The Problem

Soon after we are introduced to the world of the story, we realize that there is trouble in paradise. At first, you might not be able to pinpoint the problem, you just have a general sense that something is off.

What this means for you: There can be no adventure if you don’t have something to overcome. Define and write down what problem you are trying to solve.

Reevaluate The World

The first thing any Disney movie does is introduce you to the “rules” of their world. However fantastical the world, once you see how it works, you accept it as the natural order of things.

What this means for you: You learn to accept the status quo when you live in your world day in and day out. So pretend you are seeing your environment as the opening credits of a film. View it with fresh eyes and identify the rules, dangers and opportunities in it.

The hero’s journey

Movies succeed using roughly the same narrative arc over and over again because we can all relate. If you look at Disney and Pixar movies, they are variations on this same timeless theme, sometimes called the hero’s journey.

You have a hero, a conflict, failed attempts to solve the problem, back-up plans, a breakthrough, a solution that works and finally a conclusion. By the end, we are back where we started, but transformed with new powers and knowledge.


Steve Jobs

“The most powerful person in the world is the story teller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of ..."

Steve Jobs

Storytelling Is Everything

Whether it's telling inspiring stories to customers or delivering a presentation to executives and the board of directors, being a good storyteller helps us make the leap from Good to Great.

Product managers and designers can benefit tremendously by great storytelling, and so can anyone who is working with product design.


Instead of selling products, we need to focus on their purpose and what good it does for the end-user. Focus on the need of the customer and design the product around it.

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Three-Act storytelling structure

Three-Act storytelling structure

One of the oldest and most straightforward storytelling formulas:

  • Setup: Set the scene and introduce the character(s)
  • Confrontation or “Rising action” : Present a p...

Five-Act storytelling structure

Also known as Freytag’s Pyramid:

  • Exposition: Introduce important background information
  • Rising action: Tell a series of events to build up to the climax
  • Climax: Turn the story around (usually the most exciting part of the story)
  • Falling action: Continue the action from the climax
  • Dénouement: Ending the story with a resolution.

Before – After – Bridge storytelling formula

  • Before: Describe the world with Problem A.
  • After: Imagine what it’d be like having Problem A solved.
  • Bridge: Here’s how to get there.

Set the stage of a problem that your target audience is likely to experience ( a problem that your company solves). Describe a world where that problem didn’t exist. Explain how to get there or present the solution (i.e. your product or service).

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Life is a competition

We are all in competition, even if we prefer to discount it. Our achievements are only evident relative to others. You swam further, dance better, or got more Facebook Likes. 

We ...

You’re judged by your actions

We are judged by what we can do for others. For instance, saving children or removing a tumor.  Social reward is just a network effect. Reward comes down mostly to the number of people you impact.

However, we judge ourselves differently. We judge ourselves by our thoughts. “I’m a good person”. “I’m better than this.” 

Fairness is self-interest

We think the judgements of our bosses and parents and politicians are unfair and silly because they don't agree with us. And we believe they should agree with us.

However, most of them are just trying to do their best, under different circumstances to your own.

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