Toy Story 3: What We Can Learn From a Great Story Pt. 1 of 3

Donald Miller

Today I’ll launch a three-part series about the movie Toy Story 3. Yes, the movie was that good.

It’s rare a story comes along in which the elements are as perfectly clear as they are in this film. The movie is graphically impressive, to be sure, but what really shines is the story itself, and in this movie, the story has been chiseled down to the basic foundational elements, elements that, amazingly, too many screenwriters ignore.

The reason I’m excited about this series is because the elements of a great story are also the elements of a great life. And when those elements are clearly defined, it’s hard for a story to go wrong.

If you’re leading or managing a team, I’m betting you can learn more from the movie Toy Story 3 than you can from a dozen books on business.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know the story. Andy is heading off to college, and the toys are trying to navigate a difficult transition. They might get stored in the attic, or they might get donated to a local daycare center, but what they really want is to be reunited with Andy and to be played with, as was their created purpose. Thus the adventure ensues.

A great story is simply this: A character that wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.

Again, the genius of the movie Toy Story 3 is that it offers clarity to each of these elements. It’s true in stories and it’s true in life. When we know exactly what we want, and exactly what opposes us, life doesn’t feel muddled or unclear. And if a team knows exactly what they are trying to accomplish, and exactly what opposes them, they are more likely to engage.

One of the primary qualities of a good story, and for that matter a good life, is clarity. Clarity clarity clarity.

So my question to you is this: Are the element of your personal story clear? Do you know what you want, and do you know what opposes you?

If you lead a team, is it perfectly clear to each member what it is you are trying to accomplish, and what it is that opposes that ambition?

In your next team meeting, pull out a white board and write down the ambition. Then ask the team what opposes that ambition. Circle the opposition you can actually do something about, and chalk the rest up to chance (opposition that is outside your control lends great excitement to the adventure.) and see how much more engaged your team becomes. Why? Because you’ve launched them into a story.

You can do this as an individual too. Clearly define your ambition, and clearly define what you have to overcome, and then go for it. The stuff that makes a great story also makes a great life.

Tomorrow, I’ll get more specific about how some lessons from the movie Toy Story 3 apply to our lives.

Related: Million Miles, Living a Better Story Seminar

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.

  • Pingback: Road Trip Nerds « Jamie Words()

  • Pingback: Unleashing Your (Toy) Story | Thomas Mark Zuniga()

  • Hey Donald,
    My name is Sam McKee and I’m church planter and an executive coach in the Portland area. I love your story stuff. Our church name is Epikos (the greek word for epic). I’m working with a corporate team this week on becoming conflict-competent and I’m totally quoting this blog here. Excellent, practical and inspiring stuff. Thank you for sharing your stream of consciousness before publishing it!