Creating a Cast of Characters

Do you remember the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks? If you saw the movie, you probably remember Wilson, right? Wilson was the volleyball Tom Hanks always talked to. If you haven’t seen the movie, let me catch you up without spoiling anything. Tom Hanks is stranded alone on an island for a long time. If it were not for his volleyball sidekick, Tom Hanks would not have been completely alone. It was a compelling story, even though Tom Hanks was the sole character for most of the movie.

Chances are, you would not be entertained or fulfilled if you were alone on an island. Yet, too often, we put ourselves in Tom Hanks’ position, feverishly rubbing sticks together to start a fire and shouting aloud to no one once we reach our goal.

To avoid being a Castaway, you need to add what Tom Hanks was missing in the movie. You need a cast of characters to build your story. If you want to live your life as a rich, fulfilling story, you need a cast of characters. If you want a thriving workplace where work gets done, and people enjoy being there, you need a cast of characters.

I will tell you now, that I stole this cast of characters idea from Chris Guillebeau. In the back of his book, The Happiness of Pursuit, he lists the cast of characters of the people from the book. When I mentioned that the cast of characters idea could be applied to networking, he recommended I run with it and turn it into a blog post or a book.

I didn’t turn the idea into a book, but I did turn the idea into a podcast.

To get an idea of what a cast of characters is, I want to tell you two stories.

Lee Cockerell explains, At Disney World, they are putting on a show every day. Each day is a new performance and employees have a deliberate role to play in delivering the best performance possible. This is why Disney employees are called cast members. Disney uses a cast of characters to put on a show for their guests. And you can’t put on a show without clearly defined roles for the cast of characters in the show.

Now, let’s look at one more story involving a cast of characters. I mentioned New York Times bestselling author Chris Guillebeau and his book The Happiness of Pursuit. In this book, Chris uses case studies of real life quests people have undertaken. Each quest is individual and unique as the person who is doing it. At the same time, each quest is weaved into the greater whole of the story of the book.

At the end of the book, Guillebeau included a cast of characters appendix. The appendix lists the name of an individual, their quest, as well as the category and status of their quest.

Your career or business life is no different than the story in the book or the show they put on every day at Disney World. You can apply the cast of characters concept to build a better team, build better relationships, and build a better project.

Let’s begin by looking at team building.

You can use this concept for team building. Whether you are a supervisor or a front line worker, you can build your team by viewing the in individuals as a cast of characters in the show you are putting on every day at your organization.

How to apply the cast of characters for team building; Keep a list, perhaps a spreadsheet, of all of your team members. Keep track of the one big thing each team member is working on at work. Also, keep track of the one big thing they are working on in their personal life. Make note of important personal information such as birthdays, work anniversary, the name of spouse and kids, hobbies or any other relevant information, be sure to celebrate birthdays, as well as celebrate work anniversaries in office, if possible, this will lead to improving employee morale and efficiency, as well as create a more friendly environment.

If you work for a small organization, this will build deeper productive relationships with your whole team. Keeping track of how long someone has worked for you with work anniversary gifts can really help build morale. If you work for a large organization, building a cast of characters will set you apart, help you stand out, and move you closer to the promotion you have your eye on. You can also use this approach outside the walls of your office. Build a cast of characters for vendors, suppliers, contractors, or anyone else outside of your organization that plays a role in the work you do.

You can also use the Cast of characters to build relationships.

Networking has been a hot topic for a couple of years now. There are books about networking. There are podcasts about networking. The contemporary view of networking has moved away from handing out business cards and trying to get new business. Modern networking, thankfully, has turned towards adding value, noticing others, building relationships, and connecting with other people.

But what if you viewed networking completely different?

What if you considered you’re a life a story being told in a book or a movie? Wouldn’t you pay more attention to the characters in the story? Wouldn’t you take the time to build depth and meaning for each character?

Just like a good book, when a new character is introduced, you don’t know what role she will pay in your story. Will the person you just met be a hero in your story? Will he introduce you to an idea or person who will change your life? Will he become a friend who brings you joy and comfort? You never know, but by using the cast of characters approach, you can build a network of relationships as you have never known.

How can you apply Cast of Characters to building relationships. Begin by creating a spreadsheet of those closest to you. Add the one big goal or dream you know they are working on. Add other important personal information, such as birthdays and other important dates. Add a section for contact information. When was the last time you were in contact with them?? Did you correspond through email, phone, face to face, or handwritten note? What new information did you gather during the correspondence? With each new conversation or interaction, you can build depth to their profile.

When you meet someone new, add them to your cast of characters spreadsheet. Include how you met them. Don’t leave out new online contacts. You will meet some new people on Twitter or Facebook you will want to include. Perhaps you will want to start a cast of characters list strictly for online contacts.

If you work independent like I do, there is another way to use the cast of characters concept. My work is project based, as I do a series of projects for different people, or different projects for the same people. Either way, it takes a cast of characters to do great project work. You don’t complete projects by yourself. There is a cast of characters who play a part in every project. If you are a freelancer, entrepreneur, coach, or someone else who mostly works by yourself, using the cast of characters concept will help you keep track of progress and who is playing each role in a project. I work out of an office in my garage, but I have a cast of characters who help me get work done.

How to apply; Create a spreadsheet listing everyone who has a role in the project. List their name, role, and include a section for highlights, milestones, and correspondence. This can be critical to help you keep track when you have multiple projects going, which many of us do who work independently.

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Jody Maberry