What is a Hero?

Anti-Hero by Richard Wilson, a Director of Osca, is one of my most favourite books that I’ve read some years back (although unfortunately it appears you can no longer download it as a PDF). If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you do so (again unfortunately only online). Below is a four minute video giving a quick overview of the book.

Expanding Our Meaning

After reading the book though, I almost wish Richard had entitled it something else. Why? Because we still need heroes today. It’s just that the type of heroes we need are not the same kind of heroes that we had as yesterday. The meaning of what they were has changed, expanded, and become something more, just like how the meaning of everything else is changing as well.

To explain what I mean, here’s a quote from the book.

That’s why we must expand what it means to be a hero and a leader.

Richard Wilson, Anti-Hero

If you go to any website on leadership and organizational change (i.e. Harvard Business Review), they will reiterate over and over again that the words leader and leadership are being reframed and redefined today becoming something much more meaningful than what they used to be in the past. And yet no one is saying we should stop using these words and start using words like anti-leader and anti-leadership instead, even though the meaning of leader and leadership seem to be the opposite of what they used to be.

Expanding Our Selves

In fact, I would even say that by understanding what a true hero is, we can see how transformative learning is an integral aspect of being a hero. A perfect example of this is Joseph Campbell’s work on the Hero’s Journey, the Monomyth, that is a narrative of transformation that many cultures have used throughout history.

Actually if you look at the process of the Hero’s Journey, you’ll see that it embodies a radical paradigm shift that a person goes through—a sort of “U turn” in their life—that Richard mentions is necessary in his video overview above. Even more so, if you compare this to Otto Scharmer’s U Theory which embodies making a transformational U-turn, it mirrors it quite closely as well, describing it as a presencing “journey”.

So all said and done, it’s not new words (i.e anti-hero) that we need today but new meanings, like everything else (i.e. leadership, management, etc). In fact, even the meaning of creativity itself is being expanded, becoming so much more than it was before. And I think these “journeys” that we go through encapsulate this process of social creativity.

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