Mr. Gilroy says, "A reversal is just anything that's a surprise. It's a way of keeping the audience interested." Karl Iglesias provides another take in his book. He writes, "A reversal is a change from one situation to its opposite, like going from rich to poor, happy to sad..." Karl cites a classic example of a reversal in Casablanca:
When Louis says, "Round up the usual suspects," after Rick has shot Major Strasser. It reverses our expectation that Louis will arrest him.Reversals keep your story fresh and the audience guessing.
Perhaps you're asking, How can these concepts be used in business? The New Yorker essay and Mr. Gilroy's work as a script doctor provides the clue. A studio has a project. Someone has written a script, but it's not working as expected, so we have a reversal. Mr. Gilroy comes in and fixes the script, the movie becomes a hit. Another reversal.
The same often happens in business. We see a project fail, there's a reversal of fortune, and business consultants are brought in to save the project.
Just like in stories, reversals can be a positive in business. How can a reversal be positive for your business? If you consistently deliver services, your customers may become like jaded moviegoers. Nothing ever goes wrong (shipments are always on time, the products always work) so customers start to take you for granted. If you were to have a problem with one of your products for a customer, this gives you the opportunity to spring to action, reverse the problem, and make a lasting impression on your customer. Unlike stories, ratcheting up reversals to greater heights of excitement will likely send your customers looking for a new director.
There is one other key point. Managers should build options into their products from the ground up so they have the flexibility to respond to reversals. Screenwriting provides another concept managers can learn from: You have to plant seeds early in the story so they pay off later. Let’s consider Casablanca again. In the opening scene, Louis has a line that refers to “rounding up twice the usual number of suspects.” This line helps set up, then pay off the reversal at the end of the movie.
The same is true with the letters of transit that allow Laszlo and and Ilsa to fly away and escape. The letters are talked about early in the movie. If the letters had been pulled from thin air at the end of the movie, it would have felt like an act of the gods and cheated the audience.
Business executives should understand this concept, because when a challenge occurs, those companies that have planted options and can improv will be able to move their companies forward through reversals.