09. April, 2021

The Bonnie Situation

By Lars Kruse

The Bonnie Situation

This is the bloody but ultimately edifying tale about “The Bonnie Situation”; It’s a great metaphor for what consultancy is all about - solving problems. You’ll be introduced to Mr. Wolf - or just ‘Winston’ for those on first name terms - and you will see why he is to be considered a role model for any consultant - and any customer.

Way of the wolf

In-bound marketing and story telling

This is the the second piece in the In-bound marketing series. In the first blog in the series I gave an introduction to the concept and methodology of in-bound marketing and promised to come up with some examples on how we played it out in real life, in the company I co-founded, and grew to 50 people in three countries before I sold it.

In in-bound marketing the goal is to strengthen your brand. Storytelling and especially metaphors and similes are a great instrument for exactly that. This particular story "The Bonnie Situation" and the interpretation fits a company who deals in selling services - as opposed to prodcuts. It may at first seem to address the potential customers. But the matter of the fact is that we used it to set the ambitions of our own employees.

We moulded a world, a parallel vocabulary of personas and terms, which became the foundation of a community; Senior employees got to become wolves. Aspirants gots to occasionally experience wolf moments. Young talents and juniors got to be wolf puppies. Potential hires look at a potential employer, who formed a sister - and brother hood of professionalism in wich the references to Pulp Fiction has part of the everyday vocabulary.

The reference to “Mr. Wolf” plays almost like a philosophy; It captures the essence of what consultancy is - at it’s core - and it reveals exactly what a customer should expect from a consultant.

A Wolf is skilled far above average and have that iconic I solve problems attitude. A Wolf will thread a path and find a way.

A Wolf deals in Bonnie Situations Wolves may not have encountered every unique “Bonnie Situation” before, but a wolf oozes experience, and over time a Wolf have solved so many different Bonnie Situations that you can tell without a doubt that solving problems is genuinely their business.

A Wolf turn the “The lone wolf” metaphor on its head. A wolf is not a lone predators. Surely wolves are all capable of working alone, but they bring their entire network into play; they are effectively coupled in a pack where they exploit each others strengths - to a sum that reveals no weaknesses.

A Wolf is generous It’s means taking the time and energy to praise someone’s gourmet coffee, even if they are really there to clean up someone’s brain. Giving their best even when it’s more than what was expected. Wolves under-commit and over-deliver.

A Wolf excel especially when the customer is already competent and ambitious on their own The customer wouldn’t normally go and hire a Wolf unless the problem is of such a nature that an on-site expert is really needed. Wolves don’t do the work for the customers, they do it with the customers.

The Bonnie Situation

You are about to read is a retelling of a chapter in Quentin Tarantino’s movie Pulp Fiction - ranked #7 on IMDB’s list of all-time best movies. After the short recap you’ll continue into the interpretation of how the storyline and characters metaphorically maps to customers, consultants, consumers, problems, employees, network relations etc. You’ll be surprised by the wisdom embedded in Tarantino’s cult movie.

Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega are sitting in front of a car. On the back seat is the young man Marvin. This has been the worst day in Marvin’s life, a life which is about to come to an end real soon.

Big Kahuna BurgerHamburger! The corner stone of any nutritious breakfast - Click image to revisit the scene

Just before this car ride, Jules and Vincent had gone to an apartment in Los Angeles where four young boys were having their breakfast (Big Kahuna Burgers). The purpose of their visit was to collect a briefcase of something very precious, something which these young men had neglected to deliver to their business partner, Mr. Marcellus Wallace. Marcellus is Vincent and Jules’s boss - hence the visit.

Now Vincent and Jules have successfully collected Marcellus’ briefcase and in the process they have also killed three of the four young boys - the fourth being Marvin who was in on the job as an insider.

One of the three boys that Vincent and Jules shot in the apartment actually managed to empty his gun at the two - but all six bullets missed. Jules claims it was a miracle. Vincent calls it a coincidence - now they are having a deranged conversation on the subject of divine intervention.

The conversation between Jules and Vincent is leading nowhere, Vincent turns towards Marvin who sits in the back seat of the ‘74 Chevy Nova:

Inside the 74 Chevy NovaMarvin, what do you make of all this?
Vincent: Marvin, what do you make of all this?
Marvin: Man!!! I don’t even have an opinion!
Vincent: Well, you gotta have an opinion! I mean, do you think that God came down from heaven and stopped those bullets…
  — Vincent’s gun goes off: BANG! —

Mostly as a habit, Jules is holding a gun in his hand. Suddenly the gun goes off and now Marvin’s brain is all over the ‘74 Chevy Nova.

Both Jules and Vincent start to panic. They have to get the car off the road, PRONTO! But, despite the seriousness of the situation, they sidetrack to a discussion whether or not there was or wasn’t a bump in the road.

Jules makes a phone call to his friend, Jimmie, who lives nearby. They have to use his garage for a couple of hours.

In the meantime, Jimmie isn’t especially thrilled about the fact that his house has now become a storage facility for corpses. His wife Bonnie will be home from work in one and a half hours and he will surely get divorced if she finds a dead body in her house. Both Vincent and Jules understand the severity of The Bonnie Situation, it’s just that they haven’t got a clue on how to solve it.

Jimmie clearly doesn’t think that Jules and Vincent have the situation under control. Jules calls their boss, Marcellus, and fills him in on the problem. Marcellus starts to question and analyze the situation, which only makes Jules panic even more:

Marcellus by the pool...and wait for the Wolf which will be coming directly - click the picture to recap the scene.
Marcellus: All I’m doing is contemplating the ifs
Jules: I don’t wanna hear no motherfucking ifs. All I wanna hear from your as is: “You ain’t got no problems Jules - I’m on the motherfucker - Go back in there and chill them niggers out and wait for the cavalry which will be coming directly”.
Marcellus: You ain’t got no problems Jules - I’m on the motherfucker - Go back in there and chill them niggers out and wait for the Wolf which will be coming directly.
Jules: …Are you sending the wolf?
Marcellus: Do you feel better, motherfucker?
Jules: Shit negro! That’s all you had to say!

Marcellus then calls Mr. Wolf and let him in on the details. Mr. Wolf ends the conversation with “It’s 30 minutes away, I’ll be there in ten.” Nine minutes and twenty seconds later, the door bell rings at Jimmie’s house. Jimmie opens the door. Outside is Mr. Wolf. He presents himself: “I’m Winston Wolf. I solve problems”.

Mr. Wolf introI'm Winston Wolf. I solve problems

They now have 40 minutes left before Bonnie comes home and finds the headless Marvin and the blood soaked ‘74 Chevy Nova in the garage. 40 minutes to solve “The Bonnie Situation”. But as Mr. Wolf puts it: “Which, if you do what I say, when I say it, should be plenty.” So he takes the lead and lays out a fairly detailed plan on how to steer clear of the Bonnie Situation. Jimmie provides the cleaning products. Jules is first reluctant to let Mr. Wolf take the lead, but soon his self-preservation instinct get’s the better of him and he rolls up his sleeves too.

Mr. wolf tastes Jimmis coffeeHmmm!

Eventually, the car gets cleaned up and the two unlucky fellows get a good wash by the garden hose. Jimmie finds some of his old clothes they can wear. Quite a bit more casual that what they are used to, but surely good enough.

Along with all this work going on, Mr. Wolf manages to ease Jimmie into a sentiment where he is quite calm and relaxed, despite the fact that Bonnie is probably already on her way home from work. Mr. Wolf drops off the car, with the dead body of Marvin in the trunk at Monster Joe’s Truck and Tow car dismantling site.

Just before he takes off with Monster Joe’s daughter Rachel, Jules and Vincent thank him sincerely.

Vincent and Jules, Thank youMr. Wolf! I just wanna tell you: It's been a real pleasure watching you work!
Jules: Mr. Wolf! I just wanna tell you: It’s been a real pleasure watching you work!
Vincent: Yeah, I agree! Thank you very much, Mr. Wolf!
Mr. Wolf: Call me Winston.

The interpretation

The use of personas makes the abstract very concrete

For a story to be memorable, it needs to hinge on something that's recognizable to the perceiver. In marketing it's a clever trick to define personas. But maybe even more clever it so pick the personas - rather than create them. We're building a vocabulary which enables us to talk about something that interests us. We need the story to stick.

What we do is that instead of inventing new personas, we take existing well-known characters and make them personas - through interpretations. So far I've only be re-telling the story that Tarantino already created. It's really the interpretation of these characters that make up our story.

Pulp Fiction is a comedy. It's humorous and humour is an ingredient that appeals to pathos. But it's also potentially a movie that scare some people off. There's violence, morbid jokes, extensive cursing, politically unquestionable explicit references. Is it too much? The fact that the movie ranks #7 on IMDB's all time greatest list means that it's accredited as good quality by a large majority. And maybe that's a strong enough indicator that it's safe to use a reference?

The Bonnie Situation and the characters in it are great metaphors for what consultancy in the software development business is all about. The interpretation plays as follows:

In the real world of consulting, where our clients are all engaged in software development and have very skilled employees, we work together with customers and facilitate them. This is how we use the characters as personas:

Jules and Vincent: The Customer’s own developers

Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega are the personnel employed by the customer. They are the ones that need consultancy! If one of our customers read this, they might get somewhat disgruntled by that comparison as it appears, at least in the very beginning, that they are doing a rather poor job. But looking back on their course of action after The Bonnie Situation has been resolved, they actually did The Right Thing. They requested help and participated very actively in the problem solving.

Vincent's dance with Miss MiaJack Rabbit Slim's Twist Contest

Both Jules and Vincent have a lot of great and unquestionable qualities and skills within their own specific domains of expertise. In one scene, Vincent is babysitting Marcellus Wallace’s wife - Miss Mia - and she wants to participate in the world famous Jack Rabbit Slim’s Twist Contest So Vincent takes her out dancing which he does in a truly convincing manner. Jules, as it turns out, is actually a very thoughtful man with a deep and profound understanding of what life is all about. On top of that he has excellent communication skills, as he reveals in the delicate situation with Honey Bunny and Pumpkin at the diner.

Ringo and Pumpkin at the dinerChill out Honey Bunny!

They both have their areas in which they really shine.

Like the customer’s personnel, Jules and Vincent are very competent at handling difficult situations on the home court (e.g. picking up the briefcase for Marcellus, remember? That was a very delicate situation they handled very well). But every now and then, even talented people find themselves in a situation they don’t have the means of dealing with, they simply need help from experts.

Why is The Bonnie Situation such an interesting story that Tarantino finds it worth telling? Sure, it’s fascinating to see Mr. Wolf’s charisma and talent laid out in front of you. But the twist of the story, which makes it a good one, is that Jules and Vincent practically do all the actual work themselves. They just needed a guide.

The Bonnie Situation: The Customer’s Problem

Now that we have this perspective on The Bonnie Situation, we can introduce the same term to be a metaphor for The Customer’s Problem. It represents a delicate situation that requires a solution within a limited time and with limited resources. It’s a situation that requires on-site help from an expert. And where not finding a way out is simply not an option.

Jimmie and Bonnie: The consumers

Jimmie and potentially also Bonnie, are being dragged into Vincent and Jules’ business without really wanting to. Sure, Jimmie wants to help his friend Jules with his problem, but he doesn’t want to get divorced doing it.

As he says to the blood soaked Jules when he’s standing in front of him in his own kitchen: “There is nothing you can say that can make me forget that I love my wife! Is there?”

In Jimmie's kitchenThere is nothing you can say that can make me forget that I love my wife! Is there?

Jimmie insists that, even if he is indeed suffering from the problem that Vincent and Jules opposed upon him, he still has no part in it, and therefore he’s only willing to take part in the solution to a very limited extent. He is giving them some leash, but his demands are basically non-negotiable. In other words: Jimmie and Bonnie are the source of all the pressure currently on Jules and Vincent.

It’s like that in the real world too; The only reason for any piece of software to exist is, at the end of the day, to make the intended users happy and there is nothing you can say that can make them forget that.

Marcellus Wallace: The Customer’s management

Marcellus at the pool with Miss MiaYou ain't got no problems Jules - I'm on the motherfucker

Marcellus Wallace is the obvious person Jules can call and expect to get help. He needs to flag this delicate situation to his boss. His own understanding of the situation is that he needs the entire cavalry. Marcellus asks Jules for details about the The Bonnie Situation and, based on his analysis, takes full ownership of the problem and gives Jules what he needs; Not an entire army, but something even better; the Wolf.

Management that behaves like this really does an excellent job. They listen carefully and, without hesitation, acknowledges and takes full ownership of the problem. They organize facilitation of their own people, rather than bringing in the entire cavalry. They own the problems. Do you see the resemblance to your friendly neighbourhood Product Owner? same same.

Winston Wolf: The Consultant

Mr. Wolf represents the consultant. I don’t know for sure how many times Mr. Wolf has been in charge of cleaning the brains out of a ‘74 Chevy Nova, but my guess would be zero. Nevertheless, when Marcellus calls him and fills him in on the situation and gives him the address of Jimmie’s house he replies: “It’s thirty minutes away - I’ll be there in ten”. He gives The Bonnie Situation his full attention and, even though it’s very likely a new situation for him, it resembles the many other situations he has dealt with in his time. He doesn’t hesitate at all. He manages to reflect in action and shows knowledge at an expert level.

When he arrives at Jimmie’s house, we find out that Vincent and Jules are actually both quite competent after all. As we already pointed out, they ended up doing the most of the actual work themselves, despite the fact that they weren’t capable of doing anything until Mr. Wolf arrived. The Wolf doesn’t do the work for the customer, he utilizes the customer’s own personell at and work with the customer.

Mr. Wolf’s professionalism is so radiant that he manages to set the mood in the house to a level where everybody ends up believing that they will eventually make it, even Jimmie is calmed down.

At some point, Jimmie has a one-on-one conversation with Mr. Wolf about the fact that all the sheets and linen he’s letting Vincent and Jules use to cover the insides of the ‘74 Chevy Nova were a wedding present for him and Bonnie from uncle Conrad and aunt Ginny, who have both passed away.

In memory of uncle Conrad and aunt GinnieI like oak myself, that's what I have in my bedroom. How about you Jimmie - You an oak man?
Mr. Wolf: Your uncle Conrad and aunt Ginny, were they millionaires?
Jimmie: No.
Mr. Wolf: Well, your uncle Marcellus is.
Mr. Wolf: And I’m positive that if uncle Conrad and aunt Ginny were here, they would furnish you with a whole bedroom set. Which your uncle Marcellus is more than happy to do.
  — Mr. Wolf pulls out a fat bundle of dollar bills from his pocket —
Mr. Wolf: I like oak myself, that’s what I have in my bedroom. How about you Jimmie - You an oak man?
Jimmi: Oak’s nice!

Again; Mr. Wolf delivers more than what’s expected from him, and by doing so is exactly what builds strong and lasting relationships.

Jimmie, Marcellus, Joe and Rachel: The Personal Network

Let’s recap: Jules and Vincent end up in a bad situation in an unfriendly neighbourhood, he calls his friend Jimmie who lets them use his garage, but only until Bonnie comes home. Jules then calls his boss Marcellus, who calls Winston Wolf. Mr. Wolf instructs Jules and Vincent on how they should work, while at the same time easing up Jimmie by praising his coffee and paying respect to his late uncle Conrad and aunt Ginny. When he needs to get rid of the car, he gets help from Monster Joe, in the end he takes off with Joe’s daughter Rachel, who he presents to Jules and Vincent with the words “This is Monster Joe’s daughter - some day all of this will be hers” - pointing to the huge piles of useless junk cars as if they were made of gold, and with that statement pays respect to both Monster Joe and Rachel in the same sentence.

As you know, The Bonnie Situation ends with Jules and Vincent praising Mr. Wolf for his work. He replies with “Call me Winston.” Now they are on first name with each others. Bonds have been made.

It’s really all about relations between people. Everywhere Mr. Wolf goes he’s either maintaining his relations with people - or making new ones. These relations are his true assets, well, and his skills of course, but they are so obvious.


When you kill the story you weaken the brand

When you create a story you strengthen the brand, when you kill the story you weaken the brand. In our case a few critical internal voices were causing severe splitting with reference to the violence in the movie. The majority of a divided management team ended up being too scared of the consequences and almost overnight we ceased to use this narrative when defining who we were.

In hindsight it turned out that the abrupt end to the narrative caused far bigger problems for us than we could have possibly imagined - the narrative was such a en incorporated part and value of our brand, and with the story being forced to an unconditional stop - a taboo - it meant that we were left without efficient personas, the concrete tangible story started to become abstract and fuzzy. It was the beginning of the end for us.

Today the brand in question doesn't exist anymore - it's gone. The website that originally hosted this story ceased to exist a few month ago. But it's still a good story worth telling - and a scholar example of in-bound marketing used in context of recruitment and retention.

Mr Wolf is a role model!

Winston, now we’re on first name with the guy, should be a role model for any consultant. At the very least, he should be a character that they should strive to understand so that they themselves can learn how to exploit their own abilities and relations, as well as those of others. All this to a degree where it appears untroubled, agile and with a clear gain for all parties involved.

His own presentation of himself is “I’m Winston Wolf. I solve problems.”

If you yourself are a consultant, then our advice is: Meet you customers with that attitude. If you yourself are a customer, that is; someone who uses consultants, then our advice is: Expect that attitude from your consultant.

Follow me on LinkedIn and you will get a notification when I post new stuff. If you are impatient, simply reach out to me - let’s be friends.