Por­tals and Why They Matter

portalTak­ing it to the next level” is cliché. So is the phrase “he/she/it opened a lot of doors for me.” But peo­ple still reach for these phrases regard­less. There’s a rea­son for that.

Both phrases reflect an intu­itive under­stand­ing of tran­si­tions: that there’s always a thresh­old to cross. Bound­aries define an area, envi­ron­ment, or world. Move­ment past bound­aries neces­si­tates move­ment through open­ings in those bound­aries — or though por­tals, if you will.

So where there is change, there are por­tals, or so our sub­con­scious minds expect. But all too often, busi­nesses fail to meet our sub­con­scious expec­ta­tion for portals.

Busi­nesses usu­ally want to tran­si­tion shop­pers from think­ing one way about a prod­uct or ser­vice (price sen­si­tive) to another way of think­ing, typ­i­cally one that ele­vates shared val­ues, big-picture per­for­mance, and total expe­ri­ence above price. The goal is to move shop­pers from an objec­tive, consumer-reports mind­set to an enthusiast’s mind­set.

And yet peo­ple don’t just snap from one state of mind into another; there has to be a tran­si­tion and a por­tal to mark that tran­si­tion. Put plainly: if you’re sell­ing pre­mium prod­ucts or expe­ri­ences, you need to under­stand the power of portals.

Fan­tasy Writ­ers Under­stand Portals

When it comes to por­tals, per­haps the best peo­ple to study are fan­tasy writ­ers, who have always intu­itively sensed the need for por­tals between worlds:

  • C.S. Lewis had his Wardrobe.
  • J.K. Rowl­ing had her Plat­form 9 3/4s,
  • L. Frank Baum had Dorothy ride her twister, and
  • The Wachowski Broth­ers gave Neo his red pill (among other portals).

Enter The Pic­ture Book Pow­er­house of Portals

0142404039But some of the most intense and eas­ily observed stack­ing of por­tals I’ve come across take place in a children’s pic­ture book: Skip­pyjon Jones, by Judy Schachner.

And what fol­lows is my break­down of Por­tal Stack­ing in Skip­pyjon Jones. And to start, let me give you a bit of set-up…

Skip­pyjon Jones is a young Siamese Cat who likes to pre­tend that he’s really some other ani­mal. The story starts with him pre­tend­ing to be a bird, much to his mother’s dis­may. So she sends him to his room for a lit­tle time out, and that’s when ol’ Skip­pyjon begins his trans­for­ma­tion into the great sword-fighting Chi­huahua, El Skip­pito Friskito.  A trans­for­ma­tion involv­ing por­tals galore.

First, Skip­pyjon starts bounc­ing on his bed, with the bounc­ing sym­bol­i­cally equiv­a­lent to flight. Then, dur­ing that flight, Skip­pyjon Jones encoun­ters his first portal:


Lit­er­a­ture is rife with the notion of mir­rors as por­tals. And Skippyjon’s mid­flight glimpse into his mir­ror reveals his hid­den chi­huahua nature. A nature which is ampli­fied through the don­ning of a Lone Ranger style mask by the lit­tle kitty. Skip­pyjon lit­er­ally becomes invested in the identity.

Then we flash down to Skippyjon’s mother and sis­ters watch­ing TV down­stairs, talk­ing about Skippyjon’s time out. But when the book cuts back to Skip­pyjon Jones, we’re not brought back up into the room, but forced to look into his room through — you guessed it — a portal:


We’re out­side see­ing Skip­pyjon objec­tively as a masked kitty rac­ing around his room like a freak. And the half-conscious expec­ta­tion is that when we move inside, we’ll tran­si­tion from out­side to inside in more ways than one, mov­ing from an objec­tive to a sub­jec­tive under­stand­ing, so that we will start to see what Skippyjon/El Skip­pito Friskito sees.

Still, the reader is fur­ther prompted to engage in Skippyjon’s whimsy by yet another por­tal tran­si­tion, this time from the room to the closet:


So we have a double-portal tran­si­tion, from out­side the room to inside, and from inside the well-lit room to inside the dark closet, wherein the mag­i­cal realm of imag­i­na­tion rules, and where Skip­pyjon Jones, the Siamese cat, fully becomes El Skip­pito Friskito, the great sword-fighting Chihuahua.

But still, if Skip­pyjon is to fight some­thing truly mon­strous, he might have to cross yet another por­tal within the imag­i­nary story, before he is to face the mon­ster.  And so it is, as Skip­pito and his band of Chi­huahua friends take a nap, using sleep as the ulti­mate por­tal to dreams…


And that’s when the adven­tures really begin. Until, at the con­clu­sion of Skippyjon’s imag­i­na­tive adven­ture, El Skip­pito is blown back through the portal/closet door, and back to the every­day real­ity of his mother and sis­ters. Por­tal cross­ing in; por­tal cross­ing out.

So why is this impor­tant for the book?

It makes the dif­fer­ence between watch­ing a kit­ten dream some­thing silly, and being emo­tion­ally pulled along with him into his dreams. All those por­tals really help read­ers (of all ages) “get into” the story. Yes the story itself is delight­ful, and yes, the author (Judy Schachner) does a won­der­ful job mak­ing the book a blast to read. But I can’t help but think the bril­liant use of por­tals has more than a lit­tle do with the books crit­i­cal praise and wide­spread pop­u­lar­ity.

And in case you think I’m read­ing too much into this, take a look at the Offi­cial Skip­pyjon Jones Website’s entrance page:

2011-05-22_1231Any­one want to guess what hap­pens when you click to enter?  Go ahead and try it!

So, that’s cool and all, but how can you use it for your busi­ness?  We’ll get into that next week…

But for now, let me just give Judy Schachner’s book a hardy plug for all those with young kids out there.  It won the E.B. White Read Aloud Award because it’s both a blast for the par­ents to read and a delight for kids to lis­ten to. Highly recommended.

And who knows, you might learn some­thing too…

P.S. My men­tor and busi­ness part­ner, Roy H. Williams, teaches an entire course on por­tals. If you’re inter­ested in this kind of stuff, you prob­a­bly ought to check out Wiz­ard Acad­emy at some point. And, yes, as adjunct fac­ulty, my opin­ion on Wiz­ard Acad­emy is heav­ily biased ; )


  1. Nicole Rushin on 05.23.2011

    I have been sucked into the por­tal of John Sex­ton. If I am to return I will be transformed.

  2. Jeff on 05.26.2011


    Glad you liked it. Cool thing is that, on your own blog, you’ve cho­sen a bunch of pic­tures con­tain­ing por­tals to accom­pany var­i­ous posts — so you must have been tuned into the need for them at some level already : )

    Any­way, thanks for the comment.

    - Jeff

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