Narratives and stories are not the same thing. All stories are narratives, but not all narratives are stories.
Think of a story as a moment in time. And think of a narrative as a movement over time. Or think of stories as people and narratives as rivers.
A story has three ingredients with three parts.
3 Ingredients of a Story
3 Parts of a Story
- Something happens to a core character that disrupts harmony.
- In a struggle to restore harmony, the core character reaches a point in which he or she must make an ultimate bet or take an ultimate risk.
- Harmony is restored through the character’s triumph or tragedy.
Unlike a story, which has closure, a narrative describes events and experiences over time. Narratives are endless.
Moby Dick, On The Road and The Great Gatsby are stories within the narrative of American Literature. The lives of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela are stories along the narrative of freedom.
So, looking at your company or yourself, are you building a narrative or story?
The answer is you need to build both. You need stories that inject purpose and meaning into a narrative that is shared between you and those you serve — one that’s bigger than both of you.
(Note: This post was inspired by a talk John Hagel gave at SXSW in 2013. Which I continue to ponder to this day.)
Image by Nicholas Hall on Flickr
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