What follows are insights on how narrative is evolving in business and culture. And how you can harness its power for your company, cause or career.
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
- When You’re Struggling to Get the Word Out About What You Do
- Why It’s Time to Align Your Stories with Your Narrative
You can work with also-ran people in boring organizations peddling average “solutions” in intrusive ways.
Or you can work with purpose-driven people in remarkable organizations that do valuable jobs in recognizable ways. And would be missed if they were gone.
Think back to a time when you were dating.
You essentially had three options for getting a date:
- Approach someone directly
- Find a mutual friend or acquaintance and arrange an introduction
- Attract the other person to you
#1 is direct sales.
#2 is relationship sales.
#3 is marketing.
It doesn’t matter if you’re public or private, for-profit or nonprofit. Your organization needs all three.
“I’m not sure anyone has a calling.” — Seth Godin
Years ago, in reading the late Thomas Stanley‘s best-seller, The Millionaire Mind, I was surprised to learn that when most millionaire’s found the thing — job, business, etc. — that made them a millionaire, it wasn’t love at first site. In fact, many didn’t have a “passion” for it.
However, as demand for their business grew, as they began to see the impact of their work, the passion and calling emerged.
“Finding your calling” is a story you tell yourself. And far too many have accepted this story without considering other data points (like Dr. Stanley’s).
My advice is don’t look for a “calling.” Find ways to serve others in impactful, profitable ways. Make that your story.
Your calling — actually, let’s call it your mission or purpose — is somewhere in there.
Ever wondered why Steve Jobs was so hard on those who worked for him? Listen to him tell this story from his childhood:
It seems this rock-polishing metaphor drove him to be the grit that polished his teams’ results.
As I heard Jobs tell this story, it helped me see that, maybe, he was serving a greater purpose, rather than merely being a jerk.
That’s the power of a story. It can lift you out of one worldview and transport you into another.
What about you? Do you have story from your past that guides your work?
This is one that continues to guide me.
Put This Into Practice Right Now
Spend the remainder of the day jotting down recurring stories from your past that guide you. Then, write these stories out so that you can retell them at a moment’s notice. If only to yourself.