Every story is a narrative. It has a beginning and end. It is a narrative with characters, conflict and closure.
Not every narrative is a story. A narrative is an open-ended sequence of experiences and events.
Understanding the Difference Between Narratives & Stories
There was a boy named Mohan, born in Porbander, India. He studied law and ultimately became the iconic leader of India’s independence movement. You know him as Gandhi.
Saturday, I went to the grocery store and bought everything on my list. I got items for breakfast, lunch and dinner that should last my family through Thursday.
That is a narrative, not a story. There’s no conflict. No core character you can connect with. Just a sequence of what I did Saturday.
See the difference?
But there’s a much more profound difference. Narratives aren’t limited to descriptions of boring activities. They can capture movements.
Equality and liberty are powerful narratives.
Gandhi’s is a story along the narratives of non-violent resistance and equality. And his story influenced Martin Luther King Jr., whose life became another powerful story in the equality narrative.
Stories are moments in time. Narratives are movements over time.
Narratives are like rivers. And stories are like people and villages along the river.
When it comes to getting the word out about something, you have to make sure you are on the right river. And the story or stories you take with you must be in harmony with that river.
How Narratives & Stories Impact You
Those you serve tell themselves stories. Stories about who they are, what they want and why. Stories about why the world is the way it is. And these stories are nourished by broader narratives. Just like villages are sustained by a river.
Your job isn’t to manufacture stories in an effort to move or manipulate them. That’s an industrial age mindset — an age that is passing.
Your job is to understand the stories they tell themselves. And you must understand the narratives feeding those stories.
Once you know their stories, your job is to deeply connect with the narratives the people you serve hold dear. In other words, your job is to give to (rather than take from) them. Build them up. Improve their lives. Help them get their jobs done.
If you’re struggling to “get the word out” about something, it’s quite possible that the story you’re telling isn’t aligned with a narrative that deeply connects with and sustains the people you want to serve.
Which offers you two options.
Find bigger, better stories. Or travel a new river.