John Hagel: dropping story in favor of narrative is dangerous advice

Referring to ‘The Untapped Potential of Corporate Narratives’.

Narratives exist. We know they exist because of story. In the absence of story, there is nothing that helps us discern narratives and we can’t tap into them. Story, or better – stories, point at connectivity. They are sense-making devices, and what elicits a response in humans, keeping us away from apathy and going astray. Hence narrative and story are not interchangeable, although they relate.

Story-texts are self-contained. Having a beginning, a middle and an end is only one, very simple connectivity pattern stories adhere to. I discern story-texts from stories; the latter happen only in one place out of anyone’s control – in the eyes, mind and heart of the beholder. Not the kind of news people in business and marketing would like to know about.

Those inner stories, better be unresolved at first, or we’d be looking at indoctrination, canceling out the possibility of change and hope. But, without tightly crafted story-texts, whether oral or written, those inner stories can’t emerge to be something that motivates a person to think, to reflect, to learn and decide, because we can’t tap into the narrative. If story-texts are unresolved, yet to be determined – there is no leadership happening, not even self-leadership; we become lost in an internal search loop.

When you write “the resolution of narratives depends on the choice you make and the actions you take – you will determine the outcome” you are wishing for something very dangerous connected to meritocracy. I can see how this idea might win the hearts of people sitting in executive chairs. It is certainly not the way of the storyteller.

Seeking even greater power   

Narratives don’t have their own power. What gives them power, is what we see in them. You wrote, “every successful social movement in history has been driven at its core by a narrative that drove people to do amazing things… throughout history, millions of people have given their lives for narratives.” They sure have. I can think about some pretty amazingly successful social movements that ruined the lives of many. Ruined like in – death, humiliation, deprivation of the most basic human rights. Just read the news.

Those awful things happen because of looking away from stories and looking ‘up’ to narratives.

There is no pseudo-narrative

What does exist, is a misconception – about what narrative is and the way narratives come to life.

A narrative cannot condense into a slogan.

Narratives are given meaning through stories, they don’t convey a meaning of their own.

There is no way to define the positivity or negativity of a narrative. For some people, what you refer to as the narrative of Apple, unpacks into very negative stories.

Narratives are definitely not “nice to have”. They are, whether you intend them to be or not. In order to tap into them, you’ll need stories.

Meaning – you can’t author, create, initiate, or craft a narrative. Thinking you can, reflects what management looks like in most corporations and organizations today: self deceptive. Authoring a brand story doesn’t work either; that’s marketing’s share of self deception.

Benefits? yes, not directly from narrative. Through stories and storytelling – slowly, truthfully, with patience and respect.

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