Narrative or Story?

I am putting my South by Southwest (SxSW) experience on a road show this week.  I returned yesterday to facilitate a retreat for a group that believes deeply in demonstrating the value of water.  The headwaters for the evening’s session was the difference between telling a story and sharing a narrative.  John Hagel made a compelling presentation in Austin at the SxSW conference.  He took us on his journey of inquiry, revealing the powerful divergence between two concepts that are frequently used to express the same thing but have divergent destinations.  John defined story and narrative in the following ways.


  • About you and me.
  • Has a resolution.  The ending is determined.
  • Open-ended, the ending is yet to be determined.
  • Offers an invitation for each of us to participate and help take the next step.
  • Powerful narratives motive us to take action which include life and death choices.
  • Express vulnerability.
The most influential narrative was that of the explorer in John’s view.  The Narrative of the Explorer works in the arena of opportunity. They foster openness and encourage collaboration.  Importantly they amplify passion and fabricate the power of wow!  John referred to a study where passionate workers were two times more likely to achieve than those who were uninspired.  The difference can attributed to the passive story or the active narrative.
The big question, how can you and I can create an environment that connects people to a compelling narrative?  NASA curates an on-going narrative each day with the Curiosity rover on Mars.  Curiosity’s journey is unknown and we can follow along on Twitter @MarsCuriosity.  Individuals who want more from stories that reached their conclusion find new narratives.  Spin-offs of Star Wars, Seinfeld, or Harry Potter evolve from fans committed to carrying on the narrative.
The Force Continued
Are you telling stories or a narrative? Stories make for a great dinner party but narratives will build a tribe of followers that take remarkable action.

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