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.

South By Great Ideas

A day at South by Southwest can be overwhelming, exhilarating, and offer some paradigm shifts.  A quick recap of some of best ideas  from yesterday’s presenters (I have included the Twitter hashtag so you can read the tweets from attendees at each presentation).

Ramez Naam discussed Infinite Resource (#SXInfinite) 

    • Knowledge is not depleted by usage (unlike other comodities).  It can accumulate over time which actually increases the value of knowledge.  Consider the difference between a 1950’s computer and the iPhone.  Knowledge allowed us to shrink the size of the device thousands of times, it uses thousands of times less material, is more powerful, and more people can have their own.
    • The real race for the future viability of planet earth is between consumption and innovation.

Felipe Matos, Heather Cronk, Jackie Mahendra, and Joe Sudbay presented on Waging a War with Social Media (#SXStoryPower)

    •  People on the ground are often willing to go much further in confronting a situation than the organizations who have a mission to solve the same problem.
    • Confronting the moral authority of the White House was the turning moment for their campaign against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Cheryl Contee, Claire Diaz Ortiz, Ramya Raghavan, Robert Wolfe introduced 21st Century Giving: Social Philanthropy’s Rise (#SX21stgiving)

    • YouTube just launched a livestreaming platform to its nonprofit members
    • Twitter has only 2-3 third party platforms for people to give online (TwitPay is one).  This is an area that will expand.
    • Crowdrise has a mission of making fundraising fun.  It has created crests (badges) for donors and fundraisers who reach specific levels.

Brian Seth Hurst, Dina Benadon, Lance Weiler, and Tracy Fullertone discussed Multiplatform Storytelling (#SXfrontline)

    • 10 tips to developing a story:
        • Take time to evaluate the story you want to tell.
        • Ask the hard questions: why would anyone care? Ask this five times.
        • Let go of a single point of view.
        • Consider how to show rather than tell.
        • Make it easy for your audience to become collaborators.
        • Don’t let the world get in the way of your story.
        • Consider something local before you jump to the global.
        • The number of screens doesn’t equal a better experience.  It is much harder to design with simplicity.
        • Fail quickly- you learn more what didn’t work than what did.
        • Keep it simple.  If someone cannot explain it then it will die.

Random great quotes
  • If you are overworked, just do better and higher quality work
  • Optimism is the ultimate weapon, ultimate revolutionary act because it propels people into action
  • In order for people to start a revolution, people have to experience almost hysterical optimism
  • Celebrities should add to the conversation for the causes they support but being too proactive can turn people off.
  • Each technology platform has its own turn-around time for a response (consider the difference between a text message, email, and a comment on a blog post).

Can You Pull as Well as You Push?

Just home from the South by Southwest conference in Austin, TX.  For the uninitiated this is where Twitter once launched, Mike Tyson and Pee Wee Herman make appearances to handout ice cream, and the term ‘geek’ is said with respect.  There was great information to take-in and anxiety over what was missed.  One quick take-away was the tension between push and pull.  Most of us think about this in the context of social media (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace) but even in a broader definition, is your enterprise set-up to have a genuine conversation with its fans and supporters?  Or are you a push only organization?  Do you stand on the stage and give your acceptance speech everyday or is it more of a question and answer session after the award ceremony (which is still all push since it is about you)?  Have you thought about shining your spotlight on a fan and enhance their standing without directly thinking about your cause?  Consider highlighting a little known blogger or community activist who is putting out great content/work and happens to be a fan.  What would it look like if you promoted their work?  This gift of a broader platform may just create a deeper relationship that ultimately benefits your enterprise because now you have launched a free agent to promote good works.  Even the Oscars need a comic relief and presenters to keep us tuned-in, otherwise all the winners could upload YouTube clips and we could watch them later.  Consider the power of push and pull used in tandem.  

The Next New Social Media Think From SXSW?

South By Southwest is the watershed conference in Austin, Texas for the social media world.  Just trying to follow the #SXSW hashtag on Twitter was a workout.  So what was decided, launched, or panned?  It depends on who you talk to and what the possible impact will be on the social media front.  A couple of blogs and reviews that I found fascinating.

  •, is offering “how to” articles all this week.  A database of information from getting started to the more technical.