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Strategic narrative


We as humans have some critical skills that have evolved to help us survive. Narratives and stories are undeniably one of the fundamental tactics that help us bond and spread knowledge. There’s a reason why popular stories are often retellings of other, far older tales.

  • The Lion King is Hamlet with lions
  • James Cameron’s Avatar is Pocahontas in space
  • Many good vs evil duality narratives are as old as time
    • Batman and The Joker
    • Star Wars

These narratives are used as a way of conveying messages and of influencing people. But also narratives stick with us and we become agents that perpetuate the narrative. Who doesn’t like telling a story? US politics is a great example of this. Changing the hearts and minds of people is one thing, but turning them into agents of your cause is even more powerful.

Beyond just pure entertainment and global politics though, storytelling has a place in business and organisations. It can be used to help bring people to realise the vision you have for your organisation.

Start with why

Sinek got it right when he said “Start with Why”. Why? Because it’s what we tune into. And, as above, if your story is compelling enough people will want to be a part of the story itself. It’s like a human-social hack. People flood to concepts that they can relate and retell.

There is a great example in Chris Guillebeau’s The $100 Startup of a professional language hacker, Benny Lewis. Benny understood that the key to learning a language was to immerse yourself and maximise time practicing. At the time Chris interviews Benny in Texas he’s wearing a pair of goggles on top of his hat. Of course, the first question Chris put to him was “What’s with the goggles?”. Why? What’s the story?

And here I am retelling the story one more time. Benny wearing goggles gained him the attention he needed to learn languages. And that gained the attention of Chris writing the book. Which gained my attention as a story even I retell having never met Benny. It obviously works.

Wearing goggles is just one part of Benny’s immersion tactics. He would draw as much attention to himself as possible by singing out loud and wearing costume and soon people would engage with him wanting to know his story and to help him on his way.

Apply it

The tricky thing about the vision you have for your company is, it’s your vision. It’s in your head. If it exists already and is widely understood, then it’s not your vision - it’s someone else’s. So how do you get yours out? It’s unique, it’s unknown, it’s not something someone else has visualised before.

A brilliant example that from Adam Grant in Originals is that communicating your vision is like imaginging a song in your head and humming or tapping it our to someone else. They might get the tune and the rhythm, but they certainly don’t get the entire picture. And whilst you can communicate (hum) it to one person fairly easily, try and ask them to commuicate it on to others… it’s difficult and invariably will dilute the message you originally had.

Your vision needs to be encapsulated into something bigger, more textured, with as many hooks as possible that help:

  • you tell the vision in its entirety
  • others to retell it
  • and, if possible, lets others embed themselves the message

And what better format than a story?

Find yourself some goggles. Get people asking why? And then, have a story to tell that shares your idea. Move people with it, open their ideas, challenge the status quo and leave enough space that others might want to put themselves in the story too.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.

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