Build me a narrative

How our stories compound into something bigger

Welcome back to The Story Is The Strategy. Patrick and I are both on a summer break and hopefully you are too. We should be back to regular programming in September. 

For now, I wanted to share part of my summer reading list. If you’re not already subscribed, take a look at the most recent post from the Not Boring newsletter.

It's relatively lengthy, but one of the key themes is the difference between story and narrative and how companies, venture capital funds, and entrepreneurs should be telling their stories and constructing narratives. I hear you asking, “Wait a second, aren't these the same thing?”. Not quite. 

A story is an entity in and of itself. It exists on its own and has familiar traits like a plot and a beginning, middle, and end.

Narrative is the continued compilation of the same (or similar) stories forming into an accepted version of truth. It’s a living reputation about a person, place, or thing. 

Patrick and I obviously think stories are important. Not only is it in our name, but it’s also something we’ve written about many, many times. Most of the advice outlined in the linked post is consistent with themes we’ve covered before. 

And while stories help people remember, the importance of narrative is slightly different. It’s premised on the notion that people are attention poor, you have little time to tell them a story, and you have to repeat stories ad nauseam — in ways that suit your audience’s tastes, platforms, and behaviours — before something sticks.

Narratives are important because once formed, they have longevity — much more than the most recent story on the same topic. Narrative is hard to form, long lived, and (sometimes) impervious to facts.

Packy’s post has lots of great advice for how companies should build narratives (and you should read it fully).

A lot of the tips involve being clear on the narrative you want to build and then letting (and helping) others do it for you. By giving partners, customers, investors, and other stakeholders room to tell your stories for you, it builds authenticity and longevity.

But what about individuals? How should we think about telling stories vs building narrative as people at work?

Next time you’re getting ready to tell a story at work, think about how it plays into your personal narrative — or that of your team or project — and consider a few things. 

  1. Narratives compound. Accept that you’ll have to tell similar stories repeatedly before the news sticks and prepare for how and when you’ll share updates or milestones. This will feel repetitive, but that doesn’t mean it is for your colleagues.

  2. Share the mic. Realise that it’s not just you who shapes your narrative. Team members, stakeholders, and colleagues (whether uninformed or in the know) all have a voice in building the narrative of you, your team, or project. Do you know what they’re going to say? Do you need to give them context or information to make sure it’s aligned to your view?

  3. It’s not all rosy. Sharing bad news is part of being human (and a good communicator). It’s natural that as you share regular updates on your work (which you should be doing), some news won’t be perfect. Don’t sugar coat bad news — accept that it happens, explain why it has, and trust that as long as there are more good stories than bad, that your narrative remains (positively) intact.