A Narrative Is Not A Story

I was on a call with Klaus today, a German colleague based in Bruxelles who works in the space of technology for aging well–a crucial challenge we’ll all face at some point. We were speaking French, with some English in the mix.

I invited Klaus to react to my model, the Strategic Narrative Canvas. Despite the distance and our cultural diversities, this conversation added more layers to the difference between story and narrative.

If you just joined this email list, the difference between story and narrative is the cornerstone of my approach to building a Strategic Narrative. More on this here.

So here is what I am adding based on my international dialog with Klaus:

  • A story is static since once you write it, it’s done. On the other hand, a narrative is a dynamic and ongoing process.
  • There is a transactional aspect to a story since you consume it as a passive listener. But, on the other hand, there is a participatory aspect to a narrative because a narrative is socially constructed.
  • You either tell or buy a story. Then, you cultivate a narrative over time, adding more nuances, messages, and evidence to it.

The modern CEO understands that building a narrative is not just a one-off PR exercise but something you live and breathe every day, when you make decisions, launch new products, grow, transform, etc.

It’s not uncommon to hear the board of Directors say that “the company needs a new narrative”.

The modern CEO understands that the narrative is her job because it consists of creating future value. Of course, she can’t delegate that duty, but she can (and should) co-create the narrative by inviting the team, the community, and customers to add more facets to it.

This is a view that Kevin Kwok, a former investor at Greylock Partners in San Francisco, also summarizes very well in narrative distillation:

“Being able to best convey the progress and promise of a startup is the job of the CEO. No one has better context on and ability to change the business. And no one is more responsible for conveying that not just during fundraising, but every day—to everyone.

Interestingly, Kevin Kwok almost doesn’t use the word story in this 22-page article.

That’s because a narrative is not a story.

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