The Difference Most CEOs Don’t Understand

To grow your company, what's the story you should tell to everyone–customers, investors, partners, your team, recruits, yourself, I mean everyone?

I'm asking because the answer to this question is the wildest dream of many CEOs, founders, and business owners who want to build a business that creates more impact. They want to have ONE story that they can tell to drive everything.

I hear it all the time with statements such as: "We need to tell our story.", "Our story is our difference.", "We better get our story straight".

And I also see many business leaders ready to invest increasingly large budgets into projects geared to figuring this out. They get that without a compelling story, they won't succeed.

But right there, we have a problem; with the question.

From the get-go, the word "story" creates a divide.

A "story" implies that you have to choose who the hero is. Some experts say it should be you (the leader, the brand, the company). Some others say "absolutely not", it must be your potential customer. Some others say it should be your existing customers. Lots of confusion on that point. So, who should it be?

I know this might sound like a topic for storytelling geeks. CEOs and founders tend not to consider themselves as such. But the devil is in the details.

First, you don't have ONE story to tell. You have to tell many stories. Influential organizations and movements have people sharing hundreds of stories. Think about religions, social movements, mega-corporations, or tiny startups turning unicorns.

Second, if you want to rally people, they will want to hear your story and theirs; and the story of others who used your product or service. For example, your origin story matters more than you can imagine. It's a fundamental source of purpose that many overlook or treat as an about page on a website. But so are your customer testimonials.

Third, we understand the word story in our society as a series of events organized with a beginning, a middle, and an end. This implies being able to prescribe what the future will look like. But we all know that you don't have a crystal ball, so predicting the conclusion of your company story is at best a good guess. Plus, leaving the story open stimulates imagination, the very capacity the human brain has to believe in common possibilities.

Successful CEOs, founders, and business owners tell many stories. But they build a unique narrative.

They've built that narrative intentionally, through action (not just telling), and they evolve it forever. Take the biggest brands, the most positive or evil movements. They all have a powerful narrative at their core.

A narrative organizes stories into a system. It calls people to action. It's something you build as a group, not something you tell from the top of your org chart (like a story). It also reframes reality in a way that mobilizes people and turns your company into a movement too.

As I like to say, people will gladly pay for a story, but they will die for a narrative.

Unfortunately, that's the big difference most business leaders don't understand.

But now you do.

A Narrative Is Not A Story
The Irony Of Company Growth