Gathering of the Ghosts – January 22, 2024

What’s the Difference Between Story and Narrative? And Why It Matters to You

May 4, 2018

This piece originally appeared on Medium. 

Story vs Narrative.

This one distinction forms the basis of all our workshops, client work, and even my next book in the making:

And here’s why —

Story, in its simplest form, is about a character and the things that happen to them. As author Michael Lewis defines it, “a story is — people and situations.” A story has a beginning, middle, and end. Where we explore the desire, dilemmas, and choices that a character faces. Think of a story as an anecdote or vignette that recounts specific moments, with a time and place. It provides us with entertainment, insight, or even a lesson on life. It creates a shared emotional experience that can bond us together. A customer story. A “values in action” story. A new employee on-boarding story.

Therein lies the challenge — in business, we are swimming in a sea of stories.

Everybody has a story. From the boardroom to social media. Infinite stories. Billions and trillions of stories. Where every story matters. In such an environment how can you make sense and meaning of things, much less get everyone aligned around a shared common story? That’s the role and power of narrative. Defining the frame.

Narrative in contrast to story, is much bigger. It’s a way of looking at the world. An overarching concept that influences thought, meaning and decision-making. A symbolic frame like the American Dream or Just Do It. It doesn’t necessarily have clear beginning, middle, and end like a story, but rather is still usually unfolding over time. Which means the conclusion is still up for grabs! If stories are each like a pearl, then narrative is the necklace or string of pearls. It’s what connects the dots at the big picture level. A good narrative, will use a range of stories to illustrate, animate, and validate its message. Narrative gives meaning to a broader vision, a view of what’s possible, and why we should head in that direction.

At Facebook, we work with multiple product teams including one with over 100M power users. How many stories exactly are there? For another client, we framed their vision to almost 20,000 employees for the next generation of a $2B corporate campus. If you try to communicate at such an epic and high-stakes level, without a clear distinction between story and narrative, your message is likely to get lost in translation.

That’s why Strategic Narratives matter more than ever.

In the face of complexity, disruption, and business transformation — what organizations need is a bigger story: aka a Strategic Narrative.

It’s the same reason why Jeff Bezos many years ago banned Powerpoint and implemented the 6-page memo at Amazon.

The purpose was to elevate the discourse before any decisions are made on the future of any aspect of Amazon’s products, services, or divisions.

Visual: The Difference Between Story vs Narrative

Hopefully, you’re starting to see how narrative is crucial for anybody trying to shift the status quo. It’s what helps people see the forest from the trees. To make strategic sense and meaning. And align the trajectory forward.

So where can you learn how to craft a narrative?

Few companies give their leaders a structure or model for this. To communicate the breakthrough work being done by you or your team, it’s not enough to tell a simple story. One closed loop story does not go deep enough to portray a disruptive visions, product, or idea. You need to go further. You need to think in narrative.

Are you ready to go from story to narrative?

Then join us for our next 1-Day Masterclass in San Francisco.

You will learn our breakthrough 3-step narrative sequence for any high-stakes presentation. Discover how to humanize data, get executive sponsorship, convey your product roadmap, align your team, and create conviction around big bets and high stakes outcomes.

This training is unlike any other storytelling or communications workshop you have ever taken. Many participants describe it as a life-changing experience and catalyst for career advancement.

Hosted in partnership with Cooper Design, you’ll be amongst product, design, research, and marketing leaders.

Limited seats available — register here to secure your spot!


You may also like…

Stay Connected

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Words to the Wise, for industry trends and publishing advice.