Narratives - Handle with Care



A narrative is a story which seeks to explain or clarify. It can look backwards, forwards or stay mostly in the present, and apply to many situations, including:
- Performance of a business (or a football team) and its managers
- Consequences of a decision - an acquisition, investment, election (referendum?)
- Differentiation of businesses and brands, especially when they might appear quite similar to others

Among examples of powerful narratives, we have Abraham Lincoln's in 1863 (see post 15.01.14) and John F Kennedy seeking resources from Congress to land a man on the moon in 1961. Without narrative, especially one that's simple to follow, it can be quite difficult to communicate ideas successfully. Statements of facts and even strong argumentation may not be enough to win support.

However, narratives still come with risks, particularly when they look backwards, and are presumed to be more accurate. The potential problem is that the information and the size of samples chosen, and where the story starts and ends, can make a major difference. Furthermore, the search for meaning when there are in fact only unconnected events may produce conclusions that lead on to greater misunderstandings.

So the idea of narratives is useful and necessary in business, but they should be handled with care and be presented as impartially as possible. When lawyers in courtroom dramas object to a question because it "calls for narrative", that's what they're talking about.








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