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And so it is with brands and their users, who, like Sancho and the Don, not only need each other functionally and emotionally, but, in acting on this mutual need, mutually identify a set of shared values. And there ain't no good story without a moral, is there?


I'd never considered the distinction. What you call narrative, I tend to think of as meta-narrative, or maybe saga. The drawing together of a large (possibly countless) number of events into a single journey of many strands.

One thing all effective stories and narratives have in common is a hero, who ain't nothing without a sidekick. The two coming together is a vital element in any good tale, from Luke and Han to Noddy and Big Ears. The entire first book of LOTR is premised on it: The Fellowship of the Ring.


Your story/narrative distinction keeps popping up in my network, John, and so I am compelled to keep responding.

Your instincts are good, there is a distinction to be made, but it's not between story and narrative. That's you being quixotic. (It takes one to know one ; ) The important distinction is in the physics of storytelling. Different story forms require different kinds of "telling." This is a very complex subject that I'll simplify by saying that one kind of telling is scripted and the other kind is emergent. When it comes to emergent stories, "telling" means more like "revealing."

The physics of the scripted story is deterministic (think Newtonian). The physics of the emergent story must account for uncertainty (think Quantum). To the extent that your definition of "narrative" holds water, it's that emergent stories emerge from a "story field" of possible futures. A story field holds infinite possible beginnings, middles and ends.

Again, I applaud your instincts. You're toying with a powerful idea. It's not the idea I object to. It's the toying. When you say, for example, that "Think Different" is a narrative, it reads like a joke to me. That's an ad slogan, John! It's like saying that "Think Teats" is a narrative for the Holstein breed of dairy cow. (I'm in Wisconsin now, so keeping it local). You'd be closer to a salient observation with something like "an appreciation of artful technology fuels Apple's brand storytelling." This, at least, offers product differentiation and connects the brand with customers in meaningful ways. The exploration of themes like "artful technology" generates stories/narratives/yarns/sagas/tweets/comments/compositions/collaborations etc etc etc--whatever we choose to call the storylike outcomes--on a quantum scale. And many other positive outcomes, too, that are not as storylike: loyalty, social sharing, transactions, personality, suggestions, engagement, innovations, etc).

Thanks again for the discussion. Definitely relevant and worth having. Happy Thanksgiving!


John - ever since I heard you make the distinction between stories and narratives at BIF-7 (was it that long ago?), it's been a powerful meme for me. Stories are classic; stories are wonderful and many are timeless and also, depending on the story, very comforting - providing hope, a path forward, lessons learned and applied...yet to me, stories are also finite. Narratives let people come in when they're ready or realize it's relevant...they let you be a part of it even if you weren't there at the beginning. I think that narratives let you come and go, let more diverse perspectives participate and be heard. It's not that stories aren't relevant and important. They are different and have different applications. We have and love stories. It's time we started to to create more narratives - to let people be a part of the 'doing.' Thank you!


The "miss," John, as you and I have gone back and forth on, is in your attempt to make the distinction between story and narrative instead of addressing the fact that stories form and get shared differently in networks and in organizations than they do in linear channels and repeatable cycles. This distinction between stories with beginnings/middles/ends (say, Finding Nemo or a customer's journey from awareness to purchase) and Living Stories that are emergent in the present (say, Congress Dithers While the U.S. Burns) quite literally calls for a new physics of story. One that is not solely dependent on the causality/determinacy valuations of discrete channel communication, but, rather, one that can account for uncertainty and the effects of chaos theory (i.e. environmental effect) in networks. The primo work in this area, as I've mentioned, is being done by Dr. David Boje at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Tamaraland the journal on organizational theory he begin 20 years ago is still going strong, and represents a profound shift in the way organizations can think about story. Boje's concept of "antenarrative" accounts for the difference between stories that have Newtonian (i.e. linear and cyclical) properties and those that have Quantum properties. The distinction between story and narrative is, imho, a fruitless distinction to make, John. These two words are too entangled in terms of meaning, and any insistence on separating that meaning is going to be conflicted, because you cannot separate the definitions faster, or on a more massive scale, than the rest of the world can conflate those definitions. Which is why it doesn't make any sense to me for you, me, or anyone to parse the meaning of the words, when what needs parsing is the actual properties and characteristics of different kinds of stories. Boje and I, ourselves, disagree on the definitions of story and narrative. Or at least, our past writing does. We spend zero time debating it. Instead, we focus on the physics of storytelling. Boje's next book is going to be called Storytelling Organizational Practices: Managing in the Quantum Age and comes out next year. Super dense and academic, it can really only be understood by a layman like myself as metaphor (blacksmithing, music, tribal business practices, improvisation, dance, real estate are a few that people use). I hope you begin picking up on it. Your ability to explain things and Boje's theories can, I feel, bring lots of good juju to management and organizational theory and practices. Thanks for continuing this conversation. It's a good one!

Bruce Waltuck

Thank you, John, for a great post. I very much appreciate the distinction you make between "story" and "narrative." I wondered if you have read Alicia Juarrero's book, Dynamics In Action, which has unique, and I think useful, insights on narrative and causality in complex human systems (like organizations)? The distinction you draw also suggests a difference between domains of knowns/knowables (story) as opposed to the domain of unknowns/unknowables. Does this make sense, given your own usage of the terms story and narrative?

Good luck with your journey into story and narrative. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

Charles Thrasher

I think it disingenuous for some to claim a story has no end. Beginning and ending, plot, character, conflict and resolution - these are the things that define a story whatever the context, be it boardroom or a open fire beneath a winter sky.

Try telling a story that has no ending and see how many times people listen repeatedly as they will to the Iliad or Harry Potter. To satisfy a story must end but people will participate in a narrative that's evolving, uncertain, and endless. They will become engaged and committed to the right narrative. The history of US democracy is an example, perhaps a cautionary one.

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