Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Power of Story: The Power of Narrative

Stories invite people in.

Stories are powerful.  Stories can paint detailed pictures of lives, places, people, and events.  They convey character, insights, motives, and give us the opportunity to feel complex emotions or empathize with others.  Stories can help us remember, and stories can help us heal.


Several times over the past month I have been reminded of the power of stories, and I have also had a few realizations about how we use stories and narratives in our day-to-day lives.   Stories are an important part of successful business practices, interpersonal communications, and spiritual health.

Narrative as Part of Successful Business Practices

The purpose of narrative in business is to help businesses shift from selling widgets or services to selling possibilities.  I have been hearing about the power of storytelling in business for several years, but I think I finally understand it.  Instead of a business trying to persuade a customer or client to part with money in exchange for an item or a service, a business can use the power of story to to help the customer or client become a character in a "success narrative."  In such a "success narrative" the business creates for the customer a scenario in which all the customer's hopes and desires are fulfilled.  The fulfillment of those hopes and desires is somehow linked to the product or service offered by the business.

One example of a successful business narrative comes from John Hagel.  Hagel's example is based on Apple and their slogan "Think different" (2013, para. 7):

Very few companies have in fact developed powerful narratives. One of the best, in my mind, is Apple.  Their narrative is condensed into the slogan, 'think different.' Unpack the narrative and it goes something like this: there’s a new generation of technology that for the first time in history has the potential to free us from the constraints and pressures to fit into mass society and that makes it possible for us to express our unique individuality and achieve more of our potential.  But this is not a given – it depends on one thing: you have to think different. Are you willing to do that? Apple’s narrative is about us and what we need to do; it’s not about Apple.  

Narrative in Interpersonal Communications

Have you ever been at a loss when you've tried to tell someone else exactly what it was like to be in a particular situation or to feel a certain way?  That actually happens a lot. There is no one-to-one correlation between the meaning of a word or phrase and what that word or phrase represents.  For example, if I say "fish," you could think of a salmon swimming upstream, a card game, or a microwaved fish stick.  I have to be more specific and detailed in order for you to understand I mean a 4-inch long butterfly koi fish with white, orange, and black markings.  Now, what if I say "love?"  Do you know exactly what I mean?

Narratives, stories, allow us to not only explain rational ideas in detail, like "fish," but irrational ideas, like "love."  When we tell stories, we can use figurative language and detailed descriptions of events to help us explain irrational ideas more deliberately and thoroughly than we can with other types of writing.  Can you imagine if all we ever understood about "love" was its dictionary definition?  In order to understand what different people mean by "love," we need to hear their stories, feel their descriptions, and place ourselves in their various situations.  Narrative allows for this and allows us to better understand one another's experiences and emotions.

Narrative for Maintaining Spiritual Health

Something I read lately about spiritual health and the power of narrative really resonated with me, as well.  Dr. Alan Wolfelt (n.d., para. 16) writes:

Part of your self-identity comes from the relationships you have created with others. When someone with whom you have a relationship dies, your self-identity naturally changes. As bereaved persons move forward in their grief journeys, many discover that some aspects of their self-identities have positively changed. For example, you may feel more confident or more open to life’s challenges.

Not only does this imply we can overcome grief and loss by rewriting our own narratives, it implies that in order to heal our spirits after experiencing other traumas or life-changing events, we can rewrite our own narratives and adapt our characters.

Furthermore, when our spirits or souls are ill, we can change the stories we tell from stories that paint negative pictures of the world to positive pictures of the world.  For example, if I tell you a story about a traumatic event, I can choose to emphasize regret, rage, bitterness, or sadness (a negative emotion), or I can choose to emphasize awareness, forgiveness, or perseverance (a positive emotion).  Of course, the event still occurred, and the emotions surrounding the event were probably at least a little negative.  However, focusing on positive emotions as we tell our stories of those events can help heal our souls.

In sum, applying the power of story to aspects of our daily lives can help us lead more successful lives.  The power of story can help us run more successful business, have deeper and more meaningful relationships with others, and help us regain or maintain our spiritual selves.


Want to read more about narrative?  Try



References

Hagel, J. (2013).  The Untapped Potential of Corporate Narratives.  Retrieved from http://edgeperspectives.typepad.com/edge_perspectives/2013/10/the-untapped-potential-of-corporate-narratives.html

Wolfelt, A D. Ph.D (n.d.). Helping Yourself When Someone You Love Has Died. Retrieved from http://www.catholicmortuaries.com/en-us/library/article/name/gml-when-someone-you-love-has-died



Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.



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