Extreme Corporate Narrative Makeover: Why Your Company Needs a New Bedtime StoryJune 23 2010
You hear the word “narrative” a lot these days. Election narrative, party narrative, political narrative. Narrative Medicine, Narrative Law, Narrative Psychology. The list goes on—just Google it.
Then there’s the Corporate Narrative, a Mississippi River of company narratives. It used to be called marketing, but these days we, the people with the dollar to spend, have gotten cranky about being treated like cattle. Now we’re looking for personal relationships—dialogue, shared experience, a bedtime story. We want Match.com, only with brands.
Actually, just about nothing is as old as the narrative—we’ve been telling stories since we could sit round a fire. But if you believe Joseph Campbell, it’s always the same plot. In his 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the screenwriter’s bible, he says that stories from all over the world, down the ages, have stuck to a single basic theme, The Hero’s Journey. It goes like this:
A call to adventure—which the hero accepts or declines.
A road of trials—on which the hero succeeds or fails.
Achieving the goal or “boon”—resulting in important self-knowledge.
A return to ordinary life—at which the hero succeeds or fails.
Application of the boon—the knowledge used for a better world.
The Buddha, Moses, and Jesus stories follow this plot. So do the Simba and Neo stories in The Lion King and The Matrix, and an awful lot in between. This story arc, framed in a Three Act plot structure since the days of Aristotle, is hard-wired into us. It’s about the pursuit of happiness, it’s the American Dream. But it’s been hijacked.