Last week we said that Articulation at sr4 was “the application of narrative and vocabulary as key levers in the activation, acceleration and optimization of intentions.”
This week we’ll deal with that word “narrative.” It does not mean the stories that you like to tell. It means the essence of the one story that you want everyone to hear, to remember, and to use in the decisions they make and the actions they take.
Some years ago, we were working with a company whose stock price was in the doldrums. The Chief Financial Officer decided that the problem was their free cash flow, and so he set out to enlist everyone in the company to be part of the solution. First, he announced that his abbreviated title, CFO, would now stand for Cash Flow Officer. Then he sat down at the end of each month and authored a report to all management employees, explaining the how’s and why’s of the company’s free cash flow performance for that month. And everywhere he went, free cash flow was what he talked about. By the end of the fiscal year, free cash flow had improved, the stock price had begun to move in a positive direction, and the CFO was on his way to becoming CEO. Having a CFO who can identify the barrier to a higher stock price is a good thing; having a CFO who can create a narrative that drives performance to remove the barrier is priceless.
There’s a definition of narrative on an educational website that goes kind of like this: A story is a sequence of events. In such a sequence, a car crash, for example, takes only a split second. A narrative account of that story, however, might be almost entirely about the crash itself, leaving out many details and accentuating the useful ones. The definition concludes with this sentence: “Narratives thus shape history.” That’s what we’re talking about – not just stories that entertain, anecdotes that disarm, or metaphors that elucidate, but narratives that redirect the course of very specific histories.