Edge Perspectives with John Hagel: Expanding Horizons Through Corporate Narratives

Posted on by Brandon Klein

I’ve become increasingly interested in the role that corporate narratives can play in driving business success in more competitive markets - something that I've written about here and here. While many people find the concept of corporate narratives interesting, they often struggle with what a narrative might look like for their company.

This isn’t surprising given how few effective corporate narratives there are out there. In fact, I’ve only found two that really serve as good examples of corporate narratives – the narratives developed by Apple and Nike.

The defining elements of a narrative

As many will recall from my previous writing, I view narratives as having two key attributes. First, they’re open-ended – there’s no resolution yet, it’s all to be determined. Second, narratives are about the intended audience, not the person or entity presenting the narrative. In fact, the resolution of the narrative hinges upon the choices and actions yet to be taken by the audience – the resolution is up to them.

This is probably the most difficult element of narratives for executives to internalize. There’s a natural tendency to think about corporate “narratives” that talk about the humble beginnings of the company, the obstacles it confronted, the amazing things it’s achieved and the great opportunities ahead. That’s an open-ended story about the company, but it’s not a narrative that identifies opportunities for the people outside the company to pursue on their own.

At their most fundamental level, narratives answer three questions:

Why are we here?

What can we accomplish?

How should we connect in order to accomplish this?