Skip to main content









The Narrative Universe: A Guided Tour

The Narrative Universe: A Guided Tour

Marsha Dunn's picture
Marsha Dunn
June 13th, 2016

Storytelling is much more than a gimmick, a buzzword, or a flash in the pan. Stories so structure our reality that it makes sense to say, we exist in a narrative universe. At least these are the contentions explored in this series. We’ve mined insights from multiple disciplines and brought disparate worlds into conversation. Along the way we’ve cast a light upon the multi-faceted ways that stories of individuals (“this is my story”) interact most fruitfully with the overarching narratives of organizations, societies, and subcultures (“this is our story”).

So – where did this journey take us? And what did we learn?

  • This is your brain on fiction… In conversation with Harvard-trained English Literature Professor, Elaine Ayoung, we dove into the deep end of literary theory and the recent neuroscience that is unlocking the mysteries of our relationship to fiction. Ayoung’s expertise allowed us to think carefully about what happens in the brain when we get “lost in a book” or “gripped by a story.” We discussed the many ways that we use stories to sort out the dilemmas of everyday life.
     
  • We storytelling animals… We considered the deep evolutionary roots of our narrative impulse while reading Jonathan Gottschall’s recent book, The Storytelling Animal, in conversation with Collective Next Solution Designers Dave Rutley and Renee Piazza. Grappling with our deep seated urge for stories, we discussed the many ways that we can harness our creative and emotional connection to stories as a means of inviting the people we work with to become co-creators in collective narratives.
     
  • Rewriting narratives, transforming lives… UP Education Network changes underperforming schools into powerhouse places of learning—and we support their cause. In this piece, our colleagues Mason Smith and Gordon Eby reflect on the role of narrative in our collaboration with UP Education Network. They illuminated the ways that stories do more than just reflect the existing culture of an organization; stories define the identity and spirit of a community. This case study illustrated how we can intentionally rewrite our collective narratives to realize a desired future state.
     
  • Writing stories on our bodies… If you don’t know about Dear World, now is the time. Executive Producer, Jonah Evans talked to us about their unique process of enlisting the human body into the storytelling process, particularly in the wake of catastrophe. Dear World is a master class in using personal stories to redefine our understanding of one another and create more meaningful interconnections.
     
  • The stories we belong to… It is well-known that we are spurred to effective action when we feel like we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Often overlooked, however, is the central role of stories and storytelling in generating this sense of belonging. Engaging ideas from Frederick Mayer’s Narrative Politics, CN solution designer Geoff Amidei presents a compelling case for the role of stories of developing the sense of a shared culture and inspiring collective action.
     
  • Curating a list of the best story-centered podcast going… As inspiration and entertainment, “Gather Round the Campfire” provides a roundup of some of the great non-fiction storytelling podcasts out there, from true crime to politics to personal anecdotes. Because we still want someone to tell us stories.
     
  • Reach out and touch the stories we tell… In our Magical History Tour (Or Why Everyone Needs a Monkey Bag), we highlight the important role that physical artifacts play in reminding us of the stories that embody our core cultural and organizational values.
     
  • Stories structure experience… Our CEO Matt Saiia aligns himself with the bold claim that stories are more than just descriptors; they are the very scaffolding of human experience. Building upon George Lakoff’s seminal work in Metaphors We Live By, Matt suggests that stories—and, more precisely, metaphors—function as the building blocks of our understanding of the world around us. The implication being that all cultural and organizational efforts to bring about meaningful change must begin by transforming the metaphors and so the narrative.

As you continue to think about our place in the narrative universe, we to leave you with a few articles focused on some of the practical ways in which you can integrate storytelling into your organization:

See you for our next blog series entitled Leading by Listening.

Tags

The Narrative Universe