There is no link in the title above. Ashraf Ramsey is a story work professional based in the Netherlands. I've known Ashraf for years and he is another great thinker about the work of stories in business. His company is Narrativity Group and he comments here on John Hagel's latest blog post about distinctions between story and narrative.
The Truth About Story: Ashraf Ramsey's Response to John Hagel
Like most others who have been working in the story field for decades, Ashraf's reaction to John Hagel's recent blog post is not favorable. Because of his work schedule Ashraf asked me to post his comments. Thank you Ashraf for weighing in! Here are his thoughts:
From Ashraf Ramsey:
In his blog titled the ‘The Untapped Potential of Corporate Narratives’ John Hagel makes a great number of very disturbing mistakes as he jumps on the bandwagon of Storytelling on the one hand, yet completely misses the point on the other.
Let me first, to the best of my ability summarize and parafrase his points:
- There is a missed opportunity to harness the much greater power narratives, especially for institutions
He argument is based on his distinction between stories and narratives.: “First, stories are self-contained – they have a beginning, a middle and an end. Narratives on the other hand are open-ended – the outcome is unresolved, yet to be determined. Second, stories are about me, the story-teller, or other people; they are not about you. In contrast, the resolution of narratives depends on the choice you make and the actions you take – you will determine the outcome. Everyone is captivated by the emotional power and engagement of stories and it’s true, they have enormous power. But to understand the much greater power of narrative, I point out that throughout history, millions of people have given their lives for narratives. Every successful social movement in history has been driven at its core by a narrative that drove people to do amazing things, whether it’s the Christian narrative, the American narrative or the Marxist narrative. Narratives have an extraordinary power of pull.”
Well, that’s where he goes wrong.
First of all, yes we need to make a distinction. But the distinction is between the Story and the Telling.
Where story on the one hand is both a cogntive construct and cognitive constructiomn: an organizing principle that transforms information into meaning. And where the telling on the other hand is the vast array of means, methods and media -- we have to convey the story. The words on the page, the images on the screen, the pigments on the canvas are not the story –they are the carriers of the story. Story is a cognitive construct with its own laws and logic and is as such immaterial.
Telling is a communicative and expressive construct, and is by its own nature also governed by laws and logic. In the history of Narratology from Aristotle to Greimas distinctions have been made between story and plot. Between story and discourse. Between histoire and discours. Between fabula and sjuzet (the chronological order of the retold events).
But nowhere in the history of Narratology does the distinction between story and narrative as defined by Mr. Hagel exist.
On the contrary, what he defines as Narrative is in fact Mythology. The late late and renowned literary critic Norhrop Frye in Spiritus Mundi [1976: page 19] has deep insights and great wisdom to offer beyond the jump on the bandwagon soundbites mr Hagel hurls at us.
Thus mythology simultaneously functions as a deep structure of perception and as an overarching mode of understanding. As Northrop Frye puts it:
“Man lives, not directly or nakedly in nature like the animals, but within a mythological universe, a body of assumptions and beliefs developed from his existential concerns. Most of this is held unconsciously, which means that our imagination may recognize elements of it, when presented in art or literature, without consciously understanding what it is that we recognize.”
Now that we have cleared that up we can move on and adress Mr Hagels’ notions of the application of Narrative – read Mythology in the world of business where I have been applying narratology for almost 3 decades.
What he calls Narrative here is in fact a merger of a Corporate Story – which is a vision on the meaning and purpose of the identity and existence of an organization – and a brand story which is the source and the frame that drives and contains all marketing and corporate communications as instrument of perception management.
And he gets is wrong when he says ‘unpack the slogan’. No it is the other way round. In the proces of Story development, we carve out what is meaningful and relevant and craft it into a coherent and compelling story. We then condense the story further and further and destill from it its quintessence. And that is how great taglines are born.
And as Mr Hagel goes on praising the virtues of Narrative I can’t help but read over and over again how in the past decade Storytelling has been sold and made relevant.
So, my conclusion is that Mr Hagel sees advantages in storytelling. But he rightly does not want to be associated with touchy feely white fluffy bunny types storytelling is associated with. And so he constructs a new term with total disregards for the 2000+ years of acadamic literature on the subject.
Me thinketh he is a Narrative in his own mind.
This review was written by Ashraf Ramsey for the Just Story It curation on business storytelling at www.scoop.it/t/just-story-it