The power of narratives

My career up to now has had a lot to do with innovation. When discussing this topic, most people focus on the innovation itself. In my experience, innovation as a whole, has often surprising little to do with the object/idea/service itself, but has everything to do with people and the disruption of their mental constructs. An innovation is a much more subjective issue than first appears to be.

The classic definition of innovation is something along the lines of “an idea or invention turned into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay”. Though I fully agree with this, I also consider innovation as an initial moment of mental disconnect that finally is made sense of. Depending on your risk aversion, your way and need to understand varies. In French, to understand is comprendre, from the Latin cum (with) and prehendere (to seize). In essence, understanding is making new knowledge a part of yourself, to carry it with(in) you. If you are a true innovator or early adopter, a simple gut feeling may be enough for you to buy into a new concept or product. Intuition is the way for you to “comprehend” and idea. The more risk averse you are though, the more cagy you will be and the more rational and conscious the decision may have to be for you to adopt an idea.


  The diffusion of innovations according to Everett Rogers . With successive groups of consumers adopting the new technology.

The diffusion of innovations according to Everett Rogers. With successive groups of consumers adopting the new technology.


When faced with particularly new and challenging innovations or concepts, one of the most powerful tools to adapt our mental construct is a good narrative: The Ancient Greeks created myths, we use fairy tales to help our children understand complex moral values, Business Schools are full of case studies and we love to romance the origin stories of great inventions (“An apple, Mr. Newton?”, “A cat Mr. Schrodinger?”).

Narration helps us to define and frame new ideas. It integrates the novelty and unfamiliarity into the rest of our existing understanding about the world, using both our intuitive and rational minds. Some people I know are critical of storytelling, fearing its manipulation capabilities but I think their weariness is excessive. If you pay attention, a story will not dull your senses. On the contrary, even my three-year-old niece knows when something is fishy in a story and will call me out on it. A good story, is a truly efficient teaching tool. And if you want to make sure of the strength of a narrative and the value of an idea, just try telling the story again to someone else. Plot holes are as many red herrings of the idea’s weakness or your (mis)understanding of it.

Today, I find myself facing a host of new ideas: post-growth economy, liquid democracy, universal revenue and idleness society, to name but a few that I am gradually adding to this site’s Glossary. These ideas have extremely (personally) challenging implications such as the end of economic growth, the end of work, the end of politics, the end of organisations, the end of property, etc.

I won’t lie; for now, I am really struggling in coming up with a good sturdy narrative.

I do not know at this stage if these ideas are nonsense or if I am the one that is limited; ironically, limited by the narrative I currently have of the world and its apparent incompatibility with these developments. If I am to tell the story of humanity, I have real difficulty doing away with the apparent innateness of work for instance.

Though I clearly stated in the premise to this study, that I thought some major societal change was under way, this is not a militant site. I am struggling with some of the ideas about what this change could be and I want to be transparent about that.

This year is about crafting a new narrative that perfects my current one and that most importantly, stands up to criticism and debate. I will need your help challenging it. Please be unforgiving. It will help me.

Furthermore, if this transition is to succeed it will need a strong and compelling narrative that people can “comprehend”. Most people are risk averse and will never jump off the cliff without somebody telling them a very convincing story about what is at the bottom. I think recognising there is a problem with our current societal model is now mainstream. I think some envisioned solutions are gaining ground. However, there is yet no narrative that can enable the mass change required.

Maybe I am wrong to aim for no higher than a strong narrative. Maybe since I will not have a piece of paper know as a diploma proving the value of the year, I am force to rely on the power of narratives too much. But I really believe a great story remains the best tinder to spark a wild fire (“A dream, Mr. King?”).