Stories are how we make sense of things.
Whether we are coming up with a personal narrative or working on a company brand, we use stories to show and tell other people what we are all about.
Sequence is key to a story.
We link together human beings, actions, events and experiences to create a narrative that has a beginning, a middle and an end.
This is something we do all the time. To some extent, we don’t remember the past so much as recreate it through the lens of story.
We pick the events, actions and experiences that support and confirm what we want to believe, welding them together and trying out story arcs until we find one that fits.
Herminia Ibarra, in her book Working Identity: Unconventional strategies for reinventing your career, writes about this as putting a frame around experience – looking at what is happening now and what happened in the past and linking the two through story.
But it’s important to recognise that the things happening now and the things in the past are both being interpreted and reinterpreted – history is written by the victors.
I’ve written here about the kinds of stories we tell, and how we can structure success and failure stories.
Why is it important to have a story – whether personal or for a business?
Ibarra writes that it is only through a story that we can really get to know someone.
The story – the narrative – gives unity, purpose and meaning to their lives.
Whether we are trying to understand ourselves, someone else or an organisation, the stories we hear and tell bring things alive and create a sense of connection that it’s impossible to get in any other way.
Stories also help us step back and see the bigger picture.
As we tell and retell them, picking out events and experiences to recite, we start to create a narrative that seems more real and robust over time, until the story we tell is how it happened.
Which is why the reaction to many a fantastical story is often “Is it true?”.
When we’re in the middle of things, we look for a defining moment, a period where everything becomes clear and comes into focus.
All too often, however, we recreate that moment as we look back at the past and realize that it was one – the turning point of the story we are telling – and how it fits into our lives so far.
And so, to explain who and what we are, we need to have a story.