What do you do when the grander narrative collapses (or a discussion on change)


“Once you create a self-justifying storyline, your emotional entrapment within it quadruples.”

Pema Chödrön


This is about Change and its relationship to what we believe, or, the stories we have and tell.

I was reminded of this topic (again) because of 2 things:

To me, they are interrelated – individual stories within larger industry stories, i.e., things we believe and have emotional investment in, and how that relates to change.

Let me tell you how (and why maybe we should be paying attention).

It becomes incredibly easy to discuss change with ‘digital transformation’ or ‘disruption’ or any variety of business industry buzzwords. Mike says something that has also creeped into my way of thinking “the longer this <pandemic> goes on the more embedded some change will be.” He is correct, but not in a simplistic monolithic way as many futurist procrastinators suggest. I would suggest this is more like Neils Pflaeging’s beta codex model (“change is more like adding milk to coffee” view) at scale for 7 billion people, 200 millionish businesses and 125 millionish micro/small/midsized businesses. Pick your derivative, but if you ever want to discuss one-to-one change, this is it.

It becomes incredibly easy to discuss change in individual behavioral terms, but it is quite possible we need to speak of change in terms of narratives within narratives <individuals within a larger system> within which there are tweaks of behaviors & attitudes. This would mean it isn’t really systemic change, but rather individual change creating a systemic change. As Venkatesh Rao pointed out this whole pandemic shitstorm has collapsed the grander narrative from which, I would argue, an emphasis on individual narrative, micro business narratives and individual business narratives in general, increase in importance (when the whole falls apart the pieces seek to strengthen themselves).

The Narrative Collapse:

In this case all we learned was the fragility of life – in totality. This creates an overarching impact (a structural aspect to 100% of people) that we are now living within which could be described as a Narrative Collapse. We have conceptually lost the plot.

That said.

Why do individual stories matter?

I truly believe Change really isn’t as difficult as we make it out to be. We do it all the frickin’ time. I do believe the way we go about change – how we discuss it in monolithic terms and how we ‘implement’ it and what we ask people to do/think – is, in general, absurd. Maybe if we think about it a little differently, we would become more receptive to the unevenness of change which would possibly stop us from trying to implement change (a deterministic approach) and instead make change emergent.

Any time ‘emergent’ comes up people get a little uneasy and begin applying labels, constraints and, in general, restrictions (which are inherently reductive). Think about the fact Change is, inevitably, narratives within narratives and stories within stories. Our largest issue isn’t with change itself, but rather the arc of the storytelling, particularly in business, bends toward simplistic labels and titles. It’s often like we are stuck in an executive summary world when the world would benefit from reading the entire story to be told.

It seems like we would be better off, and happier, if the stories within the stories were told, and heard, yet they need to be tied to the grander narrative (if not explicitly collapse the larger narrative label). Simultaneously, those who control/communicate the larger narrative need to link it to the stories within the stories. The sum of all the parts or maybe the ‘e pluribus unim’ of story telling.

It is a collection of stories within, and of, a larger narrative.

It is a collection of individual stories within, and of, a larger narrative.

Note: this is NOT personal branding. Brands are not people and people are not brands.

So how the hell could something like this be applicable to an organization?

Well. When all the stories and narratives are woven together, collective meaning is created and individuals and organizations thrive. People feel valued, create value and the organization offers value. More importantly, people, who want to be the person who they aspire to being, get closer to that aspiration by fulfilling more of their potential. Regardless of your industry & business, we need to always remind ourselves that the organization is made up of humans, not machines, even if they actually use machines to produce things or augment themselves so they produce more. This becomes even more important as we speak of value & value creation.

This grander narrative aligns everyone to the value (not the values). The values are outlined not through some document, but by respect for other’s story and a desire to meet the larger narrative. We feel good by doing good things to enrich collective and individual. Because I own my story, I have a sense of control. In other words. Because I contribute to the larger narrative, I also feel control. And yet because my story resides within many other stories, I also feel comfortable delegation so that other’s stories can also thrive.

All of this creates:



Self interest.

Greater good.



This collection of stories creates a positive bond between people, and organization, based on both rational and emotional. Our doing feels good and it feels good to be doing. Without going into psychology and neuroscience all of this also reduces stress, fear, worry, loneliness and increases attention, engagement happiness.

In the good ole days this may have been called ‘esprit de corps.’  In today’s world this would be an organization which is constantly changing or, well, emergent. And just so this doesn’t sound like chaos I will remind everyone that individual narratives contain some deterministic aspects – rituals, process, systems, etc. Think of these things as default bias (and not all bias is bad) or heuristic decision-making. If you think of that sort of things as ripples from individuals, teams, meetings, organizations and industry you will get a sense that an organization will naturally evolve in deterministic AND emergent ways. Why? Because business is inherently human, inherently a collection of individuals with stories (and all the things that come with it) dealing with other individuals with their own stories constantly glancing at the larger narrative checking to make sure they weren’t falling off the grid.

Note: this is a prelude to my thinking on a Conceptual Age Organizational model tied to what I believe we are moving into businesswise – The Conceptual Age

All that said.

I could argue that the entire pandemic, in collapsing the larger narrative, has done more for personal story development than any webinar ever given by GaryV. It has forced billions of people to rethink their own narrative and their story, and their story’s meaning, within larger narratives – the business they are in as well as the world. In other words. Change is being facilitated one by one. Like milk in coffee.

Stories within stories. I will end with noting that there is no control within this concept other than at the individual level. Organizationally that means power resides within the individual story and change occurs when. Collectively, individual stories align in a coherent fashion within a larger narrative. Ponder that.

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Written by Bruce