Narrative Strategy: A Compass for Disruption
A pervasive, master narrative in the US is that people with addictions are at fault for their condition. “Master narratives,” as research psychologists Kate McLean and Moin Syed have defined them, are “culturally shared stories that guide thoughts, beliefs, values and behaviors.” They are seemingly omnipresent yet invisible, defining what is and isn’t possible. But through the use of personal storytelling, stories of people struggling with addiction have given us greater context and clarity to the addiction crisis, helping break down the master narrative into human experiences — changing attitudes, cultures and even policy. It’s through personal storytelling that we can create a new narrative, expanding the confines of the status quo, and turn what seemed impossible into a better reality.
As a narrative strategist, I help teams navigate the master narratives of society, culture and industry, while using personal stories to change the status quo. Working with diverse stakeholders, we co-design a new narrative — one that disrupts the master narrative and provides a desirable alternative. As Julie Hosler describes it, “narrative strategy builds a bridge between the author and the protagonist, allowing the shaping of the story to be placed in the hands of the person who is most affected.”
Narrative strategy is a participatory design process that crafts an empowering narrative for stakeholders; mobilizing them for action and bringing everyone along a shared journey for desired outcomes.
Narrative strategy uses the pillars of rhetoric to transform an idea into action. Aristotle’s rules of persuasion — ethos ‘credibility’, pathos ‘emotion’, logos ‘logic’ — allows us to harness a narrative’s power into an engine for change. Yet the narrative is not a static document, but rather, through participatory design, an actionable guide for implementation. Since stakeholders craft a shared story that empowers each individual with their own role within the narrative, the narrative induces action. Everyone knows what part they play in the new narrative, but better yet, they want to be involved, since they helped craft it in the first place. Ownership of the narrative is key.
With narrative strategy, stakeholders build a North Star for their new narrative.
The North Star is then used through the three stages of stakeholder activation, engage-align-mobilize to transform intent into action.
This collective story, powered by rhetoric, guides the strategy into the desired outcome. This could be creating a cultural paradigm shift, launching a new category-disruptive product, or designing scalable solutions for the most complex problems. The narrative strategy breaks through the vice of unhealthy behaviors, outdated attitudes and mundane policies to catalyze lasting change.
With narrative strategy, intent becomes action and vision yields outcomes. Everyone knows what story they are in and where they are going. The North Star narrative provides them with direction when things are clouded in ambiguity or complexity — a compass for disruption. Narrative strategy allows us to “solve for x”, helping us to find solutions, even when there are no answers. As our world becomes more complex and disruptive, the status quo will no longer serve us. To achieve new outcomes, we must embrace new narratives. To create sustainable change, we must co-design a future story that we all can be a part of.
Ari Mostov is a healthcare narrative strategist and principal of WellPlay. A Hollywood veteran, Ari brings her entertainment expertise to healthcare, creating a new narrative for health. Her strategic narrative and engagement designs improve outcomes for health seekers worldwide. Learn more at www.wellplay.world