People in the entrepreneur ecosystem often talk about the importance of a company being in ‘the right place, at the right time, with the right story’. In fact, many investors view this as the secret of knowing who to back.

Being in the right place at the right time is easy to identify retrospectively – when a company has been successful. The important thing is creating the impression that your company is in the right place at the right time – that’s where the right story comes in. 

One approach is to position your innovation as being at an advantageous point in a technology ‘hype cycle’. The second is to find a powerful narrative to align your story with.

What are narratives?

From the moment we’re born, stories accustom people to think and act in certain ways. Effective storytelling brings people on a journey of change while making them feel in control. This is hard, because change, even a potentially positive change, causes discomfort. You can help people feel in control of the change described in your story, by aligning it with the stories they already tell themselves.

Because of the way our brain stores and connects stories, people carry around story-networks that support each other. We think of these as ‘cultures of control’; because they affect our largely automatic, emotional, and unconscious decisions and behaviours.   

Narratives are a powerful part of our cultures of control; they act as the unconscious moral to collections of stories people tell in society or in a sector. Better aligning your story with the narratives your audience already believes, can make your story feel more familiar; helping them feel in control of their journey of change.

This can be the difference between your innovation being embraced or dismissed. 

How to Find the Right Narratives to Align With

Think about the narratives currently circulating in the sector relevant to your innovation – these are the big concepts rather than particular specific innovations.

For example in city-focused innovation there are narratives around ‘city-led climate action’, ‘gentrification and new city users’, ‘intercity networks’, ‘the civic commons’, ‘placemaking’, ‘permanent temporariness’, ‘repurposing unused assets’ ‘systems thinking and resilience’, ‘cities as living systems’, ‘open data innovation’, ‘levelling up’ ‘liveability’, ‘new definitions of urban’ and ‘smart cities’.

In the energy sector there are narratives which include ‘the race to net zero’, ‘the new energy market’, ‘the next wave of energy innovation’, ‘energy transition’, ‘leadership in the new energy economy’, ‘next generation consumers’, ‘next generation employees’, ‘local economic prosperity’ and ‘minimising losses’.  

List the big concepts relevant to the sector your innovation is part of.

Narratives have a lifecycle made up of 4 key stages – emerging, accelerating, static and declining.

The narratives that are most powerful for you to align your story with are those in the ‘accelerating’ stage – these work well with investors and pioneering customers. Static narratives work well with customers who are more risk-averse, such as governments procuring large infrastructure projects.

You don’t want to tie your innovation to a narrative that is still only emerging; or running out of steam and in decline.

Now try mapping out the narratives in your sector on the narrative adoption curve, for example:

The final step is to filter the accelerating (or static) narratives to focus on the ones that your audience is most likely to already believe in. These will be narratives they are aware of and that are already consciously or unconsciously affecting their decisions and behaviour.

You are now ready to weave reference to these narratives into your Story Canvas. You can incorporate them throughout your Story Canvas but the Ordinary World is a key place to start. If there are narratives that potentially stand in the way of them adopting your innovation; could they feature as part of your Compelling Villain?