On May 22, 1453,
the moon rose in eclipse over Constantinople, today Istanbul, and
arguably redirected the course of world history. By that day Ottoman
soldiers had spent
nearly a month bombarding the massive walls protecting the last
vestiges of the Byzantine Empire with no clear end in sight. But when
the moon rose in eclipse it was taken as a sign that Constantinople
would soon fall.
When people believe they are going to win, they are more likely to win. When they fear they will fail, they fail. Great leaders have understood for millennia that in order to guide
armies and organizations, one must control where they think they are
going, and that means to shape the strategic narrative (the story) they
are living in. You can do that in part through words – retelling the
past – but such efforts are more effective if you can support them with
physical signs of the story you want people to live in. This could be
an eclipsed moon or, in the case of football, the numbers on a
In last Sunday’s Super Bowl game, the New Orleans Saints’ coach understood this. As the game’s first half was coming to a close
the Saints’ coach faced a choice he had already made once before. His
team could choose between taking a safe bet on getting 3 points with a field goal or taking a risky shot at getting 6 with a touchdown. Earlier in the game the coach had chose the riskier bet … and lost.
this time the consequences would be more prolonged. If he took the
risky bet and lost, the Saints would go into halftime with 3 points vs.
their opponent’s 10. They’d have 30 minutes to ponder their 3 to 10
score and would naturally start creating stories about what this meant.
“We are losing,” they’d probably think.
instead, the coach this time went for the safer option. His team took
the easier 3 points and went into halftime with a score of 6 to 10. This score looks dramatically different than 3 to 10.
It fits an entirely different narrative. It does not fit “we are
losing”; it fits “we are just a few points behind.” The “losing”
narrative has one logical ending: we will lose. But the “few points
behind” narrative fits a more helpful narrative: “we will catch up.”
want to think carefully about what narrative your people are “living
in” and present, or create, evidence to support the narrative that you
want them to hold.
1. What narrative are your people telling themselves now?
2. What narrative do you WANT them to “live in”?
3. What evidence will help them jump to the new narrative?