Angela Blanchard is the CEO of Neighborhood Centers, a large not-for-profit based in Houston that delivers services at 74 sites each year to 525,000 needy people along the Gulf Coast. With such a large network of programs, it’s important for Blanchard to stay in touch with the real stories of the people her organization is helping to motivate herself and others to action. For this reason, she says, she’s been deeply inspired by the work of John Hagel, co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge and author of books including The Power of Pull.
“The book is fabulous,” says Blanchard. “It talks about the importance of the shift in marketing from a push strategy to strategies that draw people to you.” But for Blanchard’s work, Hagel’s most important contribution has been a series of talks he’s done on the difference between story and narrative.
According to Hagel, “a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. There’s a person, there’s situation, there’s a conflict, a resolution, the end,” says Blanchard. “Narratives, on the other hand, have all kinds of possibilities. Hagel describes how to use narratives to describe all kinds of situations, but in the end the resolution is up to you. Narratives come to a point in the tale where it says now it’s up to you. They are large and lasting and extend beyond time and place.”
Blanchard says that in her work, she has to talk about and inspire action around very difficult subjects like immigration. “When I’m really trying to engage people around working toward reform and solutions that cause less anguish and harm and are more economically positive, I have to have a narrative because in the end it’s all about us,” she says. “I have to get a big ‘We.’ Narrative is really powerful when you are part of a movement and need to encourage action, and that big ‘We.'”