Reality Is Made Of Narrative
There is only one way to start off this story — with the stereotypical and well-worn cliché of a genre-defining motion picture.
In this dystopian science fiction movie, humanity is unknowingly held captive inside an all-encompassing, simulated reality. Connected to an AI-type central intelligence, human bodies are conserved in a comatose state while their minds are soothed and subdued by being inserted into a universal virtual reality. Humans spend their whole lives inside this artificial reality without ever knowing that what they appear to be experiencing with their senses, is actually a computer programmed simulation.
They live in their virtual world without ever doubting it. They exist in an environment that persuades them by means of accustomed familiarity. Established systems, rules and laws are a given. Everything is as expected. Everything is as it should be. Everything is as it has always been. To them their world is real. Except: their whole life is a narrative.
This movie is, of course, The Matrix.
Have you ever wondered about the matrix you are embedded in?
“Identity, language, etiquette, social roles, opinions, ideology, religion, ethnicity, philosophy, agendas, rules, laws, money, economics, jobs, hierarchies, politics, government, they’re all purely mental constructs which exist nowhere outside of the mental noises in our heads. If I asked you to point to your knee you could do so instantly and wordlessly, but if I asked you to point to the economy, for example, the closest you could come is using a bunch of linguistic symbols to point to a group of concepts. To show me the economy, you’d have to tell me a story.
Anyone who has ever experienced a moment of mental stillness knows that without the chatter, none of those things are part of your actual present experience. There is no identity, language, etiquette, social roles, opinions, ideology, religion, ethnicity, philosophy, agendas, rules, laws, money, economics, jobs, hierarchies, politics or government in your experience without the mental chatter about those things. There’s not even a “you” anywhere to be found, because it turns out that that’s made of narrative, too.
Without mental narrative, nothing is experienced but sensory impressions appearing to a subject with no clear shape or boundaries. The visual and auditory fields, the sensation of air going in and out of the respiratory system, the feeling of the feet on the ground or the bum in the chair. That’s it. That’s more or less the totality of life minus narrative.” (Caitlin Johnstone)
This, in a way, is so familiar and blatantly ubiquitous that it is likely to be overlooked, in much the same way as we suppose that the fish will be the last to discover water.
The moment you become aware of this evident truth though, you can’t reject its overwhelmingly convincing nature. And you inevitably start to wonder if there is a way to influence the course of this all-encompassing story.
The Bare Bones Of Naked Reality
In conclusion, without narrative, all that is left are just the bare bones of naked reality. But what does that even mean?
We tend to see reality as unquestionably objective. It just is what it is. Reality is obvious. Except, that obviousness is the last thing reality can be described as. In fact, the probability that we see reality as it is, is zero.
Reality is not obvious. Reality is not real.
The mental deconstruction of reality into its many possible pieces, layers, fragments, atoms and particles is a rabbit hole and a humbling experience. As a matter of fact it is a whole different story. One that can be read here: Reality Creation Is The New Yoga.
The idea that our existence is embedded in something that transcends the small sliver we identify as real is a scientifically proven fact. Knowing however that reality is everything but what it seems is a confusing thought.
The question of what true reality really is, is impossible to answer. Nonetheless the ability to influence that, what we perceive as reality, to nudge it to manifest into what we desire, is not only possible — it is a proven fact. The evidence that we can influence and actively shape reality is conclusive; there is a wealth of scientific proof that reality creating phenomena exist.
The techniques that are said to alter reality are plentiful but they all have something in common: in one way or another, they all require the application of focused attention, intention, imagination, and belief.
But how does one apply such focused attention, intention, imagination, and belief in order to change reality?
Narrative Is The Code To Program Reality
Sartre once said: “This is what fools people: a man is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through them; and he tries to live his life as if he were recounting it.”
Jerome Bruner, formerly professor for cognitive psychology at Harvard, New York and Oxford University, put it this way: “self is a perpetually rewritten story”. According to him we are all constantly engaged in “self-making narrative” and “in the end we become the autobiographical narratives by which we tell about our lives.”
In other words, we live a narrative. We are defined, constituted and essentially made real by our narratives of ourselves.
“To varying degrees, people manipulate reality through the power of their narrative. They affect how those in their family, social or employment circles view and experience reality by behaving or speaking in a certain way.” (Caitlin Johnstone)
Dominant Narrative as explained by Wikipedia is “a term that has been described as an ‘invisible hand’ that guides reality and perceived reality. It is an expression that is used to describe the lens in which history is told by the perspective of the dominant culture.”
In simple terms this means, that those who influence the narrative have the power to change reality.
According to the dictionary dominance is defined as “power and influence over others”.
If you take away the negative connotation of this expression for a moment you end up with the simple and innocent implication that utilizing narrative as a means to apply influence, is a potent method to create reality. Narrative does not represent reality. It constitutes it.
“Narrative operates as an instrument of mind in the construction of reality.”
How To Program Reality Through Narrative
In some way reality creation always requires the application of focused attention, intention, imagination, and belief. The following section will propose a framework and a methodology to create reality, specifically for organizations such as businesses.
The idea is that reality is a compliant matter and can be shaped through the power of narrative. We will call this axiom the Philosophy Of True Reality. This philosophy provides the stage for the Future / Reality Paradigm, a model to put the concept of malleable reality into context.
In other words, the Future / Reality Paradigm is a model to create a frame of reference for Reality Creation. This model combines The Philosophy Of True Reality with the physics of time, which describe how we perceive the concept of time through past, present and future.
This model was created to connect the abstract theory of reality with the concrete model of time in order to form a practical, workable structure for reality creation with a commonly accepted frame of reference.
However, the Future / Reality Paradigm is not, by any means, complete or conclusive. Like every conceptual scheme, it is not the ultimate truth. It’s a tool that’s useful in many situations, inapplicable in many others and misleading in some. Like all models, it highlights and partially explains some phenomena, and marginalizes and distorts others.
The Model explained
The Future / Reality Paradigm consists of two layers of Venn diagrams which, in combination, provide the practical framework for applied Reality Creation.
This layer is a translation of the abstract theory of reality into a comprehensible diagram. It consists of the following parts: Consciously Perceived Reality, Cognitive Border and True Reality.
Consciously Perceived Reality describes the reality that we perceive as obvious: everything we can see and touch; everything that we interact with, every thing around us. Everything that everyone agrees is present, existent, proven by science or accepted by society.
True Reality describes everything that lies beyond Consciously Perceived Reality. True Reality is all the fantastic opportunities, the magical moments, the perplexing synchronicity, the mind-boggling experiences. It is the incomprehensible and ever-changing labyrinth of all-encompassing consciousness. We don’t know what True Reality really is. But we know that it exists. We know that it is all and everything. We cannot grasp its form, its dimension or its nature. But we can acknowledge its existence and experiment to interact with it.
The Cognitive Border describes the subjective and blurry passage between Consciously Perceived Reality and True Reality. Access to and influence on this space is dependent on the will, skill and effort one applies to achieve a certain level of focused attention, intention, imagination, and belief.
This layer is a representation of our perceived concept of time of the past, the present & the future, translated into a comprehensible diagram. Both layers (time & reality) are combined to form the Future / Reality Paradigm — the framework for applied Reality Creation.
Present Perception describes our currently experienced individual reality. It is comprised of all things, concepts or frameworks that are currently present & observable and influence us in one way or another. For instance current world systems, laws, products or services — every tangible object or nonphysical concept. All these items and effects constitute a reality that has been fabricated in our past (Past Perception) and manifested in the present (Present Perception).
Simply put, Present Perception is the matrix that has been programmed by narrative.
If our Present Perception of reality is a manifestation of efforts from the past then future reality will inevitably be created by behaviours and beliefs of the present.
Future reality manifests where Future Possibility and Future Ambition overlap:
Future Possibility outlines everything that could possibly become a reality at some point in the future. Good or bad. Whether we want it or not. Future Possibility describes everything that is part of a possible future in general.
Future Ambition outlines everything that you desire to become a reality in the future. This is the future you would wish for if there were no constraints. Want to fly? This wish would clearly be situated within your Future Ambition but is so unlikely to come true that it would sit outside of Future Possibility. Future Ambition describes your personal, subjective wish for the future.
Where Future Possibility and Future Ambition coincide, a sphere of probability is formed. This sphere is called Futures Capacity — where that what could come true and that what we want to come true overlaps. This sphere outlines the space in which reality is possible. Futures Capacity incorporates everything you would want to happen in the future and that, at the same time, has a reasonable chance of coming true.
The Methodology Of Reality Creation
This section explains the methodology of creating reality through repetitive, sequential brand alignment. This is a process to shift your business from its current position to its Desired Future State.
The Desired Future State is — for the time being — a fictional space within Futures Capacity in The Future / Reality Paradigm and the most fundamental element in the act of Reality Creation. The Desired Future State is a clear and precise description of an individually anticipated future reality. It is essential to map out this space precisely because it will act as a model for the future reality of the organization that is being transformed.
There are many ways of outlining a desired future, some as simple as a piece of paper and a pen to jot down ideas. However, the complexity and importance of a business usually calls for something more comprehensive and precise.
Many agencies and consultancies have a process in place that will conform to these higher standards, a way to grasp a clear and coherent image of a desired future reality. For those who don’t comply or who don’t work with a professional service provider, it makes sense to look into a program like the CLEAR AS_*Reality Creator, a standalone platform specifically designed to map out the Desired Future State of any business.
Creating Reality Through Sequential Brand Alignment
To understand how this process works we first need to define the contributing elements: Your business, your brand and the Space of Influence.
1. Your Business
Your business is the tangible part of this process.
In short, your business is everything you say or do. It is all the operative tasks you perform every day in order to keep everything running.
Your business is everything you can control.
2. Your Brand
Your brand, on the other hand, is the intangible part of this process.
There is no shortage of definitions of what a brand is. This is the one we work with: “Your brand is the gut feeling people have about your product, service or company.” In essence, your brand is what others think of your business.
That means you can not control your brand. You can merely influence your brand.
The more precisely your business and your brand are aligned, the higher the influence you wield on your key audience. This is called Brand Alignment and it means that you are able to influence a higher number of people who in return feel more strongly about your business.
Remember: those who influence the narrative have the power to change reality.
3. The Space of Influence
Brand alignment is defined by the size of the Space of Influence. The more accurate the alignment, the larger this space, the more convincing your brands’ influence on your audience. The goal of your efforts is to align your business and your brand with precision in order to create the largest Space of Influence possible.
In other words, the more your business resembles your brand the bigger the influence you have on your audience.
How To Apply Sequential Brand Alignment
The following section will explain the mechanics of creating reality through repetitive, Sequential Brand Alignment. This is the process of shifting your business from its current position to its Desired Future State.
Your objective is to form a strong, honest and coherent brand that acts as a pulling force to transform your business. This process consists of three successive steps:
1. Build your brand:
Of course, building a brand is no small feat. Just as there are countless definitions of what a brand actually is, there is a myriad of ways to bring such an entity to life: get a new logo, improve your corporate design, tweak the way you communicate and interact with your crowd, find new channels to connect; the list is almost infinite, ever-changing and varies depending on who you ask or where you look for guidance.
When you build your brand it is essential to know where you want your business to go. How you get there is a decision that depends on personal preference, expertise or budget.
At the end of the day it comes down to your judgement in order to decide only one thing:
“What is the gut-feeling I want people to have about my business and how do I stimulate and foster this tender sensation?”
Because, remember: “Your brand is the gut feeling people have about your product, service or company.”
Use the information you uncovered by mapping out your Desired Future State to create a clear image of this business you envision. Depending on your personal preference, expertise or budget you will have to decide whether you can do this on your own or get professional help from an agency or consultancy.
The objective is to create an avatar of your ideal future business. Look at this step as creating a mold to form your existing business to increasingly resemble the archetype of your ideal over time.
The efforts you put into creating the embodiment of the business you desire will speak to the people you want to reach and initiate sympathy from this desired audience. At that point you are beginning to influence the gut feeling of the right people with a message that resonates with them.
Building your brand is making an announcement of your intent. Now you follow through with the transformation of your business.
2. Align Your Business
The model of your future business you create by building your brand resembles an evolved version of its current state. Use this model of your evolved business to align your current one step-by-step: plan, execute and monitor the things you can control. Adapt products and services, customer experience or sales channels (and everything else over time) in accordance with the model of the future business you described with your brand. Aligning your business with your brand will expand your Space of Influence accordingly.
As your business transforms and increasingly matches the brand you laid out, you will consequently increase the influence on your audience. In return, your new audience will validate the clear approach of the business you are forming.
3. Adjust & Repeat
Transforming your business and moving it to its Desired Future State is a repetitive sequence of pushing & pulling as visualized in the above chart: brand adjustment (push), business alignment (pull).
Once you have your business aligned with your brand, review your brand to see whether it still represents your Desired Future State or whether it needs sharpening and re-focusing. Adjust your brand according to your findings and start the process of aligning your business again.
Use this process to sequentially move your business to its Desired Future State.
This is how you create a new reality for your business.
Years ago, in a different life, when I set out to transform our family business of about 100 people into my vision of The Company Of The Future, I had a rough idea of what I meant by that and where I wanted to take that organization. I had the future I desired for that company mapped out — scribbled, drawn and written down — on a myriad of pieces of paper. Some of it made sense, some of it was rather chaotic and incoherent. The better part of my idea was in my head and with the help of colleagues and friends it came to light and then to life.
It wasn’t always pretty and it wasn’t always fun. In fact it was hard, demanding work most of the time. On many days for many years it was a confusing and frustrating operation. It was one step forward and two steps back. That way it felt more like cha-cha-cha than progress, on one hand. On the other hand, it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life. After all, this transformation turned the company into a decorated poster child for innovative organizational structures and made it a widely recognized and publicized pioneer of the new work movement in Central Europe.
At the time we created our brand by doing what we thought was right. We used what we had and we did what we could to move the business to match the ideal model we had mapped out.
Letting narrative guide your actions is not always easy though; and it is important to understand that for the most part, you are floating in a stream of attainable circumstances, rather than confirmed actualities.
I remember a fairly heated discussion with a concerned co-worker at one time early in the transformation process. We had mentioned to a visitor that we had a system where team leaders are voted in by their peers for a certain period of time, until new elections might put a new person in their place. My colleague told us we were bending the truth because no elections had been held and the current people had been appointed rather than elected.
You see, we were both talking about the same thing but from different perspectives. In his mind nothing had changed because it hadn’t quite manifested yet. In my mind everything had changed only that the transformation wasn’t quite completed yet.
At the time the Present Perception of some had evidently not quite overcome the manifestations from our Past Perception. However, this was a clear case where focused attention, intention, imagination and belief where hard at work to create reality within our Desired Future State.
Two months later we held our first elections.
In order to make narrative work in your favour, it is more about your intention and your belief about what you will eventually be doing, rather than what is already in place at that given time. You certainly don’t want to be hyperbolic but you don’t want to sell yourself, your dream and your efforts short either.
Using narrative to program reality is deciding the egg comes first, then the chicken.
Creating reality is a process, not an instant. With the application of focused attention, intention, imagination, and belief it becomes a constant flow of events, situations, incidents and happy accidents that lead your business to eventually occupy its Desired Future State.
About the author: Christoph Haase is the founder of DDilettanti, a future/reality consultancy that helps owner managed businesses create reality. He formerly ran and transformed his family’s engineering and manufacturing company into The Company Of The Future. Christoph works, explores and writes along the intersection of business, reality and the future.
Originally published at www.ddilettanti.com